Honouring yesterday’s engineers and the creativity of tomorrow’s engineers

News editor

The unveiling of a statue of one of the leading engineers of Britain’s Age of Steam marks the beginning of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. 

It seems fitting at the start of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week to bring news of an engineer who is to be commemorated with a statue.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week aims to ‘challenge the perceptions of engineering among young people, their parents and teachers’ and encourage young people to investigate the profession and be inspired ‘by celebrating the everyday engineering heroes that design, create and innovate to improve our lives.’

It is, of course, all too easy to overlook or take for granted the myriad of contributions engineers have made to our daily lives, one of whom was Sir Nigel Gresley, the mechanical engineer who designed locomotives, carriages and wagons for the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) from 1923 until his death in April 1941.

To recap, Sir Nigel’s achievements include designing the Mallard, the fastest steam locomotive in the world, Flying Scotsman, and streamlined high-speed trains such as Silver Jubilee in 1935 and Coronation in 1937. He also invented vehicle articulation, which is still used by railway and tramway engineers.

Sir Nigel is to be remembered at London’s Kings Cross railway station with a 7’6” bronze statue sculpted by Hazel Reeves SWA, FRSA.

According to the Trust, the statue will be placed in the Western Concourse, beside the entrance to the Ticket Office, by the wall to West Offices where Sir Nigel and his principal assistants worked until the outbreak of war.

Network Rail, Camden Borough Council, and English Heritage have cleared the erection of the statue, which needs donations from interested parties to fund the project. The Gresley Society Trust is hoping to raise £95,000 and donations can be made via its website here.

There is some method in linking these Tomorrow’s Engineers Week and Sir Nigel Gresley, the first of which is remembering that we still live with his principles of articulation.

The second is to remind ourselves of a word that some young people might not always associate with engineering, and that word is ‘creativity’.

Without creativity and logic engineers would not have evolved the myriad of platforms and systems that simplify many aspects of our lives, and our young friends will be required to dig deeply into theirs as they face the sort of challenges, such as climate change, that weren’t even considered in Sir Nigel’s lifetime.

One stimulating initiative from Tomorrow’s Engineers Week – Robots vs Animals competition from the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Bristol Zoo Gardens – is asking 11 to 18 year olds: What amazing animal ability would you use to design a useful robot?

Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the national competition taps directly into biomimicry, a relatively new field that takes the most efficient elements from animal evolution and puts them into a robot.

According to project leader Laura Fogg-Rogers, this could include a robot with the flight of a bird, the sensing power of shrews’ whiskers, or the gentle strength of a monkey’s hand.

In a statement she said: ‘Working with Bristol Zoo Gardens, we are developing workshops which demonstrate how engineering can solve real-world problems by taking inspiration from other realms, such as animals in nature.

‘We hope the young people who take part are really inspired by the competition to continue and develop their skills as engineers.’

UWE add: ‘The aim of the project overall is to demonstrate engineering as a creative, exciting and innovative field, and encourage a wider range of young people, both boys and girls, to consider it as a career possibility.

‘Competition entrants will need to consider how their robot could be useful by solving real-world problems. It might be a robot that helps us to become more sustainable or supports our health and wellbeing. The robot also needs to take its inspiration from an animal, with careful consideration of the materials that it will be built with and the engineering design process used to make it work.’

Winning entries will be exhibited as part of Bristol’s Festival of Nature 2015.

Further initiatives being undertaken during Tomorrow’s Engineers Week are too numerous to mention but you can see for yourself by clicking here.

  • Manufacturers are crying out for young talent: 66 per cent plan to recruit an engineering graduate in the next three years and 66 per cent plan to recruit an engineering apprentice in the next 12 months
  • Opportunity to earn: the average engineering apprentice earns £7.03 per hour just to train, while the average engineering graduate earns a fifth more than other graduates
  • Rules of attraction: 72 per cent of manufacturers say raising awareness of apprenticeships  will encourage more young people into manufacturing – 63 per cent say the same of STEM-promoting initiatives between schools and business
  • Careers advice: six in ten (60 per cent) say better-informed careers advice at school will encourage more into manufacturing
  • Skills shortages facing manufacturers: four in five are struggling to recruit – over two-thirds (69 per cent) say this is because candidates lack technical skills, while 48 per cent do not have enough applicants to fill job roles.

 Source: EEF