- Published in The Job.
Working at Bentley brings Aaron Hankinson into regular contact with colleagues from Porsche and Audi as he strives to meet the demands of luxury-car customers. The OEM’s functional manager for acoustics and aerodynamics spends much of his day in meetings agreeing targets and developing systems for Volkswagen’s luxury brand.
“When you’re charging €320,000 for our most expensive car, you’re not going to sell sub-standard road noise or marginal performance. The job is about delivering expectations, and those expectations are very, very high,” says Hankinson.
In a Bentley, the driver and passenger are supposed to be safely cocooned from the harsh noise of the outside world. “At Bentley, NVH is a holistic process. You’re dealing with a car that is extremely powerful, but our customers have clear expectations about refinement. It’s the balancing of those characteristics that is the most tricky part of the job,” he says.
Because of the challenging NVH demands, Hankinson’s job isn’t simply about long meetings in boardrooms. “Part of my job is operational management, people management, and leadership. The second element is strategic: we have opportunities to develop niche products, where we might need to deliver a car to the marketplace in 24 months or less,” he says. When that happens, Hankinson and his team of engineers rely heavily on simulation tools. The number of prototypes falls drastically compared to what the rest of the industry would expect.
“We’ll have to take very novel approaches. That can mean we do a lot of CAE work and a lot of CFD and acoustic prediction work,” he says.
Even though Hankinson spends 60% of his time away from the shop floor, he maintains a hands-on approach. “Frustratingly for many of my engineers and managers, I’ll pitch up at people’s desks and ask them to talk through where we are. I want them to show me the graphs and take me through the data, explaining to me what’s led them to that conclusion.” Hankinson thinks that is what defines Volkswagen’s approach to vehicle development.
Hankinson always finds time in the day to get down to the shop floor. “Meetings run from 8am until 5pm, so there’s two or three hours in the morning before eight o’clock, and three hours in the evening after five o’clock when I can do real work.”
And Hankinson needs all the hours in the day. His work brings him into contact with every functional area of engineering, knitting together the different groups to deliver the acoustic attributes of the OEM’s vehicles. “To deliver the attributes in the powertrain mountings involves colleagues in the powertrain and driveline teams, as well as the chassis-mounting systems teams,” he says. “We’ll work with powertrain on isolation and sound quality, and we’ll work with the chassis team on shake control and vehicle dynamics.”
Outside office hours he keeps his mind focused by studying. He says: “Part of my time away from work is spent developing myself and my skills.” When you’re developing vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of euros, it pays to stay ahead, the industry after all, doesn’t stand still.
1981-86: BICC – Apprentice toolmaker
1987-91: Leyland DAF – R&D
1991-96: LTC – Vibration and environmental testing, NVH, CAE
1996-99: MIRA – vehicle dynamics
1999-present: Bentley Motors – Functional manager, acoustics and aerodynamics