15 December, 2019

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).

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.

The Apprenticeship Levy has arrived

13 April, 2017

The Apprenticeship Levy, a levy on UK employers to fund new apprenticeships first announced at the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November 2015, has now been introduced. In England, control of apprenticeship funding is now put in the hands of employers through the Digital Apprenticeship Service. The Levy is charged at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s paybill. Each employer will receive an allowance of £15,000 to offset against their Levy payment. The Levy will affect employers in all sectors, but will only be paid on annual paybills in excess of £3 million, and so less than 2% of UK employers will pay it.

An intelligent move

22 March, 2017

This edition of Hydraulics & Pneumatics includes a Preview of Hannover Messe; 2017’s main event which this year will feature the theme ‘Integrated industry – creating value‘. This theme of course points strongly in the direction of Industry 4.0 – an area of technological innovation that is increasingly transforming the manufacturing and engineering landscape; moving from being a visionary concept embracing many aspirational ideals to becoming a tangible reality in more and more working environments. This is certainly turning into the age of the smart factory. Intelligent manufacturing, for example, is a truly fascinating – some might even go as far as to say awe-inspiring – area of development. Take the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen, Germany, for example, which is developing workflows in a way that could be a real game-changer. The Institute is currently progressing the idea of a production workflow that could develop flexibly – each part deciding for itself the best route through production.

Keeping a steady hand on the tiller

15 February, 2017

One thing’s for sure, 2017 certainly flew out of the traps politically, with a new US Government speedily following through on many of its pledges made during the presidential campaign of 2015/16. It seems like never a day goes by without some new executive order being unleashed with the by now well-practiced flourish of President Trump’s nib. At this stage of the proceedings, it may be difficult to predict the true effects and outcomes related to many of these actions and changes in policy; diplomatically, militarily and economically, but on thing’s for sure; the new White House incumbents certainly hit the ground running in earnest.

Engineering and the gender issue

09 December, 2016

Over the years engineering – often cited as one of the strongest examples of a male-dominated industry – has shone a particularly strong light in the direction of inspired women who have not only survived but excelled in the profession. Just a few of the many success stories are: Emily Roebling (1803-1903) is a name synonymous with the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in the 1880s; in 1926, Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) became the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; during the 1920s Beulah Louise Henry (1887-1973) patented an array of innovations, from a bobbin-free sewing machine to a typewriter that was able to produce multiple copies of script without the need for carbon paper; Mary Anderson (1866-1953) did all drives of vehicles a major favour by inventing the windshield wiper. It is barely worth beginning such a list, as the panoply of female success within the engineering discipline over the years has been impressively extensive.

A need to inspire

25 October, 2016

Engineering in all its guises is a discipline that has a profound impact on all of us every day; the roads we walk on, the bridges we cross, the buildings we live or work in, the vehicles that forward goods to and from shops and factories, the cars we drive, not to mention a host of high-tech business and leisure accoutrements we couldn’t live without in the modern age – the list is almost endless. So, if the next generation isn’t suitably motivated to pursue an engineering-based career, who is going to continue to innovate and maintain something that is so fundamental to the modern world?

A mature attitude towards the workforce

22 September, 2016

Many businesses employ a workforce that spans every feasible working age group. This can result in a varied and highly valuable experience dynamic, whereby the younger employees may on balance be more familiar with high-tech disciplines such as those related to IT (for example online business networking, computer-based remote diagnostics, e-commerce/Internet sales and marketing etc.), while the more mature staff may have a greater grasp of traditional trade skills (although one must of course not over-generalise). The main point is that workers of all ages have an important role to play in the modern workforce, and the more senior members of the team should not only be recognised as important and valued assets within the business, but also be suitably looked after to ensure they can go about their tasks in the most convenient and efficient fashion possible.

It’s all about relationships

18 August, 2016

In our May/June edition Editor’s Comment, we considered some of the arguments for the UK leaving or remaining in the EU.

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”.

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

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