23 February, 2019

Safe Brexit

01 February, 2019

One of the fundamental expectations in any workplace is that the workforce is able to about its daily activities without any undue risk of injury. Of course, different professions can potentially pose different levels of bodily risk, but it remains a given that regardless of the job at hand workers should be able to return home at the end of their daily tasks uninjured and fit for another day’s productivity.

Removing the barriers

04 December, 2018

One realm of professional endeavour that could still do with a bit of a nudge in the direction of greater gender parity is that of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, perusing the findings of new research by WISE, the campaign for gender balance in STEM subjects, it would appear, encouragingly, that things are moving in the right direction, with the UK set to have 1 million women active in core STEM jobs by 2020. Over 900,000 women are currently working in STEM, according to the research, and an estimated 200,000 women with STEM qualifications will reach working age within the next 2 years. The news was announced at the recent WISE 2018 Awards presented by the Patron of WISE, HRH The Princess Royal.

The price of success

23 October, 2018

Higher education is, of course, of great importance. It’s important for students with career aspirations, and it’s important for any nation keen to protect its economic and knowledge-based standing at home and abroad. All this is of course a given from a philosophical standpoint. However, on a more practical note, some fairly powerful tremors were felt among the student community when the government decided to allow universities to charge up to £9000 a year in tuition fees from the academic year of 2012-13. This left many bright and aspiring students with the prospect of either foregoing a university education or facing a level of accumulating debt they could well do without by the time they took their first steps within their chosen professions.

A shifting gender balance?

26 September, 2018

It’s fair to say that, historically, STEM subjects (including: physics, maths, further maths, chemistry, computing, ICT, design and technology and other sciences) have predominantly been the domain of male students, many of whom went on to enjoy secure and professionally rewarding careers in their chosen fields. However, it is encouraging to see that this gender imbalance would appear to be moving in a direction of greater parity. According to analysis by Leeds based non-profit community interest company, WISE, of the 2018 A level results, the popularity of core STEM subjects at A level is soaring, especially among girls.

Stay safe

22 August, 2018

Naturally, most people go to work in the expectation of doing a productive, fulfilling day’s work and returning home satisfied and, most importantly, free from injury. In this day and age, one might think or expect that injury risk is largely a thing of the past. Well, it would seem that there is still work to be done in light of the recent HSE report showing there were 144 workplace deaths from April 2017 to March 2018 – an increase of 9 on the same period last year (6%). Despite the increase, there has been a long-term reduction in the number of fatalities since 1981 and the number has broadly remained level in recent years. However, the proportion of fatal injuries to older workers has been steadily increasing in recent years, although the increase seen in the most recent year is particularly large (Over 60s 2016/2017 – 35) (Over 60s 2017/2018 – 55).

Knowledge is power in the digital age

20 June, 2018

Discussions around Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution continue apace within industry and Government, and the recently held Engineering & Machinery Alliance (EAMA) evening reception at the House of Commons very much continued this positive momentum. One of the most resonant points made during the evening came from Dr Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens plc, who led the Made Smarter review of industrial digitisation for the Government. He commented that while the UK manufacturing community needs to continue to forge ahead in embracing the fourth industrial revolution – projecting its capabilities around the globe as innovators and creators – there has been concern aired that new technologies will increasingly displace humans from the workforce. “I don't subscribe to the argument that the fourth industrial revolution is going to eat up all of our jobs,” he said. “As matter of fact, if you look at what's happening in our factories right here in the UK we are very much using cobotics to work alongside our people in our factories, and we are using virtual reality and augmented reality to support our people in our manufacturing operations.” Dr Maier added that UK companies are also using data analytics to allow people to make better decisions about the manufacturing process. He stressed that it’s really about the augmentation; all these technologies working with and alongside people within businesses. “I think our agility, our innovation and the strength that we have in those fields are going to be pretty good for us if we invest well in the fourth industrial revolution,” he remarked. However, he recognised that one very fundamental and important factor surrounding the issue of humans and the fourth industrial revolution is that of skills. “All of what I've described is only possible if we skill our people to be able to master the fourth industrial revolution,” he said, adding that the upskilling of people who don't fully understand the technology is critical. “They might be scared of the technology and worry about it, and therefore not know how to embrace it,” he said. “This might mean they are blockers to embracing and moving forward with this technology at pace. So, we the industry have a very big job to do in terms of upskilling our people. There are some great initiatives and training schemes available, but I think we need to make sure more of that is focused on digital skills and especially on industrial skills.” The argument for a greater focus on upskilling the workforce marshalled by Dr Maier does indeed make a tremendous amount of sense. Without the right knowledge base within the workforce to utilise the technology available to realise Industry 4.0, companies are in danger of falling at the first hurdle. However, with the right knowledge, the right attitude, the right motivation and a hunger for pushing the innovation envelope, UK industry has everything to gain – leading the world in creating a stronger fourth industrial revolution. Ed Holden Editor

In the AI vanguard

08 May, 2018

Technologies aligned with artificial intelligence (AI) are developing as a rapid pace and are gaining major traction within the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0-related areas such as machine learning, robotics and autonomous vehicles. As a Stanford University paper – ‘Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030’ – neatly pointed out, “there is growing interest in applications that can utilise the complementary strengths of humans and machines – for humans to help AI systems to overcome their limitations, and for agents to augment human abilities and activities.”

Digital platforms high on the agenda for industrial manufacturers

27 March, 2018

When thinking about some of the technological sweet-spots that will increasingly define the future of industrial manufacturing, an increasing number of decision makers within the sector are citing Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution) as the big theme; one that also embraces other key digital concepts such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and smart manufacturing. Indeed, Infosys, provider of research and intelligence about the information technology (IT) and telecommunication sectors, has declared that in a mere two years’ time, digital platforms will support up to 30% of revenue and 60% of the manufacturers worldwide.

To automate or not to automate…

16 February, 2018

Based on the amount of coverage received in the industrial press and beyond, one would expect that the topic of robotics and the wider automation landscape is what most companies are busy talking about and even looking to deploy, if indeed they haven’t done so to some extent. The attraction is easy to see: the potential for greater accuracy, speed and agility, less waste and more profitability. We are even seeing developments in collaborative robots, or cobots, that are able to work alongside human workers to further enhance the whole production process. And within the wider Industry 4.0 concept of end-to-end integration and connectivity, one would think the whole technology area simply cannot be ignored – even if a sizeable initial investment is required before the return on investment and resultant technological benefits really start to kick in.

Celebration and reflection

08 December, 2017

Having probably perused the front cover of this edition of Hydraulics & Pneumatics before making it this far, it is unlikely to have escaped you by now that this is a rather special issue. Some 21 years since its inception, the journal has come of age. Having myself been sitting in the editor’s chair for over 12 years now, I have increasingly come to appreciate the value of the journal as the only publication dedicated to the fluid power industry.

Time to play catch-up

27 October, 2017

There’s no way to escape it; the digital theme in all its guises is going to be one of the most widely debated themes within the fluid power industry and wider manufacturing and engineering space going forward. For example: Industry 4.0 and the greater computer-based connectivity of humans and machines; the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and embedded digital devices within tools, equipment and systems; Big data and the immense sources of data that can be analysed by computer algorithms to plot business patterns etc.; and Digital Transformation (DT) and the manifold changes that can come about through applying computerised/digital technology to things and actions in our daily professional and social lives.

Creativity is the watchword

26 September, 2017

Like any other professions, those concerning engineering and manufacturing are kept alive and vibrant by a regular supply of newcomers, buoyed with enthusiasm as they look forward to what could prove to be a lifelong, fulfilling and prosperous career decision. Encouragingly, there has been an uptake of students studying Maths and Physics subjects, and this move has been hailed “a step in the right direction” and welcome progress by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). However, the IET adds that studying engineering is creative and should not be limited to only those who have taken these subjects.

Treading the right career path

22 August, 2017

As the topic of GCSE and A-Level results becomes a key talking point around the breakfast table in many households across the UK, a group of engineering apprentices is urging young people to be calm and consider the full range of options – whatever their results. With more and more firms offering attractive schemes, young people still considering their career options having decided not to go to university (or not being in a position to do so) could do well to give serious thought to the possibility of serving an apprenticeship in engineering. In many instances, the demand is there, the life-long career opportunities are in place and opportunities to advance through a company – often to the very top level – have been proven. Moreover, many people who have chosen this path have found themselves in a fulfilling and enjoyable profession that is able to sustain them throughout their life. Indeed, according to the latest research by the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC), 98% of engineering apprentices are happy with their career choice – and this finding spans apprentices at all levels, from Level 2 (intermediate level) to Level 6 (degree level).

The EU question

09 June, 2016
Ahead of the EU Referendum on 23 June, a number of insightful points on the topic were discussed during a lively panel discussion at the recently held BFPA AGM. With this in mind, I felt it timely to leave some of these views with you as you make up your minds as to which way you will vote on the day. The Association’s CEO, Chris Buxton, opened the debate by reminding the assembled of David Cameron’s speech to Chatham House in November last year during which the PM said “this is perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes”. Alan Halsall, a successful businessman and board member of the ‘Vote Leave campaign’, then presented his arguments for a Brexit. “I see massive youth unemployment; in many countries more than 50 per cent. I see economic growth in the EU from 2008 to 2015 stuck at 3 per cent, while the US over the same period has grown 25 per cent and the Chinese economy has doubled. I see Finland wanting a referendum on the Euro, and Poland recently warning Germany and the wider EU not to intervene in their affairs. I see Portugal in a constitutional crisis, Spain with no government and Holland voting against the EU-Ukraine trade deal. I see the more extreme right-wing parties all over Europe becoming more and more powerful because I think they feel that their voice has been forgotten amongst the unelected European ‘oligarchs’ and the centralisation of power into Brussels. I look at worrying political moves in Hungary, and we haven’t seen the end of the euro crisis for Greece with its continuing weak economy and increasing unemployment. We now have the only opportunity to leave the EU that we will have in our lifetimes. We haven’t had such an opportunity since 1975 and I think that we should take it.” Richard Butler, director at the CBI responsible for the West Midlands and Oxfordshire, then made the point that many business organisations, including the CBI, have conducted polls of their membership and the vast majority are in favour of staying in the EU. In terms of the perceived benefits of staying in the EU, Butler said we have unfettered access to a trading bloc of over 500 million people. “No other external country other than those within the EU has the same unfettered access,” he remarked, adding that the UK has access to trade deals via the EU with 50 other countries and explained that if we were to leave the Union, these deals would have to be renegotiated. “Our net cost of EU membership is between £9 and £10 billion a year – various studies show that the net benefit to the UK is between £2,500 to £3,500 pounds per household, which equates to between £70 and £90 billion,” continued Butler. He considered that overall, business concerns about leaving primarily revolve around risk, uncertainty, potential loss of access to various markets and the resulting need to renegotiate those trade deals. Moreover, Butler stressed that the UK would have to have some kind of relationship with the EU even if we were to leave. Therefore, both personally and on behalf of the CBI, he stated that he believed the UK should remain in the EU. Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, believes one issue that should be borne in mind – both as individuals and as people in business when voting on 23 June – is counterfactuals. “I can list a number of EU regulations that IOD members don’t like, but I think we need to ask the question, ‘How likely is it that the talk of existing legislation that has been transposed into EU law is going to change; including social and employment law?’ A lot of that is now sewn into UK national statute – in jurisprudence through the courts, for example. Similarly, the benefits that the EU has brought in terms of enforcing competition and non-discrimination – are those really suddenly going to evaporate for businesses? Some may, others are less likely to.” Another point Renison made was that when standards are being developed for different industries, representatives from these industries want to be in the room when they are being developed because of the potential impact that the standards will have upon their industries. She noted that for heavily regulated industries, the UK ‘being in the room’ was important to businesses both big and small, not least because of the likelihood that the British government would continue to follow those standards. Renison did explain however, that the IOD is neutral on the Brexit issue and that, on a personal note, she didn’t believe there were sweeping arguments either way. The floor was then given to Professor Richard Whitman, visiting senior fellow of the Europe Programme at Chatham House, Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and a Senior Fellow on the Economic & Social Research Council’s ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative’. Professor Whitman reflected that there was a lot of information available, but not always in forms that are easily digestible and accessible. “Many people are not used to picking through the figures that are available and being able to make judgements about whether, for example, a Canadian style trade deal or a Swiss trade deal is better for the UK than the current arrangement,” he said. “That’s why the campaigns are important. However, the campaigns have tended to fall back on the fairly old model, which is to rely upon politicians. The Prime Minister has become the lead campaigner for the ‘Remain side’, which I think is inevitable. Unfortunately, much of the coverage now appears to have been set up as a kind of proxy battle for the future leadership of the Conservative party.” Professor Whitman considers that there are problems in terms of presenting a coherent alternative vision for membership of the UK. “It’s quite easy to posit the cost that may be associated with leaving, but it’s very difficult to measure this against the alternatives,” he said. Of course, the EU debate could run and run; but whatever the outcome after 23 June I hope and trust that it will be the right one for UK plc. Ed Holden Editor

IoT and the human element

16 June, 2017

Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation, the Internet of Things (IoT) – these are concepts that are being increasingly discussed and often lauded as ways to offer new methodologies for manufacturers and engineering companies to leverage greater advantages from a number of vantage points. These advantages could, for example, include major operational and maintenance improvements that can lead to cost savings, improved machinery accuracy and greater machinery uptime through better connectivity of people and machines. Indeed, these themes have been given a particularly keen focus at events such as Hannover Messe over the past few years, with the 2017 outing of Hannover Messe championing The Connected Enterprise.

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