Stay off the bandwagon

As many are embarking on summer holidays and we pause for breath before the run down to Christmas, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the year so far. The last few years have seen a wave of change in the engineering community and the year so far seems no different, in that rarely are things staying the same.

There is an increasing drive for sustainability. Real carbon friendly alternatives are beginning to be rolled out. Speaking to many material manufacturers and asking them about their attitudes, they are busy making both green economics and green engineering work. Though you can feel the progress being made, they are not there yet. Viable green alternatives – for the most part – are too expensive or compromise performance.

Engineers, like consumers, want more and not less. If you are to start specifying a new material that is 'greener', for the most part it has to offer more value whether that is an economic case or superior physical properties. Everything must be the same or better, nothing about it can be worse. Despite having long term visions to fulfil, it is short term necessity that drives design and material selection decisions.

This approach has drawn criticism in that engineering – as a sector – is too slow to react and too conservative. However the inherent nature of what we do is about balancing, trading different variables and factors, and making sure that each step forward is positive. We need to gain confidence in new materials and really figure out how to exploit them. And that is important.

While the financial world continues its volatile movements up and down, the engineering and manufacturing sector has continued to grow, sustainably, adding value steadily and consistently. Though this is perhaps not with the highs that you might expect from finance, it is certainly without the lows.

We must be sure that this tide of change is managed, the opportunities for using new materials are identified and taken, and value is added. But we must be sure. And that means staying off any bandwagon.

Justin Cunningham

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