Iain Gray's blog - 26 Jan 2009

An interesting week with some thought-provoking meetings and visits. Highlights: can we do even more to bring design thinking up front in our process, as this can have great impact? Can we do more to exploit Knowledge Transfer Partnership linkages to business in our priority areas? How do we help the LDA to closer engage and exploit to maximum advantage the innovation powerhouse represented by London? And, in a week when we launched our High Value Manufacturing competition, how do we better promote and further the hidden jewels in the crown such as Zytek?

On Monday I visited Dolby at Wootton Bassett. The technology is impressive, particularly the next generation mobile with surround sound and the cinema and home cinema demonstration facility. It was striking to see the evolution in the technologies. The only real disappointment was the limited involvement of UK manufacturing; we must continue to reinforce the UK's commitment to manufacturing to encourage companies like Dolby to invest here.

In the afternoon I met with Imperial College and the Chairman of Imperial Innovations. Our discussions focused around how to encourage the full engagement of the LDA to recognise the innovation potential within the M25, and how to help the emerging businesses growing out of organisations like Imperial Innovations - businesses such as Ceres Power.

Tuesday and Wednesday were very much internal team days at Swindon and really reinforced to me just how strong our team is and how broad a representation from all aspects of business we have. I am always impressed by the KTP programmes and the depth of KTP case studies on the web. The KTP programme is one of the UK's leading graduate recruitment schemes and it would seem that we could make much more of it in the STEM agenda during these difficult times - a challenge I intend to address in coming weeks. I raised this with representatives of GuildHE over dinner. Guild HE is one of the two formal representative bodies for higher education in the UK. In general it represents the smaller, more vocational institutes but is strong on creatives, health and agriculture and food.

Thursday started with a business breakfast at the House of Lords with the Associate Parliamentary Group for Business and Accountancy, appropriately called Innovation in the Downturn - and How to Finance It. I had been invited to speak to the Group alongside Peter Luff MP and David McMeekin, Chairman of the London Technology Fund. The Group was formed to promote dialogue between the Parliament, business and finance communities and was chaired by Mark Hoban MP. There was certainly a clear recognition of the need to position innovation at the heart of action for recovery during the downturn.

Another of the week's highlights was meeting Professor Clare Johnston, Head of Textiles at RCA and Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre. A fascinating walk through the students' mid-term exhibition helped bring the subsequent conversation to life. It was good to see links to our activities in a number of areas, such as materials and ageing populations - as well as the whole issue of bringing design into the front of the thinking process. I loved a couple of the technology examples such as Spray-On Fabric and low cost disposable surgical instruments developed with Depuy, both excellent technology examples where early design engagement has lead to good business proposals.

With our current focus on High Value Manufacturing and Low Carbon Vehicles, the highlight of the week was Friday's visit to Zytek, the automotive technology and motorsport company in Lichfield.  After talking to Chairman and founder Bill Gibson I was left with a number of powerful messages. Firstly, there is a great and inspiring story to tell to all prospective engineers about the attractions of a career in engineering, the nature of taking risk and the importance of those key decision points which arise during your career. Secondly, it reinforced to me another of the hidden gems of engineering and manufacturing we have here in the UK. Zytek has a world-leading capability in electric vehicle drivetrains - covering a scope that goes from the Smart EV to the 8.5t electric lorry, through to high performance Le Mans capability. Zytek's core capability is engine management systems. Their first electric vehicle (EV) was back in 1999 - if the banks had had the foresight 10 years ago to invest we could have had not just a world leading engineering capability but a world lead in the manufacturing scale-up of electric vehicle capability as well. It is clear that with the focus on low carbon solutions , and EVs in particular, there is still a real opportunity to build up the British motor industry again with companies like Zytek. I am sure this is a time for a Ray Kinsella moment: "if you build it, they will come."(Field of Dreams, 1989)


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:37

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