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Sixty second interview

IET Design & Production Sector Head, Gordon Attenborough gives a quick summary of what’s happening within the Sector.

Gordon Attenborough gives a quick overview of what's happening within the sector -  from active collaboration around engineering in agriculture through to the need to change the way we think about design in engineering. There’s a call for action too -  an invitation to engineers and technicians who want to showcase their innovation in design and production to step into the spotlight!

What has been your focus since the last newsletter?

We have been pushing forward with our work on the food industry and making headway on our plans to consider the interaction between design and engineering.

What has been the progress with the food subject?

In addition to our own activity the D & P sector is currently engaged in a number of collaborations around engineering in agriculture including Harper Adams University, The Institution of Agricultural Engineers and the Food and Drink Engineering Forum which is made up of all the engineering institutions and key industry figures. One of the key pieces of work will be to highlight the major issues, identify those technological areas that represent the best opportunity for impact and encourage the Science Engineering and Technological communities to consider working in those areas.

Areas such as?

Resource usage and overall waste are key concepts here. Irrigation, precision delivery of pesticides and nutrients are examples that come to mind first, but the whole usage of plant level sensing and monitoring in the field is an area of huge potential that I am sure you will see more visibly discussed and promoted. There are some fantastic innovations being worked on which I will be highlighting over the next few months however, I would really like some of those to be by IET members. It would be great if we could showcase some of their research, innovations and achievements - I just need members to come forward!

Why have you chosen this area in particular?

The scale and importance of the task is unarguable. Global population will increase from seven billion today to over nine billion by 2050. The World Bank estimates that global production of cereal needs to increase by 50% and meat production by 85% by 2030 and this will need to be achieved whilst climate and environmental change will place increasing pressure on food production. On a more commercial level, the UK’s food supply chain is worth some £85 billion and employs more than 3.5 million people. It is the largest manufacturing sector, however with global food security becoming a serious concern, it still represents an enormous opportunity area for UK manufacturers to contribute greater Gross Value Added and be world leaders. In general though I am always attracted to subjects that have a real societal aspect to them in addition to great engineering challenges and if we look at food security “from farm to fork” it is, for me, hard to think of many other subject areas that represent those two factors better. Having said that I am sure my inbox will shortly be filled with suggestions!

What about processing?

This is a particularly challenging area with an increasing need to produce more using fewer resources whilst wasting less. This particular industry has its own unique challenges, high proportion of very small companies, varied levels of engineering skills and equipment, lack of incentives to innovate. I am extremely interested to hear from members with knowledge and experience of the processing industries, retailers chilled/frozen supply chain and of course equipment manufacturers. Where are the key areas of waste and resource usage? What are the target areas for innovation and where do the real technological and process breakthroughs need to happen?

You mentioned the interaction between design and engineering, what are you working on?

I have been discussing with British Design Innovation and the Institution of Engineering Designers the apparent disconnect between industrial and engineering designers and engineers with both! Some companies and individuals are of course fully versed in the importance of design in all types of engineering and at the earliest stages of projects however, the UK is behind other nations in this respect and there is a strong feeling that it is a barrier to innovation. The IET and Design and Production Sector have an excellent opportunity through these collaborations to make a real contribution on this issue.

What is the sector going to be doing?

You will see a piece in this newsletter by Gus Desbarats. An industrial designer and engineer he has written a brief summary of industrial design, its relevance and how manufacturing and engineering in general can benefit from its correct implementation. This is the first part of a series of thought pieces, case studies and discussions that we will be uploading around this subject which should provide an excellent grounding for an event planned later in the year. It is going to be an on-going discussion which I hope members engage with, not only to debate the relationship between design and engineering but also whether we need to change the way we design as a society.

What do you mean?

There are two main areas I am considering at the moment. Firstly design in manufacturing in general: the need for a greater emphasis on sustainability; consideration of the entire lifecycle; service versus consumption.
Secondly independent living: how we build environments, systems and products that are truly accessible and adaptable rather than relying upon bespoke solutions for the disabled and elderly. It’s a key area and like food security one that is only going to grow in importance and urgency.

What are you targeting between now and the next newsletter?

The design and food work will continue, however what I am looking for is IET members who are experienced or interested in any of these subjects to get involved. I hope the sort of content that is going to become available will be of interest to members but most importantly I hope it will trigger them to let me know what they think, join the debate and bring to my attention innovations and developments that already exist in these areas. I am very proud of the collaborations and partnerships the Sector has formed over the last few months however, I would be delighted if I could to hear from you and be able to highlight the opinions and work of more IET members.