With the second day of The Engineer conference focused on a host of advanced manufacturing techniques, it often seemed as though the more traditional tools on the exhibition floor outside were mounting some sort of noisy protest at the impudent young pretenders being discussed within.
But their metallic whine of indignance failed to dampen the enthusiasm of those attending the final day, who heard from a fascinating line-up about some of the manufacturing technologies that will help to shape the economy in the years ahead.
First up was auto-industry veteran and CEO of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult Dick Elsy.
The HVM Catapult is one of a number of centres being created by the Technology Strategy Board to help exploit the bridge the gap between research and business, or, as Elsy put it, make it across the “valley of death”.
With some compelling examples from the likes of Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Airbus, Elsy explained to delegates how the HVM Catapult, which is made up of seven different technology centres, is helping to achieve this.
He commented on the way in which the Catapult provides an environment for rivals with common goals to collaborate, and talked about how the centres are helping the UK prepare for the technical challenges presented by anticipated growth in sectors such as civil aerospace and nuclear manufacturing.
Elsy was followed by Mike Banach, senior research manager at Plastic Logic, who looked in detail at the manufacture of flexible plastic electronic display screens, an area which was pioneered in the UK and which holds huge promise for the future.
Intriguingly, although Banach said that a flexible display that you can roll up and put in your pocket is still some years away from becoming a commercial product, it’s clear that the firm has already cracked many of the key technical challenges, with one of Banach’s videos showing a prototype full colour, foldable and bendable display screen.
After Banach, came Renishaw’s group engineering director Geoff McFarland, who discussed how his company is using additive layer manufacturing alongside more traditional subtractive techniques to develop a range of different products. The firm’s use of the two technologies to develop a drug delivery system for the brain was particularly intriguing.
Following a panel discussion on future manufacturing techniques the afternoon session kicked of with a presentation from BAE systems F35 programme manager Mark Whelan, who gave delegates a behind-the-scenes look at BAE’s advanced new titanium manufacturing facility at the firm’s Samlesbury site. The factory is building a number of key components for the F35 Lightning fighter jet – the largest defence programme in the world.
Whelan was followed by Andrew Bowyer from extreme environment specialist Magna Parva, one of the rising stars of UK engineering. Bowyer explained to a rapt audience how the company is development a pultrusion based manufacturing process that could be used in space to manufacture components for satellites.
Although it’s impossible to pick a winner, one of the highlights of the conference was undoubtedly the closing presentation from Bladon Jets, the Coventry based developer of micro-gas turbines.
Down to earth, humorous, and somewhat bemused by the attention they’ve received since their technology appeared on Jaguar’s show-stopping C-X75, Bladon’s engineers Chris Bladon and Alan Noble seem to embody many of the qualities for which British engineering has been most celebrated over the years.
Undaunted by knock-backs and scepticism from companies with vastly superior resources, the Bladon team has beavered away over the course of almost two decades and finally succeeded in developing a world-leading technology that appears destined for great things.
When the audience eagerly gathered en-masse around the front of the stage to marvel at the tiny turbine they’d bought along, it was a potent reminder of the capacity of great engineering to fire the imagination, and a fitting end to a week that celebrated the very best of UK engineering innovation.
Don’t worry if you missed the conference, We’re currently editing videos of all of our presentations, and hope to make them available to view online soon.