To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.
What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?
Britain has always been a country of innovators so it is difficult to pick out one example of British engineering. Instead I would like to pick three; one that changed society, one that enabled the 20th century to exploit electronics and a third that promises a great things.
First was the control of water and steam. James Watt’s breakthrough created the industrial revolution and changed the world from an agrarian society to an urbanised one, a change that we are still benefitting from today.
Second was James Clerk Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism which gave us the knowledge and capability to actually make electricity useful and eventually led to all the electronics we take for granted today.
Last, but by no means least, a technology that has great potential for the future is graphene – a material which is lighter than a feather, stronger than steel, yet incredibly flexible and more conductive than copper – which I am very excited about.
All three represent mechanical, electrical and material breakthroughs and are fantastic examples of British engineering and invention.
What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?
Ultra is a company that likes to ‘make a difference’ in all that we do. We don’t like to blow our own trumpet so I am going to exclude our products from my consideration otherwise it would seem disingenuous.
The product I would like to highlight is the new jet engine blade by Rolls-Royce. Making an aero engine blade that is hollow enough to be able to run the engine hotter while keeping the blades cool has improved the performance of the jet engine so that it is greener.
This is tremendously exciting as, in order to achieve this, Rolls has had to make breakthroughs in a number of areas including material science, mechanical engineering and aerodynamics, which is in itself impressive. The result is a fantastic product that enables airlines to use less fuel and is therefore kinder to our planet.
Why young people should get into the engineering sector?
Engineering is a great industry. People think that it is very staid, logical and process driven but I try to explain that actually, it is very creative. An engineer has to imagine a design and then bring that imagination to life on a blank piece of paper. Sure, at some point you have to apply process to make sure you can manufacture what you have designed, but that original thought process is pure creativity.
In addition, engineering can open up a number of career choices other than engineering such as management, finance and even politics; don’t forget that Margaret Thatcher was a chemist first!
How is your company attracting people into engineering?
There is a tremendous shortage of STEM graduates in this country and, although Professor Brian Cox and television series The Big Bang Theoryhave reversed the decline in physics undergraduates, we are woefully behind our global competitors.
As a group, Ultra has steadily increased its work with the younger generation and we now encourage our companies to get involved with their local schools and especially target the 8th graders. The reason we do this is that we found that, in order to get sufficient graduates, you have to go back to the 8th grade to get children to select science based GCSEs.
I myself have been involved with Greenford High School and we try to excite children by showing them that science is more than an academic study but has real world applications. We attend science fairs and provide sponsorship through school and university (graduate and post graduate) as well as summer work placements.
We also are members of EngineeringUK and Cyber Challenge UK, amongst others, so that we can participate as an industry to excite the younger generation.
Finally, we have an active and comprehensive internship programme that provides successful applicants with what we feel is a comprehensive (and paid!) overview of what life is like at a global engineering company like Ultra.