Engineers assemble to discuss tomorrow’s technologies

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

Earlier in the year we reported on two developments aiming to make robotic and drone-delivered goods a reality for consumers, with both projects taking place in the UK.

The first involved Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robots, which will perform so-called ‘last mile’ deliveries of food, groceries, and parcels around Greenwich. The eventual aim – after a period of terrain mapping by the robots themselves –is for 99 per cent autonomous delivery with a human in the loop overseeing 100 robots at a time.

The second project involves Amazon, which received government permission to begin testing its delivery drones in the UK.

According to our report, approval for the trial will see the online retail company test beyond line-of-sight operations in rural and suburban areas, sensor performance for obstacle identification and avoidance, and flights where one operator oversees multiple autonomous drones. All three elements will be key to demonstrating the viability of Amazon’s Prime Air delivery service, which was first proposed in 2013.

Responding to the Amazon story, Engineer reader Derek Morris said: “I can’t see how this can be an efficient delivery system, and I wonder how long it will be before a malfunction occurs, causing one to come crashing down on someone, or hits a vehicle causing a traffic accident.”

Morris makes a valid point given the novelty of Amazon’s proposal, yet it is technologies like these that will be discussed in some detail at Innovate2016, a two-day event taking place this week at the Manchester Central Convention Complex.

According to the organisers, Day 1 will focus on Manufacturing of the Future and Cities of the Future, with Day 2 looking at Health in the Future and the aforementioned Technologies of the Future, an area in which the UK is said to be making notable investments.

Paul Misener, vice president global innovation policy & communication at Amazon will be on hand to deliver an update on Prime Air’s aim of delivering packages to customers in half-an-hour or less. In the same strand, David Wood, chair, London Futurists & Principal, Delta Wisdom will talk about the fourth industrial revolution and – say the organisers – how entrepreneurs and engineers in the UK can become better at anticipating the impact caused by disruption.

A recap on last year’s Innovate UK can be seen below.

In the West Midlands over 12,000 delegates are set to descend on the NEC, Birmingham for Advanced Engineering 2016. The organisers of the two-day event expect it to address the supply chain needs of aerospace; automotive; motorsport; transport; and civil engineering by bringing together OEMs and tier 1 manufacturers.

Advanced Engineering 2016 is co-located with four other events including Aero, Automotive, Composites, and Performance Metals Engineering with the open conference sessions including IMEchE’s Aviation Aerodynamics 2016.

Delegates will be able to hear about the latest developments across the aerospace industry for increasing efficiency, with updates from Airbus on the BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) project, an update from Clean Sky Joint Undertaking on plans for Clean Sky 2, and Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan, a new design concept for greater aircraft engine efficiency.

On October 24, 2016 the company announced that it had conducted the first run of the Rolls-Royce Power Gearbox (PGB), thereby marking the start of a series of tests that will see the gearbox reach up to 100,000 horsepower. For Rolls-Royce, the power gearbox is a vital component of the UltraFan design as it enables the engine design to offer efficient power over a wide range of take-off thrusts.

We end this week’s Briefing with a legislative update from Eversheds, who’ve written to remind us that the Modern Slavery Act has now been in force for over one year. Consequently, all commercial organisations are expected to report annually on policies, training, due diligence processes and the effectiveness of measures taken to combat slavery and trafficking in their own organisations, and their supply chains.

Tom Player, employment partner, Eversheds LLP, and Simon Jones, partner, head of automotive sector, have been in touch to provide some ‘dos and don’ts’ for the manufacturing sector.

Do ensure:

You check whether you qualify
The Act requires qualifying businesses to publicly report, in a slavery and trafficking (‘S&T’) statement, the steps they have taken to ensure their operations and supply chains are trafficking and slavery free. The duty applies to organisations with year-ends from 31 March 2016. Businesses covered by the Act are those companies and partnerships supplying goods or services (wherever incorporated or formed) with global turnovers of £36m and above, providing they carry on business in the UK. Therefore, companies should consider their overall corporate structure and whether to produce a group-wide statement or a statement for each qualifying legal entity.

There is collaboration on policy development and review
Many of the businesses reporting have introduced new or amended policies and codes of conduct, such as anti-slavery, ethics, recruitment or whistleblowing. They have also reviewed their commercial terms to address modern slavery and trafficking risks with their manufacturing supply chain partners.

That you take appropriate due diligence and risk assessment steps
Work towards mapping your supply chain for slavery and trafficking risks. HR may be reluctant to take part in assessing the risk of slavery and trafficking in supply chains or outsourced relationships (as opposed to in the business itself). However, compliance, procurement and others involved in such risk assessments may typically lack HR’s expertise, for example, on recruitment practices, the use of agency labour and different workforce models. This expertise can help identify slavery risks.

Track performance and train staff
Consider how you educate employees and commercial /procurement teams on slavery and trafficking risks and ensure you explain their role in seeking to prevent modern slavery. Monitor your performance over time and remember that the obligation to report under the Act is an annual obligation and therefore identifying KPI’s will be an important measure in driving improvement in this area.

Do not:

Neglect your global responsibility
You need to ensure that you have an oversight over all your supply chains. Governance covering all parts of the business is critical as is an awareness of your broader human rights obligations and new emerging human rights reporting obligations, including pending new legislation in France and the new EU non-financial reporting Directive which will impact publically listed companies from December 2016.

Underestimate the effect the Act will have on your business
Sanctions can be civil and criminal. There are potential operational, financial, investor and reputational risks of failing to Act.

Apply and off- the-shelf compliance approach
The supply chain is complicated and multi-layered. It will be essential to understand your major risks and prioritise your actions. Do not see this as a one-off project. By being organised and methodical much can be achieved in addressing your S&T risks.

Get complacent
The increasing number of S&T statements published by businesses over recent weeks is a measure of the Act’s success. Even where statements are lacking in detail, the mere fact of publication reflects recognition by businesses that corporate accountability matters.