Optima Experts Share Opinions on Recent Engineering Issues

What are the recent challenges in the industrial engineering sector? A quick search on the Internet revealed several ‘hot’ topics in this field. We asked Optima’s experts to share their opinions on these topics. To ensure the variety of opinions, we asked for one member from each department:

– Michael Hill – Managing director
– Colin Keating – Sales and applications engineer
– Aaron Garwell – Electrical engineer

1. Of late there has been a lot of press coverage regarding “designed-in” safety in control systems. In your opinion is this a mere marketing positioning or a key concern for control system designers?

Michael: “Designed-in” safety is definitely not a just a marketing subject. It is something about which we at Optima are very conscious when we engineer control systems. It is vital that control systems provide the best functionality with the appropriate level of safety integrity. Maintaining the ease of operation of a machine is important for companies to achieve the productivity performance that they need but without compromising the safety of their operations personnel.

Colin: “When designing a ‘safe’ machine the safety control system is only considered a secondary measure. The primary objective would first be to remove the danger or design out the risk.”

Aaron: “I feel that safety systems are a must with any engineering design, therefore don’t really see it as a concern but more as a necessity.”

2. In 2011 the robotics sector in the UK grew by 68% – a staggering figure. Do you think such a high growth rate will change the face of industrial automation dramatically?

Michael: “Robots will not dramatically change the face of industrial automation but there will be a noticeable impact upon the shop-floor landscape in businesses where materials handling is a core activity, operations such as end-of-line labelling, component finishing and similar.”

Colin: “No, I think robots are probably becoming more reasonably priced and so can be purchased to do more menial tasks.”

Aaron: “Not directly although I think it will raise interest in the sector from other engineering companies, raising competition with some job quotations.”

3. Sustainability is one of the big problems in the manufacturing sector, or indeed in any sector. How do you feel about commitment to nuclear energy as the way forward? Are we getting carried away with renewables?

Michael: “Sustainability through renewable energy sources is something that concerns us not only within our own business activities but on a general level, too. It is pretty clear that resources are becoming ever more scarce and climate change is a global concern for issue both established and emerging economies.

Rising energy prices affect us all, domestically as well as industrially. The world’s manufacturing output will only increase, the world’s carbon energy resources will only diminish. Renewable energy will only become more important.”

Colin: “The future is in renewables but we need a way to store the energy and that will be done by generating hydrogen and then storing it.”

Aaron: “Nuclear energy has very efficient power output compared to the carbon monoxide produced in comparison to other energy sources like oil, gas, coal. However, the nuclear water remains radioactive for many years, so I do feel we should take advantage of renewable energy.”

4. Could a ‘Made in Britain’ marque help revive the UK’s manufacturing exports? And how would it reflect the reality of the UK’s manufacturing sector?

Michael: UK Equipment has always been associated with quality by the world at large (if we choose to ignore British Leyland of the 1970’s). We cannot ignore the competitiveness of the Far Eastern and Sub-continent manufacturers and we will struggle to match their mass production capabilities. However, there is still a very large demand for high quality, specialist manufacturing that needs to meet the just-in-time culture of our lean, Western economy. We have an unquestionable reputation for technical expertise, advanced manufacturing industries such as aerospace are rooted well within the European, UK and American infrastructures.

The UK is the country of choice for many automotive manufacturers, particularly those born out of the Far East. In favour of the UK, geography is a crucial factor, as are the UK employment laws. Not least, however, is the labour pool’s skill level and the quality of workmanship that is synonymous with the UK. “Made in Britain” is something that the world recognises as a good thing, so we would be foolish not to maximise our strengths.

Colin: “It would be nice to believe it would revive British exports but I do not think so. We need the Bristish way of thinking to change and to buy local rather than buying cheap.”

Aaron: “UK manufacturing does not seem viable unless it is very specialised equipment or services(Optima as an example, of course). Mass produced items from China will still undercut our prices due to cost of labour etc.”

5. According to IoD statistics, fewer women make it through the higher management labyrinth to leadership than merited by their education, capability, credentials and achievements. Is industrial automation an area where female engineers can be successful?

Michael: “Studying engineering at university is becoming less popular for UK students, regardless of gender. Sourcing competent engineers is one of the most difficult elements of running Optima Control Solutions Ltd., as it is for many of our associate companies.

Engineering has moved on from the business portrayed by the traditional images of the 1960’ and 70s. The first thing to note is that technological and political advances make manufacturing and engineering a much more egalitarian sector in which to be employed. As important is the size of the labour pool, which struggles to meet the demand placed on it even now. Education and aptitude are not determined by gender. Not only is the automation industry one where female engineers can flourish, but also we should actively encourage them to do so.”

Colin: “Anyone can make it as an automation engineer as long as they are committed to long hours, extended periods of world wide travel and relatively low wages for these efforts.”

Aaron: “I do not see why not, I do not feel that gender is an issue and everyone should have equal opportunities within the workplace.”

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