Article - Issue 56, September 2013

Response to: Chips under the skin Response to: Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Response to: Additive manufacturing and 3D printing Response to: Policies for growth

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RESPONSE TO CHIPS UNDER THE SKIN

In Ingenia 55, Robin Muir-Wood painted an intriguing picture of a future in which we might each elect to have a microchip (such as an RFID chip) implanted under the skin, and the benefits that this could bring for health monitoring, security access and personal identification. Some of the benefits he identified from such implants, and also some of the concerns, were flagged in an Academy report published in 2007 on Dilemmas of privacy and surveillance: challenges of technological change, – see www.raeng.org.uk/dilemmas_privacy

An important point made in the report is that, in most cases, personal identification is not needed – all that is required is authentication. The difference is that identification involves divulging who you are, while authentication just checks that you have the right to carry out some activity. All too often, organisations demand identification from their customers and clients because it is easier, when all they should be wanting is authentication.

The danger of overusing identification is that a large measure of privacy and control over one’s affairs is lost. For example, there is no benefit to travellers if Transport for London(TfL) knows all the details of their personal lives: an RFID-based travelcard can be operated perfectly well from both TfL’s and the traveller’s perspective if it is made out to Mickey Mouse, rather than a real name. Of course, making decisions about how much information to share with organisations, or with the government, wouldn’t be easy if one had an implanted chip that responded to an external scanner regardless of one’s wishes.

One of the most important uses of digital data is profiling: large databases are ‘mined’ to build up profiles of common patterns of behaviour. For example, a database of all transactions carried out in a store might be used to identify a number of typical purchasing profiles, ranging from ‘young family’ to ‘older woman living alone’. Customers can be assigned to one of these profiles and appropriate special offers targeted at them. Such profiling has advantages if the offers are to the benefit of the customer, but there is a danger that it can simply reinforce disadvantage and cement prejudice.

Profiling is never completely accurate and becomes particularly problematic when people are wrongly classified. Citizens can find themselves stigmatised as bad credit risks or as criminals without their knowledge and without any recourse just because their data matches a profile. Dilemmas of privacy and surveillance recommended that businesses that vary their offering to customers on the basis of profiles should be required to divulge that they have used profiling, and that unfair profiling should outlawed.

The report also recommended that there should be more clarity on what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy, more legal controls over the operation of surveillance cameras, and better planning for failures and data security breaches: all issues that are just as relevant today as they were in 2007. Regrettably, the law is still inadequate to deal with these risks, although public knowledge and worry about the issues continues to mount.

Nigel Gilbert FREng
Director of the Centre for Research in Social Simulation and Professor of Sociology, University of Surrey

 


QEPrize winners Sir Tim Berners-Lee FREng, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and Louis Pouzin with Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie at a lunch to celebrate the inaugural award

QEPrize winners Sir Tim Berners-Lee FREng, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and Louis Pouzin with Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie at a lunch to celebrate the inaugural award

RESPONSE TO QUEEN ELIZABETH PRIZE FOR ENGINEERING

I read with interest Lord Broers’ article on the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) in Ingenia 55. As one of the judges, I had the pleasure of serving under his leadership on the inaugural panel of the QEPrize, alongside eminent engineers from the global community: Professor Shih from Singapore and now Saudi Arabia; Madam Deng from China; Naryana Murthy, Founder of Infosys, from India; Professor Brian Cox of the UK; and colleagues from the engineering fraternity in the US, including John Hennessy, President of Stanford University.

The quality standard set for this inaugural QEPrize winner was very high, making the judging of the engineering innovations extremely difficult. However, the judges unanimously agreed that the creation of the internet, the World Wide Web and search engines was the innovation that best met the highest standard of the prize. This innovation changed the way people everywhere exchange information and live – transforming everything from commerce to global politics; from health care to the environment. What better way to demonstrate to young people the potential of engineering careers to change the world for people?

On 25 June, the winners were invited to receive their awards from Her Majesty The Queen at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace. Earlier in the day, the Lord Mayor of London hosted a lunch at the Guildhall in their honour, where Princess Eugenie addressed those assembled. She movingly reflected on her own personal trials with scoliosis and her debt to engineering, describing how the implanted titanium rods that straighten her spine have enhanced her life. Engineering enriches people’s lives, which is sometimes missed when young people consider their careers.

Her father, the Duke of York, is also a great technology supporter, with a long history of promoting and supporting new industries, both in the UK and the US. He welcomed the judges, along with the musician and producer will.i.am, at Buckingham Palace in March and it was a great honour to return there for the prize-giving ceremony, where The Queen presented trophies to four of the five winners. Marc Andreesen, who was unable to attend, will be presented with his trophy in the US. The leaders of the three major UK political parties were also present, demonstrating that engineering in the UK transcends traditional political party differences.

The prize winners were generous with their time over the 36 hours of worldwide media attention. They took part in interviews, including a roundtable discussion with The Times and the childrens’ programme Newsround. Three of them went to The Crystal, the global urban sustainability centre in East London, where they took part in an interactive session with 300 students from local schools. Schools in Swaziland and Bangalore also participated via Google Hangout .

I understand that the QEPrize team is already looking to the next prize cycle, currently reviewing the systems and processes, as well as developing its outreach activity with government departments, schools and other youth organisations. It has even negotiated with Vogue to feature a female engineer in the autumn, a critically important highlight. My role as a judge has turned out to be a genuinely unexpected pleasure and learning experience too. I hope to participate again in the future, but in the meantime I will try to carry over what I have learned from this experience to the US.

C D Mote Jr
President, US National Academy of Engineering

 


RESPONSE TO ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING AND 3D PRINTING

Professor Hague and Dr Reeves are two of the most learned individuals in the field of 3D printing. Their article, in Ingenia 55, outlined the technology and portrayed the challenges faced if we are to maximise the true potential of additive manufacturing (AM).

While the current interest of national media in our sector is generally welcome, far too much of the coverage has been focused on ridiculous predictions about the forthcoming death of ‘traditional’ manufacturing. There is even the suspicion that it represents another opportunity for industry-bashing and a reversion to stereotyping – ‘people making things for themselves: good; mass production in factories: bad’. Such articles also make 3D printing seem amazingly ‘engineering-free’; a democratisation of technology where, with a printer and the latest app, we are all just a few virtual keystrokes away from a truly unique kitchen/kettle/bicycle!

Yet, while the Ingenia article points out that this ‘overnight’ technology sensation has been around for 25 years and that we still have many issues to deal with, the media is already moving on to hail 4D printing, where 3D printed parts assemble themselves into usable products without human involvement.

Back in the real industrial world, where we are measured and paid by results and not by new acronyms and word count, there are still significant challenges to overcome. The current AM technologies are too expensive and too slow to produce to be serious contenders for most volume production requirements. Additionally, most of the applications’ expertise sits in a relatively few research universities, specialist bureaus and blue-chip manufacturers.

There are some ‘real’ applications in the dental and medical sectors and ironically (given that 3D printing is supposed to replace the need for all tooling), some highly innovative uses to create conformal cooling channels for the complex areas of mould tools, ensuring that plastic parts can be cooled quickly and evenly. However, I often see designers trying to apply a layered manufacturing approach to existing components, rather than designing specifically for the strengths of the AM process – and as touched on in the article, the absence of more geometrically powerful specialised CAD software is a real issue.

However, as an industry we are making progress and the work by GE on real 3D-printed aero engine components shows that we are very close despite the challenges.

The mainstream media, in spite of my comments, have at least established the term 3D printing in the nation’s consciousness, giving us real opportunities on which to build in our pursuit of retaining the brightest young minds for the engineering sector. At a series of education days held at our factory near Cardiff last year, there were two products that kept appearing in tweets and letters received from pupils after their visits – our robot for brain surgery and our metal-based 3D printing machines.

It is clearly a technology that excites young people of both sexes and they soon realise that there are real engineers behind the advances being made. I really hope, therefore, that the UK doesn’t just become proficient in the application of the technology, but also plays a major part in developing the machines of the future, until of course 5D technology emerges that will remove our skills shortages overnight!

Simon Scott
Director and General Manager
Additive Manufacturing Products Division, Renishaw plc

 


Airbus apprentice Devon Sumner recently won the Engineering Employers Federation national award for ‘Outstanding achievement by a first year apprentice’

Airbus apprentice Devon Sumner recently won the Engineering Employers Federation national award for ‘Outstanding achievement by a first year apprentice

RESPONSE TO POLICIES FOR GROWTH

Dr Steedman is right to recognise the importance of the new government industry policies in his Ingenia 55 editorial Policies for growth. We regard the commitment to aerospace as most welcome and an excellent investment towards securing the future of the aerospace industry in the UK.

The UK has the largest aerospace sector in Europe and the second largest in the world behind the US. Innovation and collaboration got us here, but there are exciting times ahead and ensuring that we are investing in the future is absolutely vital. We have to defend our position as a major player in an increasingly competitive global market.

Our strength as a global manufacturer derives from the strength of our supply chain. Therefore, Airbus will work with struggling suppliers to help them meet the demands that a burgeoning aerospace industry places on them. We in Airbus recognise the importance of a strong, efficient and intelligent supply chain, and we are working with SMEs and larger suppliers to implement leaner, simplified processes which will save time, effort and money, hopefully allowing more time for innovation.

Of course, it’s people who make companies. Groups such as ADS, the sector skills body SEMTA and aerospace alliances around the country have key roles to play if we are to have a more integrated and aligned approach to how we address skills and engagement across the sector.

It costs Airbus around £75,000 to train an apprentice, and each year we take on more than 100 who undergo various programmes ranging from craft skills to studying alongside their work for a BEng degree. The passion and enthusiasm they show is second to none, and we use this to inspire and encourage future engineers through our extensive schools engagement activities.

EADS and Airbus are pleased to be among the sponsors of the joint UK government and industry initiative with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Aeronautical Society to fund up to 500 Masters’ degrees in Aerospace engineering over the next three years. This is part of the Aerospace Growth Partnership to which Dr Steedman refers and will offer our degree qualified employees and current BSc students the opportunity to take their learning to the next level. We also have further ambitions to promote aerospace qualifications in schools and university technical colleges.

Our policy objective for the aerospace sector in the UK must be not just to survive but to flourish. By investing now, we can ensure we create and develop the next generation of innovators and pioneers whom we need to grow this important area of the national economy.

Mark Stewart
General Manager and Human Resources Director, Airbus UK

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