Blog posts with the tag "Engineering"

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.

Following on from my last ramble about the incredibly healthy state of UK design and manufacture, it looks like our engineers are in demand yet again.  I was browsing the news in the world of engineering last night when I happened across this little gem.


Apparently, Tata Motors is about to base its R&D operations right here in the UK to take advantage of our technical expertise.  The company may not exactly be a household name in this country – some of you may be aware that one of their cars, the Indica, was briefly imported by MG-Rover about 10 years ago and badged as the CityRover, a kind of Austin Metro replacement – but they are a serious player in the automotive field and just happen to own Jaguar Land-Rover.  Although most of Tata’s cars are designed for their home market, their latest concept vehicle, the Nano Pixel was developed at Warwick, as the company relies heavily on a team of development engineers at the Warwick Manufacturing Group.


Having been involved with development at JLR for a number of years, Tata have decided to base their R&D operation in the UK because of our world class automotive engineers.  On a personal note, I took some of my final year automotive students for a visit to JLR last summer and their current set-up is extremely impressive.  They also let me drive a brand new Discovery 4 around their off-road track, but that’s another story.


It’s good to see that we still have the necessary expertise to design and develop successful products – like I said last week, there seems to be a common misconception that we are no longer capable of making anything in the UK any more, but nothing could be further from the truth. As far as home grown automotive production goes, JLR are riding high and MGs are rolling off the lines at Longbridge again.  The companies may be owned by overseas concerns (is that really relevant?), but our engineers are proving that we do still have the knowledge and expertise.

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…

My own fascination with science began when I was just six years old. My father, a fabrication engineer, was the first to put a spanner in my hand. He showed me how the gearbox worked on his old Hillman car and from then on I was hooked on all things technical. It was that early enthusiasm and curiosity that has guided me throughout my career as an engineer, and I hope that by sharing it with you I can help get you involved in this exciting and engaging field of invention, innovation and discovery.


The science of engineering is no longer the territory of middle-aged men in lab coats, pacing about the lecture hall. In fact, here in Britain, it’s part of our heritage. The roots of engineering began in England during the 17th century where none other than Sir Isaac Newton developed the three Laws of Motion. The British influence continued both in the UK and Europe during the Industrial Revolution, where mechanical engineers harnessed the power to create machines and develop the tools to maintain them.


Today, engineering plays a vital role in our daily lives, affecting the water we drink, the homes we live in, our methods of transport, and the myriad technologies we use at home and at work. The practical applications are endless!


Once you understand the basics, you can apply this knowledge to almost any problem you’ve got. Want to learn more? Visit the “Ask Me Anything” page and submit your own questions. I look forward to hearing from you!