RNLI's lifeboats are now built and refitted at a custom-made facility ©Exmouth Lifeboat/RNLI
RNLI's lifeboats are now built and refitted at a custom-made facility ©Exmouth Lifeboat/RNLI

DIY at RNLI improves quality control

How a shortage of supply forced RNLI to rethink its procurement

Five years after bringing boatbuilding and refitting in-house, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has better control of cost and quality of the boats it produces, Nick Saunders, senior category manager of logistics and warehousing told a CIPS Fellows event. But it has been a steep learning curve, with challenges in engineering, procurement and supply chain.

Finding that boatyards it had used before were no longer in business, the charity bought a facility and fitted it out with market-leading technology and processes in 2015, which is now producing six brand new lifeboats each year, and refits. “The facility has been converted to allow us to do a lot more refit work in there which includes life extension projects of some very old lifeboats,” he said. “We’re bringing them in, stripping them right back… then rebuilding them into a lifeboat fit for another 25 years of service.”

“We won’t know until they are taken apart what its parts do and what elements are included, so trying to plan from a procurement point of view is difficult. 

“Then we start to understand the parts being used and so our inventory strategy is really building into look at the parts that move most frequently and making sure we’ve got a clear strategy for the supply of those. In the life extension programmes … we’ll be finding out a lot of new things as we progress,” he said.

The change has created employment, and quality and consistency has improved, added Claire Deuchar, CIO and supply chain director. “We needed to ensure we had the same supply, because when you start looking at quality you realise one boatyard isn’t producing to the same standard as another,” she said. “We can [now] truly understand what’s going on.”

“We aim to be on the water within 10 minutes, which means people need to be closely located to the stations. It also takes as many people to launch a lifeboat as it does to be on the boats,” she said.

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