The RNLI manufactures six Shannon class lifeboats at its boatyard in Poole, Dorset, each year © Nathan Williams/RNLI
The RNLI manufactures six Shannon class lifeboats at its boatyard in Poole, Dorset, each year © Nathan Williams/RNLI

Why the RNLI brought lifeboat manufacturing in-house

29 March 2019

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has described how it brought boatmaking in-house so it could have more control over quality.

Speaking at a CIPS Fellows event in London, Nick Saunders, senior category manager of logistics and warehousing at the RNLI, explained the procurement challenges around the move, which is also linked to work refitting 25-year-old lifeboats.

Saunders said transitioning away from building lifeboats in external boatyards and bringing market-leading technology and processes in-house had been a steep learning curve.

In 2015, the charity began to manufacture its Shannon class all-weather lifeboats in a facility built in Poole, Dorset. The facility has since been building six brand new lifeboats each year.

He said: “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, particularly the Severn class lifeboat which has been on the coast for over 25 years.

“We're bringing them in, stripping them right back down to basics. It's just going to be the hull left and then we're completely rebuilding them back into a lifeboat fit for another 25 years of service.”

Refitting lifeboats from over 25 years ago presents a new set of challenges for the RNLI team, from an engineering, procurement and supply chain perspective, Saunders said.

“We won't really know until they are completely taken apart what its parts do and what elements are included so trying to plan from a procurement point of view is really difficult, as we are trying to forecast exactly what we need to make the boat work well.

“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're going to be dipping into parts that haven't ever moved so we'll be finding out a lot of new things as we progress,” he said.

Building and refitting lifeboats in-house has also given the RNLI greater control of costs and quality and provided employment opportunities.

Claire Deuchar, CIO and supply chain director at the RNLI, said “quality and consistency from a boat manufacturing perspective” was a large reason behind the decision to bring manufacturing in-house.

She said: “There were a lot of boatyards going out of business and we were finding that a number of the different boatyards we were working with weren't there anymore when we needed them.

“We ended up buying a boatyard because 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 one. We can [now] truly understand what's going on.”

Deuchar said one of the ways in which the RNLI is looking to innovate is by exploring the possibility of autonomous vessels to help with one of the charity’s largest challenges, the number of volunteers.

“We typically aim to be out and on the water within 10 minutes which therefore means people need to be really closely located to the stations. It also takes as many people to launch a lifeboat than it does to be on the boats, so if we can find a way to get the boats in the water involving less people, it will help where there is a struggle for resources and volunteers,” she said.

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