In 1989 The Engineer reported the hopes and aspirations of those involved in a new Link initiative to improve the speed and accuracy of British industrial machines. A group of academics and industrialists had £20m from a mix of industry and Government funding to improve the designs of high-speed machines in a five-year project.
By all accounts the project – in terms of the technology and the practical applications developed, has been incredibly successful. This week we report the fruits of the work which have put Britain four years ahead of Japanese developments in high-speed manufacturing machinery.
The Link teams report advances in mechatronics and independent drives employing fluid power and electronics which are ready to transform the design of machinery. They claim increases of 100% in operating speeds and reductions of 50% in changeover times. So how has British industry responded to the opportunities the technologies offer?
Apathy is the overwhelming response, particularly from the thousands of small and medium-sized firms now forming a critical part of the manufacturing sector.
Those behind the scheme have worked hard to pass on the details of their work and persuade companies not involved of the potential applications and advantages. Seminars to disseminate the work and visits to individual factories did little to improve the take-up.
The latest, last ditch, attempt to encourage interest is the Machinery Technology Centre formed in 1994 at the Amtri research institute.
Considerable work, effort and persuasion went into winning funds for research in the machinery sector in the mid to late 1980s. Establishing a Link programme on high-speed machines meant overcoming resistance from many who saw it as an old fashioned industry.
The next stage in the development of a thriving machinery industry does include broader education of design engineers and focused Government funding for further design work.
But for once it seems that the main problem is industry’s inability to help itself. The Machinery Technology Centre is ready to help both participants and non-participants in the project. So are the six universities involved in much of the research.
Few people are beating a path to their door.