Engineering the Health Service

Reading the press release accompanying a new IMechE report on Biomedical Engineering made me consider for the first time a branch of engineering that I hadn’t thought about in any depth before, and one that, like everyone, I sincerely hope I never need to call on.

An article in June in Professional Engineer magazine, on engineers and doctors working together to provide care for injured troops, probably sowed the seed of my interest.  More recently, taking time to look around the St Mary’s hospital Birth Centre after the birth of my second child, I was impressed by the design of this resuscitation station:

Birth Centre workstation

Birth Centre workstation…

... folds neatly away when not in use

… folds neatly away when not in use

This workstation not only provides all equipment needed for the immediate postpartum care of newborns, but also folds neatly away so that parents don’t have to spend any time looking at red LEDs and valves marked “oxygen” and considering the fragility of new life.

Whilst the headline of the IMechE press release (“lack of NHS engineers is putting lives at risk”) grabs your attention because of missed opportunities and potential tragedies when hospital equipment is not available, the report covers the biomedical engineering industry as a whole, including the next steps anticipated in several key fields of research, how UK industry and academic contributions can be boosted, and the need for harmonisation of global standards on this subject.

Back to that headline, though, and I completely support the idea of a senior engineering role in NHS trusts to ensure that the vast quantities of life-saving and life-supporting equipment employed by the NHS are in the best possible condition any time of day or night.  The creation and coordination of this role should also drive researchers and equipment designers to be constantly improving upon the state of the art, which will in turn improve health care though technology.  Of course, we hope we’ll never need these services, but it will be reassuring to think of a Chief Engineer overseeing their provision.

Grid Watch – A new addiction.

OK so I have come across this website and I am now addicted. On the face of it its simple; a number of gauges and graphs depicting the UK energy’s supply that is refreshed every 5 minutes or so. So what got me hooked?

  • It’s simple
  • It’s in real time
  • It provides some perspective

UK Grid Status


As soon as I started looking in detail you get to pick out some really interesting statistics and the following are my top 10;

  1. Over the last year our grid has been running at approximately 50% of the grids capacity.
  2. We have reduced our coal usage and replaced it with combined cycle turbine generators (CCTGs) since Mid-May which helps to reduce our CO2 emission among other things.
  3. An anomaly stuck out for me showing a spiked low demand for energy in late December that rivalled the UKs energy consumption in the Summer months.  Then I remembered it is the holidays at that time of year an a lot of non-essential industries are closed over that period  (admittedly the spike drop was only about 25% of the demand).
  4. Nuclear energy provides a robust and constant energy supply all year round.  Every other power source fluctuates dramatically on a daily basis in comparison.  Highlights the needs for improved energy storage in the gird perhaps and the important role of nuclear power.
  5. Over the last year the French and the Dutch have consistently been providing more energy to us than we have to them.
  6. Hydroelectric power can contribute to the UK’s base load, albeit smaller than nuclear, for most of the working hours of the day (6am-10pm).
  7. The largest renewable contributor to the gird if wind power at a measly 3.52%.  (Solar power has not been included in this data although the reason is unknown).
  8. Oil stations are held in reserve on the grid for peak winter demands.  They burn fuel or bunker oil but are not economical to run on a normal basis. They are tested once a year to check functionality.
  9. Irish consumers only appear to buy from the UK.  Over the last year they have never sold energy to the UK via the Moyle Inter-connector or the new East-West Inter-connector.
  10. The largest grid contributor at the time of writing was CCGT (45.09%) in comparison with Coal (15.11%), Nuclear (22.98%), Wind (3.54%) with an additional 13.28% from other sources.

Have a look yourself and let me know what interesting trends you spot.

Of Bicycle Seats and Standing spaces onboard an Airbus

The men who made us spend

I have thoroughly enjoyed “the men who made us spend” on BBC last week. Although, there are bits of it I would disagree with and thought Jacques Perreti was particularly selective about whom to aim his highest level of criticism. I expected a Jeremy Paxman type grilling from him when it came to his interview with the anti-aging millionaire gurus of LA with their expensive suits and gold watches but instead got a tame, cosy, Aunty Davina BB chat.

The iPhone being the biggest success story of this century was a major subject of the documentary – another in a long line of parodies, books and new articles. The thoroughly choreographed mass hysteria that every iPhone  release has caused is something that every profit making company now aims for. The iPod and iPhone as a consumer good was (or is still) revolutionary, yet the one thing that the documentary highlighted was that every other release after the original product has been nothing but the same product with a few extra features.


There is no doubt that the ideology Michael Moore or Jacques Perreti was aiming at is Capitalism or Crapitalism as I prefer to refer to this particular version of it. The quote below from a review by Ed Power (Cool name !) of ‘The Telegraph should give you a flavour of what the documentary was about or rather against, Ed writes:

“Capitalism, he [Jacques Perreti] explained in his whispery voice, is a rigged roulette wheel presided over by faceless CEOs and supplicant politicians whose championing of “right-wing” economics and light touch regulation went hand in hand with boundless corporate avarice”.

I must however add that the reviewer above does not appear to think that Capitalism itself is to blame and I agree, the forces at work are much more complex than what a documentary can deal with but as with everything in this age there needed to be a selling point, this however does not render invalid, every criticism leveled at every Steve Job idolising CEO.

Bike Seat

Image courtesy of ‘Ray Sadler’ on Flickr

What does this have to do with Airbus?

Patents and Lawsuits go together like melodies and Harmony, they were once a source of security and protection for property - Intellectual Property - but not anymore. Companies have now realised how much of economic advantage it can offer and again Apple is the quintessential example. The news that Apple patented a device with “rounded corners” was pilloried all over the news as absurd yet the company was granted the patent albeit only in the U.S. So the news that Airbus have filed a patent for Aircraft seats that look awfully like common bicycle seats really should come as no surprise to anyone. This is in the same spirit as the ‘windowless cockpit’ patent that was announced quite recently as well. Continue reading

Airbus to sell CIMPA; the good and the bad

Good news ! Airbus plans to sell CIMPA. Bad news ! Airbus is selling CIMPA. The Company (CIMPA, a subsidiary of Airbus Group) deals primarily with Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) , helping companies centrally manage the complex process of product development and also the storage of product data. All of this is achieved mostly through the development of PLM software.

The old saying that goes – bad news is good news is true not only in the sense that the worst of Natural Disasters, Murders and undetected sexual crimes make the best headlines. It is also true that these bad news bring an amount of joy to a few individuals. Two examples (or one, if you take the second to be an implication of the other):

1. Hitler is defeated.
2. The war had ended.

If you’ve seen Nicolas Cage in Lord of War, you’ll know that, that second example will be very bad news to the ‘Yuri Orlov’ character he plays. He profits from war – mass killings of people, pestilence and perpetual chaos is good for business, but I’m not a moral relativist nor a Pacifist.

So, good news, Airbus is selling CIMPA, as it no longer sees the company as a strategic entity in its future operations, though it made it 100 million euros last year, in the future it might become a liability and no longer an asset, so it is a good idea to cash in while the going is good. CIMPA will be bought by someone who must see the company as a strategic asset, one man’s meat right. Not much else is known about why Airbus Group is selling. The 2 possible buyers as reported here are IRDI and ACE Management. Continue reading

An Engineering Career and Monetary Motivations

Pop culture references are essential to a blog post, so here’s one from the charts. Sam Smith sings in his hit – money on my mind, defiantly crooning about not letting financial gain come in the way of art for its own sake:

When I signed my deal / I felt pressure / Don’t want to see the numbers / I want to see heaven / You say could you/write a song for me… [Chorus] I don’t have Money on my mind/Money on my mind/I do it for the love

The artist is often presented as the unappreciated, lonely and single-minded in a pursuit of the pure, untainted artistry without the wrong motivations. Their products are not valuable because of what they do, a painting or song is not for the pragmatic nor ones who appeal to pure unadulterated reason, pure aesthetics and mathematics don’t make a great power couple – Kimye, Brangelina etc. The maths behind the useful might at times seem ugly, unless you belong to a Pythagorean cult.

In all of this, Van Gogh is the quintessential rep for the ‘Money on my mind’ mentality (I’d personally place a question mark on Sam Smith’s ‘starving’ credentials) All of these seems to now describe another profession which does not specialise in the beautiful as a forefront pursuit but the true and good, applied physics in service of pragmatic solutions. The Engineer is a dying breed, awfully in shortage or we’re made to believe they are almost every year. One of the issues is pay, money, dough, cheddar or whatever else kids nowadays call it. Continue reading

Pluto’s Moon & Its Ancient Ocean

The Moon. Charon has been named after the ferryman that delivers souls across the river Styx, while Pluto has been named after the God of the Underword itself - attributed to Greek mythology.

The Moon. Charon has been named after the ferryman that delivers souls across the river Styx, while Pluto has been named after the God of the Underword – attributed to Greek mythology.

Pluto is often known as the “dwarf planet” because of its tiny size, measuring at approximately one-sixth the mass and one-third the volume of the Moon. Composed mostly of rock and ice, its eccentric orbit helps it to come closer to the Sun than its neighbouring planet, Neptune.

Pluto was first discovered in 1930, recognized as the ninth planet, when counting from the Sun, however debate over its ascendency to a “major planet” status has been stringent ever since. Astronomers, some of them, believe that Pluto should attain its planet status along with all the other dwarf planets, as well as moons, discovered in recent years.

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Strooder, 3D Printing Revolution and the Innovative Nerd(s)

Where did all the Boffins go?

Francis Spufford writes about the British Boffins of yesteryear who weren’t seen, partly because they were socially awkward but mostly because their operations were secretive and only came to public attention years after. The results of their efforts were legendary - Concorde, Mobile Phone Technology, Human Genome Project, Beagle 2, Prospero satellite e.t.c. were all made by the so called Backroom Boys.

‘The backroom boys’ is a phrase from the 1940s. It’s what industrial-age Britain used to call the ingenious engineers who occupied the draughty buildings at the edge of factory grounds and invented the technologies of the future. Almost always, they were boys, or rather men: for historical reasons, but also because there is perhaps an affinity between the narrow-focused, wordless concentration required for engineering and a particular kind of male mind Continue reading

Engineering – bringing the sexy back

For my first blog post I think short and sweet is the way to go.

I’ve just found out that Engineering is getting popular in the main stream… and not from where you would expect.

As Engineers we love to talk about (you’ve guessed it!) Engineering, but we really like it when the mainstream start talking about Engineering too. It increases interest in what we do within the general population and promotes the idea of an engineering career to future generations.

I recently noticed an increasing trend in PC gaming (that’s correct I’m a nerd!) around engineering. Not the professional engineering that I am used to in my job but more a glorified, Hollywood engineering – the likes of which we can only day dream about.

The recent “early access” release of a game on digital distributor Steam  caught my attention called “Space Engineers” by Keen Software House. The premises is simple,  you control a futuristic astronaut (a.k.a Space Engineer) and are responsible, along with other players on-line, for designing, building, operating and maintaining spacecraft from large space station sized vessels to smaller single manned craft (reminiscent of an X-wing fighter in Star Wars if you like).


The game, in its current form, gives players a real chance to be creative, work collaboratively and more importantly have a lot of fun.  And lets face it, who in our midst has not wanted to drift in weightlessness, build spaceships and be an astronaut?  Below you can see the very beginnings (and I mean beginnings) of my own space station.


Being an “early access” title the game is not yet complete and relies heavily on feedback from the gaming community to help shape the final completed game that is released. However the popularity of the game, even at such an early stage of development, has been significant;500k early access unit sold since October 2013, with additional content being provided on a regular basis.

Now to avoid providing a game review and get back to my original train of thought I think the popularity of such a game is a great thing for the engineering profession. Okay, so it is glorified, futuristic and unrealistic in  terms of today’s Engineering industries but it definitely has the potential to spark that imagination and creativity needed to make the younger generations think “I want to be an engineer”. Maybe such motivation will spur them to make the game’s setting a reality,  who knows?

Now that I’ve had time to think about it this particular game has had predecessors that have included abstract engineering principles or an engineer as a character. Although I have enjoyed these games very much over the years (World of Goo, Team Fortress 2, Half Life etc.) Space Engineers is the first one I’ve seen that has a real chance to seed the idea of an engineer in the player’s psyche.

As I’ve touched upon I think its rapid popularity shows that the tides are turning in terms of perception of Engineers.  Maybe some day soon we will not be viewed as mechanics in oil stained overalls carrying a spanner but in fact the equivalent of Spacemen – bringing the sexy back.

Is mustard giving cheaper Bio-diesel?


Apparatus to extract Bio-diesel from used Mustard oil

Though we are currently meeting our daily needs for fuel, we are heading towards a future where there will definitely be a scarcity of fossil fuels. Tons of fuel are being burned in different parts of the world at any given moment.

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Gather round: It’s story time

Engineering and science never seizes to amaze me. Not just the formulas, but also the life history of the legendary intellects who derived them. There are so many fascinating stories we rarely read in the mainstream books. A detour through the life history of scientists and engineers gives an all new perspective, and its lots of fun too. Let me give couple snippets which I find interesting.

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