The Royal Academy of Engineering Soirée at Rolls-Royce Derby


The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Soirée – staged annually for Fellows, partners and special guests – was this year held in the new learning and career development centre of Rolls-Royce in Derby on the occasion of the company’s centenary.

It is 100 years since Henry Royce met the Honorable Charles Rolls in a Manchester hotel – and agreed to form a partnership to make quality motor cars. The name that grew to become synonymous with quality engineering has endured from that day in 1904 and made its mark in a number of markets, notably aerospace, and most particularly during the second part of that century through the gas turbine engine.

With the motor cars now made by a different company (though still very much part of its centenary), Rolls-Royce is today the world’s second largest maker of civil and military aero engines, and provider of the most comprehensive range of marine propulsion equipment worldwide. It also has a range of products in the energy market.

The learning and career development centre in Derby played host to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2004 Soirée on 30 June, which was attended by more than 200 VIP guests. As well as a fine dinner, and the chance to meet friends old and new, guests were able to view two impressive displays.

A specially designed technology exhibition represented the key technologies that maintain the Rolls- Royce global reputation for engineering expertise and pioneering innovation.

This display also underlined the company’s strong and deep academic links that help achieve its world-leading competitive edge. Each business and technical area had its own stand manned by representatives of the University Technology Centres (UTCs) undertaking funded research for Rolls- Royce and by a Rolls-Royce ‘owner’ involved in directing UTC research projects.

There was considerable interest in this part of the evening’s activity from the varied cross section of Academy Fellows, senior academics and special guests who toured round it. Rolls- Royce employees were able to visit and view the displays earlier in the week.

A heritage exhibition, permanently housed in the Centre and displaying some its most famous products – such as the Merlin engine for Spitfires and Lancasters, the Avon engine for the first transatlantic airliner, the Comet, and the Pegasus for the unique vertical take-off/landing Harrier – was the other attraction.

Guest of Honour at the Soirée was HRH The Duke of Kent, who is the Academy’s Royal Patron. He was shown around the exhibition by Rolls- Royce Director of Engineering and Technology, Dr Mike Howse, and had several lengthy conversations with those manning the various displays. They were able to explain the technologies, the key drivers for industry-academic research and the way business problems are being solved by this growing network of partnerships.

Dr Howse gave an insight into the vital role they play in maintaining the company’s competitive position.

‘Future developments are sure to be as challenging and exciting as they have been in the past,’ he said.

‘Ever more stringent environmental factors will drive civil aerospace and energy concepts, high-Mach and autonomous operation will be featured in defence aerospace applications, and the marine sector could see a move towards even more efficient propulsion systems powering larger and faster vessels.’

Sir John Rose, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce, and Lord Broers, President of the Academy, hosted the event, which was also attended by many university Vice Chancellors and UTC Directors. Sir Keith O’Nions, Director General of Research Councils was on the top table for dinner, and two former Rolls-Royce Chairmen – Lord Tombs and Sir Ralph Robins – also attended.

Lord Broers commented, ‘We were extremely grateful to Rolls-Royce for giving us this opportunity to learn about their present and past achievements and to enjoy their generous hospitality. Rolls-Royce's accomplishments are a matter of pride to everyone in Britain and the exhibits at the Soirée illustrated the outstanding way in which their Technology Centres tap the creative talents of our university researchers.’

Gary Atkins


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