Great British Engineers: BAE Systems, McLaren, Bowers & Wilkins, Atkins, QinetiQ, Victrex

Great British Engineers: Bowers & Wilkins

To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.


Manufacturing of Bowers & Wilkins high-performance loudspeakers

By Geoff Edwards, executive vice-president of UK operations at loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?

It is difficult to single out any particular British inventor/ invention from the hundreds of engineering feats achieved over the years as so many are just taken for granted. However, I believe Michael Faraday’s work on the electric motor stands out as as life changing today as it was when developed over 190 years ago. hen you think about the roots of the technology underpinning most labour saving devices you will come back to this basic invention. Indeed, the technology driving the sound reproduction in B&W’s loudspeakers starts with his work.A more recent example of a life changing British invention is the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1980. Like many inventions the WWW was developed for one purpose – the linking of people and information – but it has morphed into another global technology, the ubiquitous Internet and thereby spurred directly or indirectly thousands of other inventions.

What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?

Our engineers have produced several patented technologies developed in our Sussex Research facility. For example, our 800 series used “Diamond Dome” technology to produce an unrivalled clarity of sound reproduction allowing the listener to hear music as it was performed; as if the musicians were there.

As the Diamond Dome name suggests, a layer of diamond is grown in a reactor, where a combination of high heat, very low pressure and volatile gases create diamond wafers in a unique shape. It is the stiffness of diamond combined with ingenious design shape that produces a B&W tweeter dome capable of reproducing clear sound at twice the frequency level at which normally produced domes would start to distort music.

Why young people should get into the engineering sector?

Engineering is a collective term for a multitude of activities which all start with problem recognition and end in the satisfaction gained of coming up with a solution. The ever-growing complexity of products and their production processes means that most of the time the work and challenge will differ from day to day.

It is now accepted at all levels that the UK needs a more balanced economy with far more manufacturing and related value-added services. Consequently the demand for engineers and their rewards can only continue to grow. Modern engineering offers job security whilst allowing a person the reward of knowing they have made a tangible contribution.

How is your company attracting people into engineering?

Perhaps the best advert B&W has for recruiting future engineers is that its research facility is known within the acoustics Industry as the “University of Sound”. Combine this with close ties with leading universities on common projects – at MSc and PHD level – it is not surprising that applicants outweigh opportunities.

In the areas of product and process engineers, graduate trainees are mixed with more traditional apprenticeships run in conjunction with local colleges of further education. More often than not apprentices are drawn from existing staff showing the necessary attitude and aptitude.

Recruitment is clearly helped by close links to schools and colleges with reciprocal visits to the factory and by staff to the schools encouraged.

Great British Engineers: McLaren

To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.

By Alan Foster, director of operations, McLaren Automotive

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?

Most things have been thought of so meaning we really only sees developments of ideas now so you have to go back to 1700-1800s for a ground breaking example. I’d pick Michael Faraday for inventing the electric motor – where did that idea come from? We’ve come an awful long way in a short time, we’re using that invention in our cars. Then there’s Henry Bessemer who invented steel making machines and revolutionised production.

One person who doesn’t get enough recognition is Sir Tim Berners-Lee who invented the internet – that was a real game changer.

What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?

McLaren Racing’s credentials over 50 years at the top flight of motorsport speak for themselves – winning 1 in 4 Grand Prix they’ve competed in, including 15 victories in Monaco which is more than Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull combined – but it’s the future direction of the other companies in the group and their expansion beyond the realms of Formula 1 that’s perhaps most exciting.

March 2010 saw the launch of Britain’s newest luxury sports car brand, McLaren Automotive. The company set themselves the bold target of delivering a new car (or variant) to the market every year for the next five years, and I’m delighted to say are on track to keep that commitment.

The 12C Spider was hailed by Telegraph’s as perhaps ‘the best car in the world’ – but, incredible as it is, it doesn’t come close to the new McLaren P1 – a hybrid supercar brisling with current F1 technology (eg KERS and DRS) which was launched at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. Only 375 examples of the P1 are being built over a two year production run and, despite the price tag of £866,000, they’re already nearly sold out.

McLaren’s engineering expertise is not limited to cars. In 2004, McLaren Applied Technologies was formed with the aim of taking knowledge and techniques honed in the fast-paced and highly competitive world of Formula 1 and ‘applying’ them to other industries.

The three main pillars of their expertise are simulation-led design, big data analytics and the pioneering use of composite materials (e.g. carbon-fibre). They are working with everybody from big pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline to sports apparel and equipment companies such as US bike manufacturer, Specialised.

Finally, there’s McLaren Electronic Systems. This part of the business was formed in 1989 and develops, manufacturers and deploys control and data systems to the professional motor sport market. It is the official engine control unit (ECU) supplier to the Formula One World Championship which means that every car on the grid – even our competitors – benefits from McLaren’s engineering excellence.

Although the company has its roots in motorsport and automotive applications, some of their electronics and sensors are beginning to find their way into specialist medical, urban and aerospace applications (e.g. monitoring sick children in Birmingham Children’s Hospital and helping run the San Francisco Bay Area Transport System).

Why young people should get into the engineering sector?

We have a saying at McLaren that you’re never more than two metres from an opinion. That means that everybody in the process has a voice and when you’re working with intelligent, innocative people there’s always a lively exchange of ideas. Working in such a creative environment is incredibly rewarding.

How is your company attracting people into engineering?

This country has some of – if not the – best engineers in the world but there is no question we need to encourage more young people to study STEM and carry it on into a career if we’re going to continue to compete at the highest levels on the international stage.

McLaren is working closely with Government on a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging more young people into engineering. A good example of this is our involvement in the Department for Business’ ‘See Inside Manufacturing’ campaign– an initiative aimed at encouraging young people to see engineering as an exciting and viable career choice, while also increasing awareness of the importance of a strong manufacturing base to the future of the UK economy. McLaren was one of the founding partners in the campaign and for the last three years we’ve opened up our facilities to groups of students to showcase the best Britain has to offer and help change young people’s perception of modern day manufacturing.

Great British Engineers: Atkins

To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.

By David Tonkin, Chief executive UK & Europe, at design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?

The UK has a rich history of great engineering to draw upon and provide inspiration for our future. I’m always drawn to the Brunel years to provide examples. The SS Great Britain, the first propeller driven, iron-hulled ocean going steam ship; the Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of the longest span bridges of its day; and the first tunnel constructed under a navigable river – the Thames – are all great achievements of their day.

Moving from physical to virtual, Tim Berners-Lee played a defining part in shaping modern life by creating the World Wide Web which enables knowledge exchange and data sharing at mind-blowing volumes and speed. This in itself has helped spark countless further innovations and engineering advancements. My final highlight is the creation of the current world’s fastest car, Thrust SSC, which at 763mph broke the speed of sound and the land speed record in 1997.

What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?

A couple of innovations from the London 2012 Games spring to mind. Greenwich Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was chosen for the equestrian events. To protect it from damage from horses’ hooves, our engineers helped develop a raised platform for the field of play. The biggest challenge was to remove the vibrations so the horses were fooled into thinking they were on solid ground so as not to affect their performance.

At the ExCeL, which was where the table tennis was held, the air-conditioning system uses powerful jets to keep the conference centre cool. These would have blown the ping pong balls all over the place, so a team of engineers from our Energy business used their knowledge of how fluids flow at oil and gas plants and power stations to disperse the air currents around the table to virtually nothing. True problem solving at its best.

Why young people should get into the engineering sector?

There are many key challenges ahead, such as maintaining energy supplies, developing effective mass transit systems, tackling climate change, dealing with rapid urban population growth and ensuring a reliable supply of food and water. These are all thing we take for granted, but are all things which we will rely on engineers to find the solutions for. Finding these answers which will make a difference and create a better future for us all is something I think will appeal to many young people.

Engineering also offer a world of opportunities. High global demand for engineers creates great employment prospects, which helps explain why 85pc of engineering graduates go into paid work within six months of finishing university. Engineering companies also offer great prospects to work on international projects across industry sectors – from transport, aerospace and water to energy, security and the built environment – and within diverse teams of people.

How is your company attracting people into engineering?

The first thing we need to do is sell our profession better so young people aspire to become engineers. If they study the wrong subjects at school they will essentially close the door on it as a career, which is why it’s so vital to inspire them early. At Atkins we have designers, engineers and project managers around the country who regularly visit schools and youth groups to talk to young people about engineering careers and run exercises designed to show them the wide range of things we’re involved in.

It is particularly important to reach out to girls as they represent a huge untapped pool of talented people who would never consider engineering as a career owing to outdated perceptions. It is up to us to change these views. We also have apprenticeships and a graduate development programme in place, as well as offering large numbers of work placements.

Great British Engineers: QinetiQ

To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.

By Leo Quinn, chief executive of defence technology company QinetiQ

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?

It is a sense of pride that there is a huge list here to choose from. The steam train, and what it did for the industrial revolution when Great Britain dominated the world, is an obvious choice. But at the risk of being biased towards my own company, I would argue the development of radar in the 1940s at our site in Malvern. Its impact on the world, both commercial and defence, has been immeasurable.

What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?

A QinetiQ company called OptaSense delivers a technology which converts standard fibre optic cable into thousands of “virtual microphones” right along its length. With applications in security, borders, transport and the oil and gas industry it has the ability to transform the way we work – as the business develops its ambition to be the earth’s nervous system.

Installed fibre optic cables are found alongside roads, borders, train tracks, oil pipelines – almost any piece of infrastructure. This technology uses QinetiQ’s expertise in sonar and laser development to send a laser down the cable and then monitor the backscatter – ‘listening’ to the disturbance and “hearing” what is happening along that cable.

It provides the ability to identify if a car, person, animal or anything is crossing or digging near the cable for example. Applications include protection from copper theft on the railways, security for borders and perimeters and the protection of thousands of mlles of oil and gas pipelines. All this is achieved with increased efficiency of alerts and information provision at significantly reduced cost than conventional technologies.

It has many further applications, especially in the oil and gas industry where it is already being used down oil wells to monitor flow and in fracking to monitor activity such as fluid distribution. The company has grown from three people to 140 people in three years and already operates in over 40 countries.

Why young people should get into the engineering sector?

Engineering is one of the great traditions of Great Britain. But it also goes hand in hand with innovation, which drives technology. Engineering reaches into all areas including space, computing and communications and has a lasting effect on us all. Innovation still drives our world and engineering gives an amazing opportunity to be part of mankind’s ongoing advances.

How is your company attracting people into engineering?

QinetiQ works with local schools hosting events across most of our sites, whether it be our Schools Powerboat Challenge, where local schools build and develop their own powerboat to compete against others, or our Robolympics where schools build their own robots with the help of employees.

We have even hosted schools at our centrifuge to explain the impact of g-force and space travel on the body. All our apprentices and graduates are encouraged to become STEM ambassadors and at a national level we are a key sponsor of the Government backed Cyber Security Challenge.

We also have an award winning Apprentice School at MoD Boscombe Down, including a new hanger dedicated for their use, and are looking to increase the numbers of apprentices and graduates we take on over the coming years.

It is something we care about dearly and for this reason, recently, QinetiQ joined forces with a group of other leading UK businesses to form The 5% Club – this means we have all pledged 5pc of our UK workforces will comprise graduates, apprentices and sponsored students on a formal training programme, within five years. If the entire FTSE 350 were to become members that would equate to 180,000 jobs when we have youth unemployment of nearly a million.

We want all companies in the UK to make the same pledge as it is both a business and social imperative, after all skills enhancement leads to innovation, innovation leads to growth, growth leads to prosperity.

Great British Engineers: Victrex

To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.


A Victrex engineer works on high performance polymer materials

By David Hummel, chief executive of high performance polymer materials group Victrex

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?

Britain has always been a country of innovators. That remains the same today as it was 40 years ago, whether it is companies like Rolls-Royce, Dyson or Smith & Nephew.

For me, whilst I am biased, the development of PEEK plastic – invented by ICI in the 1970s and developed by Victrex into a global multi-million-pound industry – is right up there with other inventions.

PEEK (polyetheretherketone) is widely regarded as one of the highest performing plastics in the world, replacing metal or solving problems which metal can’t with its unique combination of high heat resistance, strength and lightweight properties. It has a wide variety of applications, from being used in spinal implants to help patients recover faster to helping aeroplanes save weight, cost and reduce CO2 emissions.

Its application knows no boundaries and, as a UK invention that was in its infancy 30 years ago, it has crossed markets, created jobs and investment in the UK and overseas whilst extending its use into a vast array of applications… and we’re working on extending it even further.

What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?

Innovation is critical to our business. We have been pioneering the use of PEEK polymer across the world and across markets, from quite humble beginnings. When it was invented, no-one in ICI could truly imagine the potential for the material.

We’ve now become much more than a manufacturer and see ourselves as a solutions company, taking our product and applying it to numerous markets. All of this has been built on innovation and by looking at the “unmet needs” of the future.

This is helping us to take things even further and delivering real benefits whether it’s replacing metal plates in the body, reducing the weight of oil and gas pipes by 90pc to help extract energy from previously “out of bounds” areas or taking PEEK into new geographies such as China and Brazil.

Why young people should get into the engineering sector?

Engineering is a great industry and can offer people a career, not just a job. It offers proven solutions to problems and can also open up a number of career choices in areas such as management and finance.

As Victrex has expanded, we have seen our engineers grow with us over 20 or 30 years, either staying in engineering roles, moving into technical or commercial roles or becoming senior leaders.

We believe the possibilities for engineers stretch beyond just the engineering sphere. We encourage our engineers not just to think about the work they have done, rather, to focus on what skills and capabilities we need for the next 10 or 20 years as we build new plants and expand our global reach.

Engineering is absolutely fundamental to our ongoing development and is even more attractive today than when I was first starting my career.

How is your company attracting people into engineering?

Recruitment is something we place a heavy emphasis on, not just on a “job” but where that job may lead to.

It’s important to think long term about the attractiveness of a career in engineering or science and, over the last year, we have started to take a more direct approach, proactively linking with the Catalyst Science centre and working more closely with schools and colleges near to where we operate.

Our apprenticeship programme is also being expanded and we currently recruit three or four apprentices every year. We also recruit at graduate level, bringing people directly into permanent positions, as well as supporting undergraduate, year-in-industry, placements. It’s also important to look at developing the right skills and we’ve joined some important industry groups, including the Cogent Science Industry partnership, which plays an active role in developing Britain’s engineers and scientists of the future.

Great British Engineers: BAE Systems

To celebrate Great British Engineering, we asked companies in the field to identify examples of this country’s engineering excellence past and present, and how people can be attracted into the sector.


BAE’s engineering director Simon Howison says the Astute submarines are so advanced they can detect movement of shipping in New York harbour from the Solent

By Simon Howison, UK engineering director at defence group BAE Systems

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

What do you see as past examples of best of British engineering and invention?

I believe the following, whilst being innovative themselves have also been hugely important in revolutionising key industries and the way of life in Britain.

Firstly, Henry Maudslay’s Screw Cutting Lathe of around 1800 was the beginning of accurately machined consistent components. Arguably without his lathe, Britain’s industrial revolution would not have continued at the same rate.

Then Trevithick’s Steam Engine of 1802 led to trains which revolutionised travel and employment opportunities. Without Frank Whittle’s Jet Engine the unprecedented growth in passenger air travel would not have been possible.

Invention of the computer involved several people; Alan Turing’s role was clearly highly significant and Babbage’s work certainly relevant. From the early computer so much has developed that we take for granted; the PC, Macbook, and now smart phones and tablets. Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web completely transformed computer communication networks into the Internet.

What current products showcase this country’s engineering excellence?

Today’s great products come in two types, the major complex item and the simple but innovative consumer product. Examples of the former in my company, BAE Systems, are the Typhoon aircraft – the world’s only jet fighter capable of ‘swinging’ between air to air attack and ground attack in the same mission, and the Astute submarine whose sonars are so advanced that they can detect movement of shipping in New York harbour from the Solent.

Both are fantastic examples of highly complex, heavily integrated, technology sophisticated, products which can do so much physically in terms of manoeuvrability, as well as autonomously – in addition to taking advantage of highly advanced computer processing.

Examples at the simple end are many of the household products which we take for granted, rechargeable handheld vacuum cleaners being an example here.

Why young people should get into the engineering sector?

Everything that is around us has been engineered, and engineers directly influence our future. I believe engineering offers young people a hugely fulfilling and long-term career that has so many options, variety and elements that there is something to meet every aspiration. A young person can begin as an apprentice and ‘learn whilst they earn’ or follow an academic route in studying an engineering degree.

Engineering brings the chance to work on the world’s most technically advanced projects, from oil rigs and skyscrapers to aircraft and sports stadiums. Engineers can travel or be home based, work in teams or alone and cover a range of disciplines from computing to chemical engineering and medical equipment to water supply. Engineering offers the chance to contribute positively to society while involved in work that is exciting, challenging, and engaging and is well paid and stable compared to many other professions.

How is your company attracting people into engineering?

Companies like BAE Systems are reliant on the skills of their engineers. It’s so vital to us that we invest £83 million in skills every year in the UK alone. This includes a nationwide programme of engineering ‘roadshows’ that visit 250 schools per annum supported by about 400 of our engineers who then deliver workshops for students, build bridges and mini-robots for example.

We collaborate with all the UK’s engineering organisations in supporting the country’s largest science event for young people – The Big Bang Science and Engineers’ Fair – which takes place in March of every year. In addition we work really hard to promote the value of apprenticeships for young people and also encourage engineering companies to offer apprentice training programmes.

Companies like BAE Systems are around 20 times over-subscribed for every apprentice place. The problem for us is in our supply chain where there are simply not enough engineers. The more companies that can offer engineering apprenticeships the better for the nation’s skills-base and economic wellbeing. We are competing with India and China to ensure we have enough engineers in the UK – it’s a war for talent.




About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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