During 2020, the engineering sector has had no choice but to adapt, innovate and create new, reactive strategies. No one could have foreseen the challenges we've faced this year. Many have been forced to adapt to the reality of lockdown, ensuring that there is enough PPE equipment and ventilators for the people who need them most. Since the beginning of the year, new processes have emerged in every part of the engineering sector. From the way in which essential products have been manufactured, to the way the topic has been taught in universities and colleges remotely during the lockdown, the industry has had to overcome new challenges. Join us as we take a closer look at how the engineering sector has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will also look at how we can take these reactive and efficient strategies forward to help engineer the new normal.
Stepping up to the challenge
From the initial stages of the pandemic in the UK, it was clear that we needed all the help we could get. In March, it was announced that the UK would need at least 30,000 ventilators. Thankfully, engineers from every sector stepped up to the challenge. Big industry names, such as Dyson and Siemens, turned their expertise towards a new challenge and began to manufacture ventilators in record time. VentilatorChallengeUK was formed from a consortium of significant UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses. This collaboration led to an incredible, reactive project that allowed the machines to be produced far quicker than the norm. Dick Elsy, CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, who spear-headed VentilatorChallengeUK, said: “What VentilatorChallengeUK has achieved in the space of twelve weeks is nothing short of incredible, creating and producing an approved product and setting up production facilities on this scale would normally take years." Young engineers from Siemens played an important part in achieving VentilatorChallengeUK's aim of 13,500 medical devices in just 12 weeks. The team of 100 people, including apprentices and new engineers, helped to design, validate and deliver a sub-assembly factory with manufacturing capacity for 1,500 ventilators per week within four weeks. This was against an industry norm of over 12 months. Matt Danby, 24, a production engineer, played a crucial role in Siemens' sped-up production process. He said, “The ventilator is a complicated product with 400 individual parts. To design a brand-new build sequence would normally take anywhere between 6–12 months. We managed it in two weeks, which is staggering." In uniting under a crucial task, engineers across the UK have come together this year, reacting to the pandemic and forming new, reactive strategies. Now that we know it's possible, it's exciting to think about what similar efforts and further utilisation of these new working methods could lead to in the future.
The engineers of the future
We have also witnessed how engineering students across the country have had to adapt to a new way of learning and developing, such as through the use of VR teaching methods. Engineering courses across the country have found a temporary new home online. Despite the difficulties, young students have been as inspired and driven as ever this year, and we're still seeing a pattern of more young people wanting to enter the industry as time goes by. Between the years 2007/8 and 2016/7, there was an 18.4 per cent increase in the number of students who chose engineering and technology for their higher educations. After the year we've had, with the engineering sector excelling under pressure, we are likely to see this trend continue, with more and more young people joining an exciting and ever-developing field. Figures from UCAS support this. They show that there have been more applicants for engineering courses in 2020 than there have been in previous years. What's more, the looming recession is encouraging more young people to consider higher education (especially in an in-demand job like engineering), so demand is high. We have a lot to thank the engineering sector for this year, and the industry has played a crucial part in keeping the UK going during the pandemic. Those in engineering have overcome countless barriers and achieved the incredible. There are surely exciting things on the horizon for the next generation of engineers and the new, reactive processes that are already being developed.