Dear Colleagues

I know you will recoil at yet another ‘good time’ story but surely James Dyson – the inveterate inventor (remember those bagless vacuum cleaners) - is an inspirational engineer. After I travelled through the UK recently and saw the gloom and damage bought on by the economic downturn; I have to admire this fellow for what he has accomplished in what is generally considered a tough time.

And from a financial point of view, he must surely be one of the most successful engineers with a few billion dollars to his name. Vacuum cleaners, bladeless air warmers and coolers are some of his most successful products. During this recent recession; his private firm has been expanding at a solid rate of over 30% year on year.

I quote from him recently:

I shouldn’t revel in the fact that we are in recession, and I don’t, but it is a time to think really carefully. It is a time to invest in new technology and engineering and good design because the companies that succeed in recession and are able to export are those with products that the world wants. And the world wants new technology, better engineering and products that use less energy and materials.

A poor background was perhaps the catalyst
He came from a poor background – his school teacher dad died when he was nine years old and inevitably there was no life insurance. Fortunately, the school where his dad had taught gave him free schooling. As he couldn’t get any other firms to make the products he designed; he created the Dyson company in 1992. Privately owned so no stock exchange shenanigans.

No stock market shenanigans
Design and engineering work is done in the rural Malmesbury in England but with manufacturing outsourced to Malaysia. Before those from Western countries cry shame on outsourcing manufacturing, bear in mind that he employs 700 highly skilled engineers and associated professionals and is looking for another 200 this year. He reckons the graduates leaving university are still positive, wonderful and wanting to take on the world. He employs them immediately on this basis and encourages them to work on ideas and concepts which have some commercial outcome. Presumably, he is quite ruthless about focussing on solid commercial outcomes rather than too much blue-sky R&D.

A key concept of his is that engineering professionals shouldn’t be making something ‘bigger, noisier or faster with more bells and whistles’ in order to sell it. The theme today is lighter, more energy efficient, less material and less of a carbon footprint. Creativity and thinking laterally is one the key processes encouraged.

A good example of their creativity is in transforming a traditional product the ubiquitous hand dryer which evaporates the water off your hands. Why not use a blast of air to scrape the water off your hands instead ? Which formed the basis of Dyson’s successful Airblade hand dryer which I encountered throughout the UK on my recent travels (although I have some reservations about the e-coli possibilities of touching the sides of the dryer - but that is me being picky).

Thanks to The Deal June 2012 for some interesting reading on this topic.

I love this quotation from about 2000 years ago (obviously nothing changes over the millenia):

If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121 AD - 180 AD).

Yours in engineering learning