IFSJ Exclusive: The Last Word with Hochiki Europe

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Robert Drake, Director of Research and Development at Hochiki Europe talks R&D, teamwork and future plans

What does a typical day in research and development look like for you and the team?

As part of the R&D management team I not only guide the development activities I also act as a filter to protect the manager and team of engineers, who are a mix of hardware, software, and mechanical experts as well as test teams, from interruptions – something which is key to keep our new product designs on target, while providing our technical expertise in support of the rest of the business.

We hold daily stand ups, which are short meetings to discuss progress and identify blockers. The reason we call it a “stand-up” is because we hold the meeting standing, which helps to keep the meeting short and focused. The rest of my day is a mixture of sustaining, recruitment and product planning and building a strong product development funnel for the next 3-5 years.

What would you say are the fundamentals to a successful research and development team as well as output?

I think, and I’m sure the team here would agree, that the fundamentals to a successful R&D team output is clear goals, excellent communication and limited interruptions.  The processes we have in place here at Hochiki allow for this.  For example, our team is separate to production, but we have ensured that the link is still well maintained.  We work with support tickets and priority levels and ensure an engineer is available in the factory each week to help with improvements.

How important is customer insight and legislation to R&D at Hochiki?

Customer insight is critical to the success of our products. The voice of the customer alongside legislation drives everything from our department, through to customer support, sales, marketing, manufacturing, even the administrational side of the business. I’d say we are a customer first company.

In my career I’ve mostly worked with heavily regulated industries, and the fire industry is possibly one of the most heavily regulated there is. Legislation can make things slow moving, rightly so because it’s important, but I enjoy that challenge and Hochiki are committed to making sure the products they design, develop, manufacture, and put to market are 100% safe. We can only do this though through customer insight and having those experts in house to ensure we work closely with the governing bodies.

What can we expect to see from Hochiki over the next 12 months?

We’ve got some exciting research underway with Japan and with the BRE, plus some new products coming out this year, one being our newest intelligent emergency lighting product. The Middle East team were able to share a preview demo of this new system with the visitors to Intersec in Dubai. I can’t go into too much detail, but I’m excited to see how this is received by customers, new and old. I’ll just say watch this space because it’s an exciting road map year ahead for Hochiki Europe customers.

This article was originally published in the March edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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