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The University of Southampton

Helping save lives at sea. Expertise in Management and Engineering Sciences supports the RNLI

Published: 1 July 2010

Management scientists and engineers at the University of Southampton have joined forces with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to reduce the operational costs of its fleet. The RNLI is wholly dependent on charitable giving; saving money on operational working means the donations can be used more effectively to save more lives.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership has been signed between the two organisations. Two talented graduates will be appointed to work as Associates at RNLI headquarters in Poole for two years, supervised by Professor Douglas Macbeth of the School of Management and Professor Ajit Shenoi of the School of Engineering Sciences. Dr Arni Halldorsson from the School of Management and Dr James Blake from the School of Engineering Sciences are also involved in the initiative.

The RNLI currently supports 300 lifeboats based at 235 lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland. The sophisticated vessels are engineered to high standards so the volunteer crews can carry out rescue operations in the worst sea conditions. Equipping and maintaining the fleet can be expensive. A Tamar class lifeboat costs £2.7million to buy and equip, but has a working life of around 50 years.

The Management Associate will develop computer models to capture the commercial and logistics issues around the costs of building and maintaining the lifeboat fleet. The Engineering Associate will look at the technical design issues involved in deciding how frequently the boats and their equipment need maintainance, to manage these costs. The two Associates will work closely together as the projects are interdependent.

Recruitment is underway for these posts and the Associates are expected to start work in autumn 2010.

Daniel Rolfe, RNLI Through Life Manager, says: “Saving lives at sea costs us £270,000 a day. We would like to develop ways of delivering the same quality of service at reduced costs.”

Professor Douglas Macbeth, Director of Supply Chain Research at the University of Southampton, says: “Modern analytical techniques can help organisations examine their business models in detail. The RNLI wants to develop a best practice model of maintenance and repair and I am sure the KTP will help them increase efficiency.”

Professor Ajit Shenoi, an expert in ship and boat design, production and operation at the University, says: “University of Southampton engineers have worked alongside the RNLI for over 20 years, with the last ten in a formal Advanced Technology Partnership, largely examining safety issues. Many of our students have undertaken placements and internships. This KTP will enable us to combine our skills to good effect.”

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