Generation innovation

Engineering, science and technology experts met at NIDays 2009 to discuss innovation and how best to inspire it. Andrew Lee reports


Bloodhound effect: Speaking at NIDays 2009, Andy Green – who hopes to break the 1,000mph mark in the Bloodhound SSC – talked about how the project aims to inspire a new generation of engineers
Bloodhound effect: Speaking at NIDays 2009, Andy Green – who hopes to break the 1,000mph mark in the Bloodhound SSC – talked about how the project aims to inspire a new generation of engineers

Innovation in action always appeals to engineers, whatever their discipline or particular field of interest, and it was top of the agenda at NIDays 2009, the annual professional development conference for engineers and scientists hosted by National Instruments in late November. The event has become firmly established as a key date in the technology calendar and once again packed out the headquarters of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London.

There was innovation aplenty on display from National Instruments and the users of its test, control and design tools, who were on hand to demonstrate their own applications first-hand.

The action arrived in the imposing form of wing commander Andy Green, holder of the world land speed record and the man hoping to break the 1,000mph mark in the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, a project National Instruments is supporting.

Green delivered one of the keynote speeches at NIDays 2009, giving visitors the background to the project and explaining how it aims to inspire a new generation to engage with engineering, technology and science by creating a ‘Bloodhound effect’ in schools and colleges around the UK.
He claimed there is already some evidence of this happening and that the excitement created by the project is propelling engineering and technology up the agenda for female as well as male students.

In another keynote address, John Hanks, vice-president, industrial and embedded products for National Instruments, outlined the ways in which companies are looking to lower their costs and speed up development times to help them stay competitive in tough economic conditions. Hanks said prototyping and testing could not only help the technical development process, but also give companies a greater insight into the economic value of what they are creating and any risks associated with it.

Green and Hanks also took part in a panel debate centred around the question ‘what inspires innovation?’. They joined representatives from National Instruments and other experts in a bid to pin down the factors that create the right environment for innovation to flourish.

Key areas identified by the panel included giving engineers the ability to share ideas effectively – either within their own companies or with external partners – and helping innovative technologies to reach their markets more quickly.

Green stressed the need to foster the basic skills needed for a career in engineering and technology

Green also stressed the need to foster the basic skills needed for a career in engineering and technology, pointing out that once these were in place, the people who are naturally innovative would have the best chance of fulfilling their potential.

Speaking after the panel discussion, Hanks said that innovation is deeply rooted in National Instruments’ own culture, helping it to work more effectively with its customers. He added: ‘We have the advantage of working with some of the most innovative people in the world.

‘For example, we could find a customer who is using one of our products in an unexpected and innovative way. It’s then possible for us to take that and add value for another customer, which is one of the ways we can help the innovation process as a whole.’

Away from the speeches and the discussions, the main business of NIDays 2009 involved users of the company’s products exploring the latest tools and technologies from the National Instruments portfolio and finding out how to use them effectively in their own businesses.
Technical sessions and training took place throughout the day. Highlights included the chance to get to grips with the new features of LabView 2009, National Instruments’ graphical programming platform.

Visitors also had the opportunity to explore the NI wireless sensor network platform, which opens up opportunities for the deployment of long-term networks for a range of applications.

Many of those attending took part in the event’s ‘meet the engineer’ sessions, allowing them to discuss specific issues with specialist advisers.