Blog posts with the tag design | Interested In Everything


Blog posts with the tag "design"

Back in 1994 (was it really twenty years ago?), as an enthusiastic, young post-grad, I paid a visit to the engineering department at Warwick University.   One of my colleagues had quite close ties with the department and invited me to go along and have a look at some of their latest equipment.  I remember being enthralled by a fantastic new machine that could build up replicas of components a layer at a time until a whole three-dimensional part was sitting before me.  Back in the day, it went by several names – the ones that got bandied around were “Laminated Object Manufacturing” and “Rapid Prototyping”.  Today, it’s more likely to be called “3-D printing” and several scientifically-illiterate journalists will try to have you believe that terrorists are using it to make undetectable weapons with which they will cause the downfall of Civilisation As We Know It.


For the time being, I’m going to skirt around the whole issue of how difficult it would be to 3-D print a gun that will actually fire without blowing your own hand off (that’s for a later blog post – preferably when I’ve had a couple of single malts) and talk about its more mundane uses.  Despite what some news sources may say, the technology has been around for a while.  As a design engineer I’ve actually used a 3-D printer on several occasions over the years to mock up models of stuff I’ve designed to see if it will work or that it’s a sensible size.  I actually have a 3-D printed tapered pin joint that I designed sitting on my desk beside me as I type this.


The technology is marvelous and unbelievably useful in my line of work, as we can design something using a CAD package, sent the data to the 3-D printer and, quite quickly have something that resembles what we’ve been working on that we can actually pick up and throw around.  There are various sizes of machine to do this, but so far, it’s a technology that’s been suited to reasonably small components.


This morning, I was idly flicking through the headlines in New Scientist, when I spotted this story. A firm of Dutch architects has set about 3-D printing an entire house using a machine that sits inside a shipping container!  Apparently, it will take three years to complete and the intention is to open the completed building to the public as a design museum.  The largest thing I’ve ever 3-D printed was about 150x100x50mm.  I’m extremely impressed.

It’s always good to see concrete proof that good engineering design is alive and well in the UK.  One criticism I hear leveled at us time and again is that “we don’t make anything any more”.  Well, coming from an engineering background (and having an awful lot of industrial experience), I’m afraid I have to disagree.  I’ve worked in and walked around many companies in this fair land to be able to tell you all from first hand experience that this simply isn’t true.  It may be the case that we don’t manufacture many low-value consumer goods any more, but I can assure you that reports of the death of UK design and manufacture are highly exaggerated. In my capacity as consultant design engineer, I’ve worked in factories that have produced things as diverse as radiator valves, farm gates and cranes for lifting nuclear fuel rods. I’ve seen manufacturing facilities that you wouldn’t believe (but no attack ships on fire of the shoulder of Orion, though).


There are many successes I could harp on about, but one story that caught my eye was on the BBC this week. Inventor and designer James Dyson is apparently investing £5m in a new robotics lab at Imperial College. I know I’m forever going on about how we need more scientists and engineers in the UK and it’s great to hear that someone who understands the situation is stepping in.  I know from personal experience how higher education budgets are continually being squeezed and the provision of this level of funding to invest in the future of the next generation of engineers is nothing short of fantastic news to me. According to the story, not only is Sir James investing a large amount in education, he’s also announced a £250m investment to double the size of his company’s research centre in Wiltshire and hire 3,000 more engineers. Proof that the UK can still do it!


Oh, and by the way, Sir James – if you happen across this little post and need someone who’s extremely handy with several commercial CAD systems, give us a shout…