What technologies are improving/could improve the redesign process?
The creation of technology is fast paced but successful ideas take time to finesse. High technology increasingly allows you to speed up this process. We have a wide range of rapid prototyping machines, allowing designs to be generated and prototyped within two or three days, rather than the several weeks it used to take me to make a prototype vacuum cleaner. I would roll out brass cyclones with a mangle in my coach house near Bath [in the west of England].
Today our research, prototyping and primary testing is still done in Malmesbury by 700 engineers. It is quicker, but it is still a costly and time intensive process: £8.5m ($12.6m) was spent on research and development of AM01, the first Dyson Air Multiplier fan, taking over four years to design. Once we are happy with the design it is sent to South East Asia, where further testing, including reliability testing, is undertaken along with final assembly. After that it goes in production for export to 60 countries across the world. But the ideas still all start here in Wiltshire in the UK.
Any young designers you’ve seen we should watch out for?
Each year, The James Dyson Foundation runs the James Dyson Award, a design award encouraging young people to think differently and invent something that solves a problem.
Last year’s international winner was Dan Watson, inventor of a device engineered to help the sustainability of fishing. SafetyNet is a series of retrofittable escape rings implemented to a trawler net to prevent unmarketable fish being caught through the use of light. Simple yet intuitive. This year’s award will open on 14 March.
Why do you think engineers are so undervalued?
It is a problem that starts at school. Design and technology is side lined by the curriculum. But it is the only subject that teaches children how exciting a career in engineering can be. . The result is that Britain’s children think of engineers as fixers rather than makers. Whilst both are important, the latter is what will help develop new technology.
Despite academic progress, the application of practical skills in the classroom has been ignored. Design and technology should be the subject where maths and science students turn their bright ideas into useful and tangible technology. By 2013 Britain will have a deficit of 60,000 engineers. We urgently need to raise the profile of design and technology to overcome this burgeoning gap between our talent and our economy’s need for bright young engineering minds.