July’s top 10 engineering business stories

Each month, we pick 10 of the most notable news stories from The Engineer’s Business Briefs archive.

It was a confident start to July for UK manufacturers: a new report from Lloyds TSB Commercial has suggested that confidence among a number of companies has held up over the past six months, despite concerns over the eurozone crisis and slow UK growth.

The twice-yearly Business in Britain report, which canvasses the views of more than 250 UK manufacturing businesses, shows that confidence remained unchanged at 18 per cent. Despite the continuing tough economic challenges, manufacturing confidence remained stronger than the all-sector average of 12 per cent.

The CBI’s latest quarterly Industrial Trends Survey has reaffirmed that the UK manufacturing sector is showing resilience in the face of challenging economic conditions, with orders and output growth steady. Both measures of activity indicated modest growth in the three months to July, while manufacturers’ optimism about the general business situation was broadly stable relative to the previous three months.

One such manufacturing company, Tata Steel, has recently invested approximately £10m in new technology to enable it to produce longer wear-resistant rails at its Hayange facility in the Lorraine region of north-east France. Heat-treated rail is said to last up to three times longer than standard rail when used in high-wear conditions such as heavy traffic, high axle loads or tight curves.

In another example of manufacturing confidence, Balfour Beatty Regional Civil Engineering (BBRCE) has been awarded contracts from Network Rail and BAE Systems in Scotland that could together be worth more than £23m.

Working for BAE Systems, BBRCE will carry out the £7.2m construction of a new access road in its Bishopton development, including a bridge over the existing railway. Meanwhile, Network Rail has awarded BBRCE a £6.1m contract for the platform refurbishment of seven Network Rail stations. Platform replacement with associated drainage, mechanical and electrical work will take place at Blair Atholl, Bowling, Cambuslang, Crosshill, Dingwall, Maybole and Motherwell stations.

Moving on from manufacturing to design, and a new wheelchair propulsion accessory has been recognised as having a significant social impact. The UK Business Angels Association award for Social Impact Investment of the Year was jointly awarded to the FSE Group and Central England Business Angels for their investment in Pure Global — the company that designed the NuDrive accessory.

NuDrive is said to reduce the required effort to propel; it also protects the user’s hands and improves posture, which helps in reducing shoulder injuries. The user no longer propels by gripping the wheel rims by hand; instead, he or she can propel forwards and backwards, manoeuvre and brake, simply by pushing the levers.

Meanwhile, a new partnership between Queen’s University Belfast and Cirdan Imaging is expected to result in novel medical imaging techniques that could improve cancer detection and treatment. According to a statement, the research will focus on developing new equipment using X-rays and near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence to assist clinicians in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Confidence has also extended to the offshore drilling industry in recent times, with a report from Deloitte revealing that offshore drilling activity on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) rose 64 per cent during the second quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year.

The report, which documents drilling and licensing across north-west Europe between 1 April and 30 June, shows that 18 exploration and appraisal wells were drilled on the UKCS during the period. This also represents a 64 per cent increase on the first quarter of 2012. With deal activity in the UK also rising 47 per cent this quarter, compared with the second quarter last year, and an increase in field development approvals and start-ups, the outlook for the UK oil and gas industry is positive.

On the subject of offshore, Rolls-Royce has announced orders worth more than £70m to supply large thrusters for drilling vessels. Seadrill has specified Rolls-Royce thrusters for three drillships to be built by Samsung in Korea. Each vessel will be equipped with six azimuth thrusters, each rated at 4,500kW. A similar thruster order is specified for a drillship bought by Pacific Drilling, while more powerful thrusters of the same design have been ordered for an Ensco drillship.

Rolls-Royce has also recently won an order worth around £180m, at list prices, to supply Trent 700 engines for four Airbus A330 freighter aircraft. The contract, from Avianca, part of the AviancaTaca group, includes long-term TotalCare services support. The AviancaTaca group currently operates seven passenger Trent 700-powered A330s, with another three of the aircraft on firm order.

And finally, a flying success for Boeing: Aeroméxico, Mexico’s largest airline, has committed to purchase up to 100 single- and twin-aisle aircraft — a combination of 737 MAXs and 787 Dreamliners — in an agreement that will fuel the airline’s expansion. When finalised, the order will be worth around £6.9bn at list prices.