Time to make an exhibition of ourselves

The trees welcome the autumn by shedding their leaves. The world of business does so by staging an exhibition, a conference or an awards event.

Welcome to September. The holiday season is over, the summer suddenly feels like a distant memory and now there isn’t even the cricket to remind us of warmer, longer days.

The trees welcome the autumn by shedding their leaves. The world of business does so by staging an exhibition, a conference or an awards event, and most commonly a combination of them all.

Ask 50 people what they think of these events and you will probably get 50 different responses, ranging from a tiresome ‘extra chore’ to ‘the highlight of the professional year’.

But when it comes to engineering and technology, these annual extravaganzas, especially the big international ones, do offer the opportunity to take the temperature of a sector, or indeed of the UK as a whole.

There has been plenty to keep the dedicated show-goer busy over the last few weeks. Let’s start at the Frankfurt motor show, where the automotive industry is said by commentators to be ‘in a period of transition’ (when was it ever otherwise?)

The buzzwords of Frankfurt are safety and alternative power technologies, and the current surge in world oil prices is the unwelcome ghost at the feast. Make no mistake, the industry is serious about fuel-saving technologies. Over the past decade the talk has been of developing ‘green’ fuel systems to help the environment (and meet government targets). But if the price of petrol stays high the industry faces the spectre of consumers turning away in their droves from any model that guzzles more of that precious, expensive fuel than is absolutely necessary.

Move west to Amsterdam and we find the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), the huge annual jamboree for those involved in the technology behind television, radio and film.

Here’s a very different sort of industry, but one that, like the automotive sector, is a huge repository of talent from these shores. Visit the show, and you will find UK companies, engineers and researchers at the heart of this fast-moving global business. If we’re not going to take a trip in our expensive-to-run cars, we want to be entertained, and here are the people developing the digital technologies to do it.

And nearer to home we reach DSEI, the defence show at London’s Docklands. Now we really are on home ground in more ways than one. Military technology has been a mainstay of the UK since Elizabeth I, and nothing has changed. From UK-based giants such as BAE Systems to small start-ups attempting to break into the sector, you don’t have to be an economist to work out the importance of the defence industry to the domestic economy. In some quarters that might be a source of regret, but the fact remains that here is a business in which the UK’s tradition of invention and ingenuity is on full display.

Three events, three very different industries, but together demonstrating that engineering and technology is the broadest of churches. And there’s always something new to bring to the show.