Rocket man

Three of the UK’s largest engineering institutions are investigating a merger that would create one engineering body with over one quarter of a million members.

I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member. Groucho Marx.

Three of the UK’s largest engineering institutions are investigating a merger that would create one engineering body with over one quarter of a million members. The new organisation would merge the IEE with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE).

The IIE is the youngest of the three organisations. It was formed by a three-way merger of Institutes in 1998 and now represents around 40,000 Incorporated Engineers and Engineering Technicians. The IEE is the largest of the organisations with around 130,000 members, and was formed in 1871. The IMechE is even older, founded 150 years ago by George Stephenson, inventor of the Rocket locomotive. It has around 80,000 members worldwide.

Before it all goes through, the Council of each body have to meet up to discuss the proposal. IEE members will be able to vote on it at a Special General Meeting in September, and the other two bodies will be holding similar votes during the autumn.

One chap in favour of the merger is Lord Sainsbury. He’s the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation.

‘I am pleased that these three professional bodies are taking the first steps towards merging into one. This is a very positive move. The creation of a large organisation that represents a broad spectrum within the engineering profession has many advantages, particularly in terms of providing a stronger voice for the profession and for tackling crucial educational and skills issues. I very much hope that this initiative is successful,’ our Lord said.

Personally, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m saddened and troubled at the thought that we might lose the IEE and the ImechE by merging them with the IIE.

Over the years, the IEE and the IMechE have represented, and still do represent, the academic interests of British engineers in two very disparate fields of engineering – electrical/electronic engineering and mechanical engineering. These very different fields cannot possibly be served by a single organisation better than two separate ones.

After all, what on earth does an engineer who is designing a 100,000 gate integrated circuit have in common with an engineer who is building a 5-axis machining centre? Not a lot. So aside from economic reasons, there are clearly no tangible benefits at all that an engineer will gain from the Institutional merger.

If the merger does proceed, the likely result is the creation of a ‘professional’ organisation with a very vaguely defined role so that its appeal can be as ‘spread spectrum’ as possible. An organisation with such a remit so broad that it does many things – but none of them well.

And don’t be too surprised if the new home for ”All Things Engineering’ comes with a nebulous vision statement based on The Third Way. ‘To be the first choice professional ‘home’ for engineering and technology professionals’ is one indistinct idea that might fit the new agenda.

But wait! That’s already in use! It’s the vision statement of the IIE. They beat me to it already.