The week ahead: Flying high, aiming higher, and innovating green

3 min read

News editorThe Singapore airshow should help throw a spotlight on the capabilities of the UK’s aerospace sector

Tomorrow sees the start of the Singapore Airshow, a week-long event that sees 33 British entities set up shop to help show why the UK is Europe’s largest aerospace manufacturer.

From its humble beginnings in 1914 - when a single paying passenger was carried 21 miles across Tampa Bay, Florida - civil aerospace has grown to carry an estimated three billion passengers in 2013.

Airbus supplies the world’s 1,568 commercial airlines and it will be giving a first full demonstration of its A350 XWB at an international air show in Singapore.

By the end of January 2014, the A350 XWB had won a total of 814 orders from 39 customers worldwide. In January itself, the A350 XWB and A320 accounted for 10 orders in and the company says it delivered 39 aircraft compared to 35 in the same period last year.

Around 20 per cent of each Airbus aircraft is made in the UK, and 40 per cent of every Airbus A380 with Rolls-Royce engines is made here too with both set of statistics helping to account for aerospace exports worth £10.3bn in 2012.

Despite these encouraging figures concerns remain about a lack of visibility for the sector, attributed by some to the fact that Britain doesn’t design and manufacture aircraft like it did during the days of the De Havilland Comet et al.

The UK clearly excels at producing systems and sub-systems for the civil market, and in the military arena Team Taranis last week broke cover on test flights for its unmanned aerial combat aircraft. Taranis, an entirely British endeavour, is claimed to be the most technologically advanced aircraft built by British engineers and demonstrates ample ability to introduce new, home-grown defence capabilities.

But what of the next generation of engineers who will be needed to help assemble the A380s, Dreamliners, Typhoons, F-35s and Taranis aircraft?

This formed part of a recent discussion between The Engineer and Paul Everitt, chief executive of trade body ADS, and is more broadly reflected in a survey published today by Made in the Midlands.

Everitt is acutely aware of the long-term requirements, acknowledging that young people need to identify STEM subjects as ones which are interesting, exciting and will give them the best opportunity for a rewarding career.

More immediate issues revolve around not closing off routes into the industry for engineers who wish to migrate here.

‘But equally we need to ensure that we’re putting into place training regimes and support mechanisms that mean that we are increasing the rate that we produce our own,’ Everitt told The Engineer.

Made in the Midlands’ survey of its members comes to the depressingly familiar conclusion that manufacturing is not seen as a credible career choice.

Made in the Midlands, a manufacturing business network, says it canvassed its membership of manufacturing and engineering decision makers to develop a Futures Report that assesses and forecasts industry trends in the next three-to-five years.

Question 5 asked: How would you say that the image of engineering and manufacturing as a career choice is seen by the wider UK public? - which brought this response: 49 per cent said it had reasonable professional status; 41 per cent said low professional status; and 10 per cent good professional status.

Question 17 - What would you say is the single biggest threat to UK manufacturing over the next 3 - 5 years? - found 23 per cent identifying skills shortages; 15 per cent worried about government and politicians; 16 per cent citing overseas competition; and eight per cent worried about a lack of investment.

There is, however, a solution to every problem and both Everitt and Made in the Midlands concur that industry has its part to play in being more proactive in attracting the next generation of engineers.

For its part, Made in the Midlands says it will be opening its annual expo on May 22nd to schools and colleges after it has closed to delegates at 3pm.

‘From that time onwards teachers and pupils will have access to the Midlands manufacturing community to find out more about industry and the careers within it,’ they say.

‘Similarly [we should be] ensuring that we as a sector are making ourselves as interesting and exciting as possible to attract people who have got the appropriate qualifications to come into our sector, rather than others,’ said Everitt.

Finally, January saw another upswing in new car registrations with SMMT stating that buyers are being drawn to fuel efficiency and alternatively-fuelled vehicles, a market that enjoyed a 25 per cent increase in registrations over January 2013.

Low carbon automotive technology forms a significant part of this week’s Cleantech Innovate event which takes place this Thursday at the IMechE.

Run by ecoConnect CIC in partnership with IMechE, the event brings together greentech advances from 40 companies engaged in intelligent systems and building design, renewables, natural resource management and energy efficiency, plus low carbon transport.

The showcase of investment-ready green technologies developed in Britain includes a zero emission piston engine from Dearman Engine Company, a multi-speed electric vehicle transmission from Evolute Drives, and hybrid range extended electric trucks from Teva Trucks.

In publicity material Dr Tim Fox, head of Energy and Environment at IMechE said: ‘This event demonstrates the inventive and hugely varied nature of the UK’s green technology sector, which is very much alive and kicking.

‘Some of the technologies that will be presenting during the event could have the potential to revolutionise industries and change people’s day-to-day lives, not only here in the UK, but right across the developed and developing world.’