Backbone of a bull: Interview with Al Peasland, Infiniti Red Bull Racing
We talk to the man responsible for making sure the Formula One team Infiniti Red Bull Racing is able to give its engineers the best technology available. So, what it is like to work for a company that gives you wings? Justin Cunningham finds out.
When high octane drinks company Red Bull joined the high octane world of Formula One 10 years ago there was mixed opinion about its chances of success.
It brought the Jaguar Racing Team in 2004 from Ford, which after five seasons of poor results was pulling out of the sport. Many thought that if the pedigree and automotive might of Jaguar and Ford could not produce a competitive car, the chances for an Austrian energy drinks company, with no experience in motorsport, turning the team around was nothing short of laughable.
However, as any fan will know, the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team has had the last laugh after dominating Formula One for the last four sessions, winning both the constructors and drivers championships back to back.
Ask any successful Formula One team, or successful operation generally, and the secret to success lies in its people, in particular their ability to exploit the technology and tools of the day to give a discernible advantage over competitors.
And in Formula One it is not just drivers that rise through the ranks, but the mechanics, engineers and designers in the sport are also considered as world-class as the drivers. So what is the mind set of a Formula One world championship winning employee?
"Our mission statement at Red Bull is simple; win races," says Al Peasland, technical partnership manager at Red Bull Racing. "This focuses our team. When I go to work, or any one of our team goes to work we ask ourselves, 'are we doing something today that is going to contribute to us winning races?'
Managing the technologies and tools used by the team is the responsibility of Peasland. It's no straightforward task as there are often many similar technologies on the market. However, part of Peasland's role is to look at which technologies can be exploited the most, and in the world of Formula One that margin can be very fine indeed.
Peasland, liaises with department heads at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes to make sure that the company's current technical partners are delivering what the team needs to help win races, look for the potential for any partners to offer more, and listen to requirements of engineers so he can scout for new technologies.
"You only get a quick car on track if the rest of the business, and your business systems, are high performance, reliable and robust," he says. "The focus we put on the car, and improving its performance and reliability, is the same focus we put on the rest of the business."
At the moment Infiniti Red Bull Racing has about 16 partners technical partners that range from the largest and most long standing being Siemens PLM to partnerships with simulation software compaies, metrology equipment specialists and even providers of gym equipment and car polish.
"We can't win races without leveraging world class technology," he says, "that is why we go out and choose the partners we do."
The key attribute and skill that has stood Peasland apart has been his expertise and knowledge of the Siemens PLM systems, including its NX design suite. This saw him carry out work on gearboxes for the Porsche Cayenne as well as become a trainer of the software to engineers.
"Now, I'm no gearbox designer," he says, "but I could use the CAD tool really well so Porsche recruited me to teach their engineers. And that led to me getting a job with Siemens as a CAD trainer as it wanted someone who could relate to engineers when delivering training. We could tailor the training courses to make them more efficient, so for F1 teams they obviously like that."
This stint as CAD consultant and trainer saw Peasland make the transition from design engineer to PLM administrator and manager, which has ultimately enabled him to take on the challenging world of Formula One as he joined Infiniti Red Bull Racing as its head of CAD/PLM.
"After seven years in engineering, I decided that I hadn't tasted enough champagne," he says, "so I thought a move to marketing might help to change that!"
His role to Technical Partnership Manager now involves making sure that the team has the right strategic partnerships in place to help develop the car more quickly, and more effectively than its rivals.
"The challenge for us in Formula One is to design and manufacture as many new parts as we can in the shortest time possible," he says. "We do not want to manufacture scrap, we need to make parts quickly and accurately, as the designer has specified. And we need to know they work so simulation software is vital to us.
"There is a direct correlation between the number of points scored and the number of design changes made to the car. The challenge is that requirement goes up every year. Year on year, we push more design change through the business than previous years. And that is with the same amount of people, the same budget and the same amount of hours in the day. So we have to get more efficient and push our tools, and our partners, to help us do that. It is not just about performance, it is about efficiency, reliability and quality."
Communication through its business is vital and allowing collaboration throughout every aspect of the team is something that Peasland is proud to have helped to put in place, as the backbone of the Red Bull team relies on Siemens' Teamcentre PLM software. This links every aspect of the business from design to manufacture to logistics to parts management.
Al has been with Infiniti Red Bull Racing for 7 years, initially joining the team as their Head of CAD/PLM. A Chartered Engineer, Al has an extensive engineering background, having started out as an Aerospace Design Engineer, then moving into Automotive Transmission Design. He has over 20 years experience with 3D CAD and CAM tools and their respective data management systems. A short stint as a CAD consultant and trainer saw him make the transition from a design engineer into a PLM administrator and manager, which has ultimately enabled him to take on the challenging world of Formula One technical management.
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