Manufacturing and design engineering to the rescue!

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With a radical coalition in power and the worst recession since the Depression, there’s talk about getting back to actually making things, rather than pushing around bits of paper. But what is the reality? asks Martyn Day
During the ‘good’ times, when outsourcing was all the rage and every job was going abroad, I once mused if it was possible to hire a couple of engineering graduates in India to do my writing, while I sat at home and enjoyed the rest of my income, maybe attended an event or two, or even went to India and took a leisurely visit to go and see my off-shored job. OK, I’m being facetious but at one time it did seem as though there was no limit to what role could be moved abroad and sacking yourself has to be the ultimate in off-shoring.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood the business reasons as to why so much manufacturing moved abroad – cheap and eager labour – but I couldn’t but help feel that we were losing the essential skills and knowledge for what was, and is, a short-term gain. This isn’t so much as selling your grandmother but selling your kids for profit. I also have still to work out how come Asian cheap labour is better than using CNC machines, robots and mechatronic assembly?

While products are still being designed here, the UK manufacturing decline has been pretty stark since the 1970s; from around 30% of national output to just over 10%. Needless to say the replacement jobs were in finance, fleecing and ‘business’. Similarly in 1980 manufacturing provided 25% of the nation’s jobs and now that’s down to just under 10% – with reciprocal increases when you combine finance and public sector jobs. Our illustrious leader, well one of our leaders, Mr. Cameron, now wants us to be a ‘workshop of the world’ again as opposed to a ‘nation of shop keepers’ and thieving bankers. This certainly sounds great and all rather jolly but I can’t help but think that not a lot of thought has gone into how or what exactly we are to suddenly start manufacturing?

And then there’s the ‘with who’ question? Unemployed call centre workers, surplus-nurses and ex-policemen? In fact does anyone here study engineering anymore?

The fact that isn’t being discussed is that the UK is still brilliant at product and engineering design and there is an argument that we weren’t actually all that great at ‘manufacturing’. Sure, we made killer steam trains two hundred years ago, great jets in the 1950s but we were past our best when we came up with the Austin Allegro. I don’t think we ever truly mastered mass-manufacture; we are much better at precision engineering and industrial design.

Perhaps we should stop dreaming about past glories and building factories and look to invest in and promote our in-demand design talent. Here though, without some exposure to manufacturing know-how, the next generation will lack important skills on understanding design manufacturability, so both need to go hand in hand.

With the woeful economy on my mind, I rang around to check what offers the software companies had for engineers looking to revitalise their design software skills to get back into employment. Early into the banking crisis a number responded strongly with offers for help. The strongest being Autodesk which introduced the Autodesk Assistance Program. This was originally time limited to December 2009 but has now been extended to January 2011 and is available in the UK, America, Canada and Latin America. The deal provides job seekers with free access to pretty much all the Autodesk student edition software suites together with free online training and access to everything that’s available to the student community. Good one Autodesk.


SolidWorks did offer what it called the “SolidWorks Engineering Stimulus Package’ but that has now ended. PTC and Siemens PLM currently don’t offer any specific help other than their student programs. To gain access you need to be affiliated to an education establishment and be on a course, which will cost money.

So, there is only one public option for mainstream CAD at the moment for free access and learning and that’s Inventor. If any software vendor or CAD reseller reading this wants to help engineers in job-peril, please contact me and we will publish the offers in DEVELOP3D and on our website.

Looking ahead, with government cuts in spending we have projected increases in unemployment of anywhere between an additional 600,000 to one million. A generation of new jobs will take years and require innovation, investment and skills. I’m glad that at least one of the CAD companies is still supporting those new and old designers looking for work and can only advise those looking for work that increased CAD expertise is a valuable CV asset.

Turning to manufacturing and exports to pull us out of this slump would make a nice change but the sector has been neglected and in decline for 40 years.

Effort and investment needs to be put into promoting the study of design and engineering. Money needs to be available for entrepreneurial investment in great ideas and we need more than words from government to accomplish this.

I’m not sure if it’s just me but red, blue, green, yellow, whatever your political ideology, Government initiatives just fiddle with the trimming and rarely have long lasting effects. It unfortunately appears that we are all in this for the long-haul, but wouldn’t it be great if design engineering and manufacturing came to the rescue?

Investment in education is the key to Britain’s future, says Martyn Day

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