September’s top 10 engineering business stories

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

First things first and some good news for UK industry: manufacturers are expecting modest output growth in the coming three months, while order books have improved compared with August’s disappointing figures. This is according to the CBI’s latest monthly Industrial Trends Survey.

Of the 425 manufacturers responding to the survey, 28 per cent expect to increase their volume of output over the course of the next three months, while 21 per cent expect it to fall. The resulting balance of +7 per cent is in line with the long-run average (+6 per cent) and follows the expectation last month of a flat period for output (zero per cent).

The same story reveals that total order books saw an improvement from August (balance of -21 per cent), with 19 per cent of companies reporting them as above normal and 28 per cent saying that order levels were below normal in September. The rounded balance of -8 per cent is also well above the long-run average (-17 per cent) and back in line with July’s results (-6 per cent). Export orders also recovered with a balance of -10 per cent — well above the long-run average of -21 per cent.

On a less optimistic note, the latest CBI/KPMG infrastructure survey, Better Connected, Better Business, has revealed concern among businesses that critical infrastructure improvements are not happening quickly enough. Companies want to see urgent government delivery on the ground.

Responses from the 568 business leaders identified transport infrastructure as the area of greatest concern. Almost three quarters of companies do not expect to see any improvement in this area during the next five years. Roughly two thirds of businesses also believe the UK’s energy and water infrastructure is unlikely to get any better because of uncertainty surrounding the policy framework.

Sticking with the theme of energy, and in September RWE Innogy announced it had entered into a strategic partnership with Republika Srpska, an entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and state-owned utility Elektroprivreda Republika Srpske (ERS) to develop, construct and operate four hydropower plants. Over the next few years, joint venture companies will develop four run-of-river power stations on the Drina, where installed power will reportedly total 210MW.

In fact, partnerships were a key theme throughout the month. For instance, Royal Philips Electronics formed an alliance with Burjeel Hospital, a new 196-bed facility in Abu Dhabi, to provide comprehensive healthcare services including the supply, installation, maintenance and upgrade of key medical equipment within the hospital. The contract will reportedly ensure long-term value for Burjeel Hospital by future-proofing the installed technology against predictable operational costs.

In a separate agreement, Royal Philips Electronics has also joined forces with real-estate services provider Jones Lang LaSalle to deliver energy-efficient lighting and energy management products to all of the latter company’s clients. The partnership starts in the Asia-Pacific region and will be scaled up to cover the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Both companies will also provide consultancy on energy management with intelligent lighting systems and controls with new and existing customers.

BG Group, meanwhile, has signed a partnership agreement with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) aimed at supporting the long-term supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan and creating opportunities for Japanese companies to participate in energy projects around the world. Under the terms of the deal, BG Group will liaise with JBIC — a policy-based financial institution wholly owned by the Japanese government — on its natural gas developments and JBIC will consider providing financial support for these projects. The co-operation is expected to help ensure Japan receives stable supplies of natural gas in the form of LNG.

Automotive companies Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler are partnering on two projects to speed up the development of fuel-efficient engines and transmissions. A jointly developed four-cylinder gasoline direct-injection turbocharged engine range co-led by Renault and Daimler is intended to lower emissions and improve fuel economy. The engines will be jointly manufactured by the companies and will debut in vehicles in 2016. Meanwhile, the transmission project will be led by Daimler, which is licensing the technology to Nissan for use in Nissan and Infiniti vehicles from 2016. The transmissions feature ‘start and stop’ and ‘park and shift by wire’ technologies.

And ‘efficiency’ is the main focus of the Technology Strategy Board’s Green Genius — or Greenius — competition, which opened in September. Organisations are being invited to compete for a share of £3m for the development of innovative, near-market technologies leading to commercialisation.

The competition, aimed at driving forward the UK’s green growth agenda, is centred around three themes: food, water and energy. Submitted ideas should link two or preferably all three of these themes and must offer significant benefits for customers and/or businesses.

Finally, no monthly round-up would be complete without at the very least a story or two about aerospace contracts. In September, Boeing announced that All Nippon Airlines (ANA) has ordered 11 787-9 Dreamliners in a deal valued at $2.7bn (£1.6bn) at current list prices. The order brings the total number of 787s ANA has ordered to 66 aircraft consisting of 36 787-8s and 30 787-9s. The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is a slightly longer version of the 787-8 and will carry 250–290 passengers on routes of 8,000–8,500 nautical miles (14,800–15,750km).

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines has placed a firm order with Airbus for 10 additional A330-300 widebody aircraft. This follows a major order from the airline in August for 44 single-aisle A321s and 10 A330s under the carrier’s fleet modernisation programme. For its latest order, the airline has chosen the 240-tonne high-gross-weight version of the A330, offering extra range capability. This will reportedly enable the airline to operate the aircraft non-stop from Manila to any destination in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as to the Middle East and as far as Honolulu in the US.