When you think of manufacturing in the UK, probably cities like Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds spring to mind, cities that were in the vanguard of the industrial revolution and where manufacturing is still a vital part of the local economy. The west of England is not as well known as a hotspot for high-tech manufacturing; it’s probably better known for rolling green hills, tourism (Stonehenge!) and agriculture. It’s no coincidence that the Hobbits in the movie of the Lord of the Rings, living in Tolkien’s bucolic image of rural England “The Shire,” are given a west country accent. But actually some of the UK’s fastest growing manufacturing companies have their headquarters in the west of England. I grew up in Birmingham, the UK’s industrial heartland, but now live in the west in the small town of Malmesbury (population 6,000). Surprisingly, Malmesbury is the world headquarters of Dyson (a major user of NX and Teamcenter for the design of their vacuum cleaners and other air sucking and blowing devices). Visitors to Dyson get to stay at the Old Bell, the “oldest inn in England,” right next to the 12th century Malmesbury Abbey. I’m not sure how good the plumbing is at the inn, but I think it must be a nice change from some bland chain hotel in a big city.
A parallel could be drawn to automotive companies in the USA opening new manufacturing plants in the south in places like South Carolina (BMW), Alabama (Mercedes, Hyundai and Honda) and Tennessee (Nissan). Certainly land is more available, roads are less congested, and the cost of living is typically less than traditional manufacturing areas.
Availability of a highly trained workforce is also vital for manufacturing companies. Does this exist in the west of England? From my visit to the south-west regional finals of the Greenpower electric car challenge last weekend, the answer is yes and the future looks good! About 40 teams of young engineers from schools, colleges, and manufacturing companies were preparing their electric vehicles for the competition. The enthusiasm and diversity of the teams were really impressive. As I walked past one team, a young lad called out to his colleagues, “Let’s get together and I’ll give you your assignments for the next race.” Leadership and teamwork are evidently on the Greenpower agenda alongside engineering skills!
One of the teams that stood out to me was a group of apprentices from Renishaw (a highly successful manufacturer of measurement and motion control systems, and also a significant user of NX and Teamcenter). They had 2 shining orange and white electric cars and a very professional setup – and they were at the front of the pack when the race started.
Another team I noticed was proudly running an interestingly shaped and slightly battered looking car called “Brian” (I believe the name is an in-house joke as there is a famous snail called Brian in a children’s TV show in the UK called “The Magic Roundabout”). Brian is evidently a well-known and well-loved landmark in Greenpower history and has completed over 100 races and 5,000+ miles.
Keep an eye out for news about the UK Greenpower finals which will be held on 12th October at Goodwood. One of the teams will have traveled from the USA; the Huntsville Technology of Center from Alabama designed their vehicle using Solid Edge, the sleek white body molding built using some surplus carbon fibre from NASA. Thanks to HTC for letting us use some of their CAD models to illustrate our Solid Edge ST7 launch earlier this year (not all of them – some parts of the design are a proudly held secret!)
I also recently came across this video from another south-west manufacturing company, Rotork, a manufacturer of valves and actuators that follows a day-in-the-life of an engineering apprentice. Doing real work and being a part of the engineering team comes across in this video where the apprentice undertakes a variety of assignments including using Solid Edge to create installation drawings. So my conclusion from the last couple of weeks is that both high quality engineering training and successful manufacturing are alive and well in The Shire!