Ingenious beverage cans and invisible infrastructure

Here’s a great video I came across this week on the web, which demonstrates how even an everyday object like a Coke Can can actually have some ingenious engineering behind it:

I also think that this video is a really great example of effective engineering communication. “The Engineer Guy” manages to take some fairly complex material and put it in simple terms that would be easy for a non-technical person to understand.

On the topic of effective engineering communication, NATS have produced a fantastic visual representation of UK airspace traffic. It’s clear from watching the video just how important aviation infrastructure is:

Moon Machines

Earlier this week, I came across a great documentary series titled “Moon Machines” which tells the story of the engineers who worked on the Apollo Program during the 1960’s and 70’s. The series includes some amazing behind the scenes footage and interviews with Engineers discussing the engineering challenges that they faced. Here is a link to one of my favourite episodes, the Lunar Rover. Enjoy!

Engineering thriller – a new TV genre?

I love watching a good TV drama, but I have always felt that some professions are unfairly over-represented. I’ve watched dozens of TV dramas about Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Police Officers and Teachers, but where are the TV shows about Engineers?!

Which is why I was excited to learn about WGN’s latest production, Manhattan.

Set in 1943, Manhattan focuses on the efforts of the United States to develop an atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project. As well as showing Engineers and Scientists producing calculations and testing prototypes, the series premiere also hinted at some broader themes, such as the ethical implications of producing atomic weapons.

Manhattan has been airing in the US since July 27th, and if the reviews are anything to go by, this will be an unmissable series. Stay tuned – we will post another blog update, once the UK air date is announced.  Do you have any favourite depictions of Engineers in works of fiction? Are there any other major engineering projects that you think would be worthy of the Hollywood treatment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Hello blog readers!

For my first blog post, I’ve been asked to introduce myself and tell you a little bit about my background and why I would like to blog.

What is my background?

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, I completed a five-year Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) & Bachelor of Science (Mathematical Physics) degree from the University of Melbourne in 2010. In 2012, I relocated from Australia to the UK, and I currently work in London as an HVAC / Mechanical Engineer for an Oil & Gas consultancy.

Why am I interested in blogging?

I wanted to get more involved with IMechE as a volunteer and I came across this opportunity when I did some research into the various volunteer roles. The main thing I like about blogging is the possibility to engage with members from a range of locations and demographics, and those that may not be able to attend local IMechE events.

What do I plan to blog about?

Initially, I plan to focus on engineering news articles, because I have found that there are lots of interesting engineering projects which don’t always get a lot of coverage in the mainstream media.

It would be great to learn a bit more about our readers as well! Please feel free to introduce yourself in the comments section of this post.

Hello Everyone

Hi everyone, as this is my first blog I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself. My name is Novuroze Fazal, I am a Biomedical Engineer working in the medical devices industry. I specialize in anesthesia and ventilation but I deal with lot of other devices like syringe pumps, patient monitors, electro-surgical equipment etc.,. I come across various challenges and peculiar problems in my job everyday . Troubleshooting and improvising is a very much part of my daily activities.

I would like to write about various medical technologies, both current and upcoming, but would not limit my blog to medical engineering itself. I would also like to blog about a lot of other engineering branches that are connected to my field of work. I believe this will help me as an engineer to develop myself and also help budding engineers to aspire and develop knowledge.

Patent Woes: Goldmine or Landmine

Patent by definition is the exclusive right given to the inventor of a product/process by a sovereign state for a limited duration in return for the complete disclosure of the design. Patent empowers the inventors/assignees, accelerates multiple invention in the field, encourages competition, triggers new ideas and develops the world. Patent also give a certain period of anonymity for the inventor, which in turn helps to reduce competition during product commercialisation. Now as an inventor and as an engineer who worked in small start-up firms, I must express the fragility of this patent architecture.

Patents: goldmines or landmines

Patents: goldmine or landmine

In today’s world, an inventor or a small firm can easily develop a product. But the cost of patenting is enormously high. In Britain alone, a single patent costs around £25000 (including a patent attorney fee, private search fee and other legal charges). Let’s not forget that a complete product is a complex mechanism and it needs multiple patents to be registered. If these costs are met and the product is developed completely, the next stage- cost of bringing the product to the market is enormously high. If the potential of the product reaches the ears of certain big companies, they start black herding/ politically pressurising the small firm’s owner to give in to a deal. For these reasons, small firm has to seek the support of large firms and investors. These business agreements are enabled through licensing options wherein the purchasing firm agrees to pay a large sum and a royalty fee on every product they sell. Sounds like a pretty good deal. But the problem comes when the purchaser fails to meet their ends of the agreement terms.

Once the product hits the market and the product runs successfully, the purchaser in many cases handles numerous techniques to immobilise and collapse the licensing agreement. They reverse engineer the product, if it is held under a trade secret. If it’s a patent, they ‘design around’ the existing product such that the degree of ambiguity is strong enough to override the patent. This saves the purchasing company months of developing time and costs. They also engage in selling copied cheap duplicates from an exporting country like China, thereby sinking the royalty fee. In these cases, even the certificate of contested validity, and doctrine of equivalents proves to be futile owing to the legal costs encountered.  Advanced cases exist where the purchaser buys off the parent company, and then strips of the parent company, lays-off its employees and sell their products under their own banner with some modifications. Thus the owner of the small company goes defunct. Other cases of license infidelity and royalty fee scrapping methods exist and are ethically illegal.

Law permits the inventor to appeal in the court, but the legal costs are enormously high. The ‘loser pays cost regime’ offers less support as the inventors bank balance runs out before the case runs its full course. Multimillion dollar corporations understand this weakness and so, infringe patents and circumvent the agreement terms without moral or legal responsibilities. The protection for the inventors needs to be reassured. New laws and amendment to existing laws are essential. Also the court processes could be accelerated and the circumventing or delaying options should be destabilized. Ensuring the immunity for the small companies from being black herded is crucial in distributing the wealth instead of pooling it. All these needs strong political will to be materialised. I strongly believe that protecting and supporting the inventors are essential in growing the world sustainably. World is in a higher state of entropy due to economic and political inequalities. Few steps like these can count to make huge changes in bringing this entropy down and make life fruitful to all. We don’t have to be charities to do this. Even profitable business can make a significant change to the society.

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