5 minutes with… Alan Banks

Alan Banks is the Lightweight Structures Supervisor within Innovation and Research at Ford Motor Company. He started work at Ford in 1983 as an apprentice and worked in Chassis Engineering responsible for suspension systems on commercial vehicles until 2019 before his move to Innovation and Research.

He was the team leader on the Composite Lightweight Automotive Suspension System (CLASS) project, which won the JEC World Automotive Application Innovation category in 2018. He is also leading the Composite Hybrid Automotive Suspension System Innovative Structures (CHASSIS) project due for completion in 2021 and has 8 patents to his name.

How long have you been in the industry?
I joined Ford in 1983 as a technical apprentice specialising as a draughtsman. I went through Engine Engineering and Special Vehicle Engineering when it was run by Rod Mansfield. That was a very special time as we had some iconic cars then, The Capri 2.8i, the Escort RS Turbo and the Sierra Cosworth. All fantastic for a boy of 18 to be involved with. Then I went to Chassis Engineering and stayed there for the majority of my career working all over the world mainly on commercial vehicles – which are a passion.

In 2019, I joined the UK Innovations team where I’m leading lightweighting and breakthrough technology to reduce weight, CO2 and improve payload capability. We have had great success on a couple of projects and have some very important projects coming up later in the year that will move the bar again.

How would you describe your typical day?
I’m not a morning person and I have to ease myself into the day. The alarm goes off around 5am and I’m generally in the office about 6:45am. Ensuring all of the projects are kept up to date and on schedule is a priority and hunting down the next major project that we can add value to is a constant requirement. Our links to industry, SME’s and universities plays dividends and we have many new proposals every week to consider for upcoming projects.

What, if anything keeps you up at night?
In nearly 37 years, I’ve never seen a shift in the automotive industry like the one occurring now. The need to cut CO2 emissions and to electrify the fleet is intense and that’s before we start to think about autonomy. Fortunately, Ford have the best infrastructure and product knowledge in the industry and we have the capability to draw on over 110 years of expertise to ensure we meet current customer needs as well as cater for future technologies.

I do quite of lot of work as a STEM ambassador and I’m very passionate about engineering and getting students engaged. I often tell students that when I was their age, it never occurred to me that I’d see mainstream electric cars in my lifetime. But the speed at which the industry is changing, I will probably see autonomous cars in my working life. The speed at which things are changing daily means keeping up to date to meet every challenge and being flexible to respond to new customer demands. The fittest will survive.

What do you think will be the biggest difference 10 years from now?
I think clearly the biggest difference is that you won’t be driving! Smart vehicle and ride hailing will be commonplace and vehicle connectivity will be key to making this happen. But we can’t lose sight of the basics regarding durability, ride quality and build quality among other things. Customer expectations are evolving rapidly attributes that are important now will become base functions tomorrow – but that doesn’t lessen their importance.

What are your aims for the Innovations team and how active is Ford in this arena?
The innovations team work on all aspects of development with industrial partners and academia; from advanced propulsion to simulation to advanced engineering and manufacturing. We are blessed that in times of extreme churn, Ford senior management still see value in putting resources into the team to put together consortium partners to work with us and BEIS, Innovate UK, APC and OLEV. We have had and are continuing to lead projects of real innovation that will pave the way for the UK to be in the driving seat for new technology. My goal is to bring current advanced technologies into the mainstream arena and get deployment of these projects out on the road – so that Advanced Engineering 2020 has to be renamed Engineering 2020.

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