Best of Britain: designs with staying power

Best of Britain: designs with staying power

Ask a group of engineers to choose an icon from their field and you’ll be swamped with suggestions: the Channel Tunnel; Pilkington float glass; Rolls-Royce jet engines; and the British-built Airbus wings that hold them up. Putting that question to members of a forum at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) generated more than 100 replies — everything from Concorde to the Falkirk Wheel and the JCB earthmover had their defenders, and of course their detractors.

Prof Andy Hopper CBE, IET president, says: “Behind many iconic engineering projects lies that unique creative spark of human imagination that puts science to work for the greater good.”

And the engineers of iconic objects and structures that inspire generations come from diverse backgrounds and follow different paths, adds Prof Hopper — “from Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his famous bridges and railways, including the Great Western, to Robin Saxby and his leadership at ARM Holdings, which has become the dominant supplier of embedded microprocessor architectures”.

The Dyson vacuum cleaner, although a relatively recent invention (the original bagless “dual cyclone” DC01 was first sold in 1993), is loved by householders and engineers alike. “Inventors look at the world differently,” says its creator Sir James Dyson. “Frustrated with my Hoover Junior losing suction, I ripped out the bag and replaced it with a makeshift cardboard cyclone. I encourage Dyson engineers to do the same sort of thing. They challenge conventional thinking by taking an iterative approach, making one small change at a time. They simply set out to solve a problem.”

Steve Forbes, who works in mechanical systems research at Dyson’s Malmesbury head office, says: “It’s the challenge of making something work more effectively that makes engineering so addictive. Dyson engineers question established problem-solving methods and arrive at new solutions as a result.’’

Marshall Amplification, which produces the legendary black speaker stacks seen — and heard — on music stages all over the world, started life as a shop in Hanwell, London, and now has its headquarters in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire.

“An engineering icon can be judged against three criteria: longevity, relevance and the company it keeps,” says Nick Bowcott, Marshall’s marketing manager. “Marshall amplification ticks all three boxes. From Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Cream to Zakk Wylde, Joe Satriani, Slash and Slayer, it has 50 years at the very forefront of ‘loud’ by which to be judged.”