The opinions of Tim Fryer.

You snooze, you lose

Please keep on reading, because I am going to use the written equivalent of a snooze button. Industry 4.0. Although I could just have easily said Internet of Things, Connected Industry or any of a host of related terms. The point is that as terms they are overused and overhyped, with the consequence that their real meaning and value is becoming lost. And one of the main points that is being lost is who it is relevant to. Obviously it is relevant factory managers if they want their factories to be ‘smart’, but those who think that is the beginning and the end of the story do so at their peril.

Clock ticks into 2017

Along with taking out the soon to be unused gym membership, and resolving to give up something unhealthy - normally something you particularly enjoy - a traditional pastime for this time of year is to look forward to what the next 12 months will bring.

CAD leaves glass half empty

I have spent quite a bit of time of late with the leading CAD suppliers and marvelled at the progress they are making. Even ignoring the glitz added by virtual reality, the amount of engineering power in the engine room of these packages is phenomenal. It is getting to the stage when concepts can be captured and turned into fully engineered products that meet required specifications - the engineering designer offering a guiding hand through the process, rather than wasting time personally conducting the engineering due diligence.

Innovation doesn’t happen here? Don’t believe it!

One of the continuing claims made by those who should know better is that UK design manufacturing is in the decline. Some go as far as saying that manufacturing and design have left the UK. But it's not the case. While high volume, low value manufacturing has gone elsewhere, the UK's manufacturing sector has developed a global reputation for its ability to produce low volume, high value goods to high levels of quality.

When cheaper became better

An interesting observation from Roy Gandy in this month's interview is that the demanding requirements of the automotive industry could be behind general improvements in the capability of the supply chain. Unquestionably this is a factor, but I think the winds of change started blowing a good decade earlier, at the end of the last millennium.

Engineering's upward spiral

These are tantalising times at Eureka! The announcement of this year's British Engineering Excellence Awards (BEEAs) winners is only a few weeks away. Another two weeks after that and the doors will be opening on the Engineering Design Show (EDS). These are the two highlights in the Eureka calendar as they give us an opportunity to showcase the Best of British.

The A-bomb has landed

Today is A-level results day - a day tens of thousands of school leavers will discover what is going to be their first formal step up the ladder to a career in engineering. Universities have had restrictions on student numbers removed and we are also entering a period when numbers of 18 year olds is on the decline, so there is expected to be something of a clamour in the race to sign up students in all subjects.

Parting of the partnerships

Being honest I had hoped that the Brexit issue would have sloped off stage quietly and be in the past by now, but it seems it and its consequences will be with us for many years. A trip to the Farnborough Air International Show (FAI) highlighted why these consequences could hit the British technology and engineering sectors hard.

Good sports

Sport is a wonderful thing. It polarises and inspires, and it changes at the drop of a hat. At the time of writing, optimism fills the air as either England or Wales could effectively clinch a spot in the knock-out stages of the Euros and Northern Ireland could gain a historic victory. Admittedly by the time of reading, England could be facing a humiliating expulsion on account of fan behaviour and the other two countries could be facing difficult final group matches to stay in the competition. Elsewhere England have just wrapped up a series cricket win, Wimbledon is just round the corner, the travelling circus that is Formula 1 is making its way from Canada to this weekend’s new venue in Azerbaijan, rugby tests are scattered across the southern hemisphere…..and at the tip of this huge sporting iceberg is the Rio Olympics, which is only six weeks away.

Fear prevents a living wage

We have recently been running a poll on the Eureka Website following the introduction of the Living Wage. Around three quarters of respondents felt that the Living Wage would make no difference at all while the remainder thought it would be positive. No one thought it would have a negative impact.

Slow approach to Brexit

If there's one thing that we can thank David Cameron for, it is not delaying the EU referendum any longer. While there may not be much evidence of business activity slowing down as a consequence, there is undeniably a sense of cautious uncertainty hanging over the engineering sector.

Maths idea doesn’t add up

George Osbourne is considering making maths compulsory up to age of 18. I believe he is wrong... Just so there is no doubt, I passionately believe that the future of science, engineering and manufacturing is directly tied into the fortunes of our country in the future.

BEEAs spring to action

Our search is now on for this year's industry stars. The entry process for the British Engineering Excellence Awards is now underway and open to any company or individual who are carrying out engineering design in the UK.

Engineering without compromise

In terms of manufacturing 2016 did not get off to a great start with news of further devastation to the steel industry

Difficulties in green design

There was much self-congratulation in Paris in mid-December at the close of COP21 – the Climate Change Conference. Everyone seemed happy that ‘we are serious about this now’ before returning to throw Yule logs on their home fires. But, who is actually going to do what as a consequence of this agreement remains to be seen. It struck me as a destination without detailing the journey – the nub of the matter is that we must burn less fossil fuels. So, is that all?

Goodbye to the old... hello to the new

‘Not too bad’ might be the traditionally British reserved assessment of 2015. Symbolically our last deep mine closed in the UK, but in general the engineering environment was stable, if not buoyant, which probably reflects the British economy as a whole. Technology, particularly in engineering materials and energy efficiency, continues to develop, while the disruptive potential of additive manufacturing seems to be being realised by more engineers in a broader range of applications.

Difficult to manage?

Are good engineers good managers? I was struck by how many are, or at least the difference it makes if they are, at the recent Engineering Design Show, where I had the pleasure of hosting the conference.

Taking stock of China

The concept of a global recession has always eluded me. As long as we have the raw materials for civilisation, like food and fuel, then a global recession seems to be counter-intuitive - do we as a planet owe another planet a huge amount of galactic dollars?

War games

I do not yet own a drone although I suspect it is only a matter of time. Their controllability even in basic models far outstrips that of toy/model helicopters and the addition of reasonable resolution cameras on a stable platform further adds to their appeal. They are the ultimate geek toy.

The right creative spark

Industrial designers do speak in a slightly different language to us engineers. At a recent conference the delegates, all industrial designers, were encouraged to get emotional, understand the human problems and even 'love the unknown'. I am not being sniffy or dismissive - these industrial designers were producing some truly beautiful and innovative products - even if it is the design engineers who have to make their concepts a reality.

It's an (old) man's world

Diverse as peas in a pod. That is unfortunately my conclusion following our recent Eureka readership survey. Firstly, the well-publicised lack of gender diversity in the engineering sector is backed up by our results, as only 2.5% of our respondents were female.

Don't play with Europe

Only two days now until votes are cast. In a previous blog I expressed, rather despondently, that such was the disappointing choice of political alternatives then, all other things being equal, it would be as well to vote for the local MP who is most likely to improve the prospects of your company.

Why engineers should use the pragmatic vote at the election

This will be one of the last Eureka blogs before the General Election on May 7th 2015, after which, it is fairly safe to assume, we are in for some form of administration change – even if it is another coalition. Are we likely to see the Conservatives and Lib Dems partnering again? Probably not, but in a political climate in which principles seem secondary to pragmatism, you can't rule anything out, nor anything in.

Do women care about STEM?

Any engineering event these days seems to have its 'cause-that-must-be-addressed'. Generally for the last few years this has been about the lack of children wanting to go to university to study science and engineering. It has been well documented that we are, apparently, producing only half the number of engineering graduates that we will need to fulfil demand for the next decade.

Wrestling with conflict minerals

Although you might not think so, it is more than likely that the issue of conflict minerals is relevant to you. If the product you design contains tin or tungsten, or any alloys containing them, then you are using conflict minerals.