Driving innovation in Le Garage

Le Garage, Airbus’s brand new research and technology (R&T) innovation hub, is now open for innovation.

Our state-of-the-art building will house about 130 staff, including top experts on areas such as data science, applied mathematics, and electro-magnetics, in Toulouse, France. There is also room for 40 or so visitors from suppliers, universities, partners and BizLab startups in the near future as we continue our drive to cut the time it takes to get new products to market.

“There has been a general evolution as to what is considered a state-of-the-art collaborative workspace that promotes the kind of values modern tech companies such as ours embrace: notably collaborativeness, openness, and speed,” says Airbus’ Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Paul Eremenko. “Our intention with Le Garage is to immerse our tech talent in a flexible, dynamic, open space that breaks down silos and hierarchical notions of seniority.”

Pierre Farjournel, Chief of Staff to the CTO, says Le Garage has been designed precisely with this in mind: to foster the characteristics of speed, agility, openness and collaboration that Airbus wants to define the organisation.

“It’s very open and there are very few walls. If you are in the main corridor you can see the whole extent of the building,” he says.

Vive la difference

The name is a nod to the Silicon Valley legend that states that all the greatest inventions — Apple, Hewlett Packard to name a few — were born in someone’s garage. However, the organisational set-up behind it differs somewhat from the typical Silicon Valley garage.

Instead, we want our R&T division to remain part of the main company, so that it can directly influence our processes, products and services.

With 140,000 employees and facilities all over the world, adopting a startup mindset is not without challenges.

As Farjournel says, “At Airbus, we have to actively combat the ‘not invented here’ attitude. We’re doing this by developing a partner-friendly culture, an openness that means you accept you cannot do it all alone. You have to rely on the outside ecosystem to find expertise and so we want to collaborate with startups, universities, labs — the wider world. By challenging all of our processes, we aim to come back to a ‘leaner’ approach that helps us work faster and more flexibly.”

Collaboration

The new building should help the R&T teams solve problems more speedily by allowing them to work in a concurrent rather than linear way.

With four separate spaces, Le Garage has been developed to encourage new work practices. It has a set of offices for the permanent staff but it also has small and large areas to house different sized project teams as well as an area filled with the latest digital technology dedicated to computer-aided design.

This latter area is called the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), a state-of-the-art space equipped with a network of computers, multimedia devices and software tools. The beauty of the CDF is that it allows teams of experts from across several disciplines to work on design studies using concurrent engineering methodology for complex engineering systems. This means they are able to work faster and more effectively so as to ensure consistent and high quality results in short timeframes.

In addition, a new open wifi system will help visitors interact with Airbus partners more easily and quickly — a marked change from the days when a visitor would have to jump through hoops to get a password from IT.

Connected

The location of the building — next door to the main manufacturing operation — is also significant, Farjournel says: “In line with the culture we want to push, even if we are doing fundamental research or applied mathematics that is kind of extreme, it has to be connected with the daily business of the industrial world. If you disconnect the research from the industrial environment, it doesn’t result in anything that you want for the future of the business.”

That sense of connection across the business is supported by regular invitations to all of the engineering heads to view the work in progress and attend workshops for particular projects.

With suppliers such as Rolls Royce and Siemens already having participated, the workshops are a chance for Airbus to engage with new ideas.

“You can see the enthusiasm the workshops create by all the post-it notes and the writing on the walls,” says Farjournel.

Expansion

We are rolling out Le Garage as a concept to Airbus’ Ottobrunn site at the end of June and to our Filton complex in the UK next year. Teams in Hamburg have already embraced the concept in their state-of-the art facility, the ZAL TechCenter, which opened early 2016.

This centre for applied aeronautical research has pioneered a culture of openness involving manufacturers, airlines, universities and the city of Hamburg, says Farjournel: “It is a really interesting building that has inspired us because of the way the centre is so welcoming and open to all its partners.”

He sees Le Garage as a tool to further our transformation into a faster, leaner, more innovative company: “The building is amazing and it’s our job to make sure that its use is optimal, that work is a pleasure and that people are happy to come in everyday.”

If that sounds good to you, why not come and work with us?