Posted on 01/07/2016 by IED

A major response to the growing skills gaps in the UK has been the emergence of the Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London, as Professor Peter Childs CEng FIMechE FRSA FASME MIED, head of school, explains

Repeated studies on the skills gaps in the UK have indicated a significant shortage of engineers, such as the Royal Academy of Engineering reporting that we need 100,000 new graduates in science, technology and mathematics each year until 2020, but only produce 90,000 graduates a year, with a quarter of engineering graduates going initially into other sectors – a skills gap of at least 10,000 a year.

This gap warrants serious on-going attention and has been subject to extensive efforts by key industry and academic organisations as well as individuals. Dyson, P&G and Jaguar, for example, have consistently rolled out successful designs, arising from significant design engineering teams working in the UK. These teams typically have a constant requirement for new staff.

One major response to this skills challenge has been The Dyson School of Design Engineering, formed in July 2014, arising from a major donation from the Dyson Foundation and an ongoing initiative in design engineering at Imperial. Over the years, design has been prominent in departments such as Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computing, Materials, BioEngineering and Chemical Engineering. Imperial is a former host of the Engineering Product Design and Engineering conference (EPDE) and hosted possibly the first ever conference on design methods in 1962, organised, among others, by Peter Slann.

The new school’s activities include an MEng in Design Engineering, running two double masters programmes in Innovation Design Engineering and Global Innovation Design, as well as research and large-scale projects. The last two years have proven busy, with the generation of a brand-new curriculum for the MEng Design Engineering programme, appointment of staff and the acquisition of a building.


The impressive result of all this endeavour is the Dyson Building on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, London. This was formerly the Post Office Building owned by the Science Museum and many Engineering Designer readers will know the ground floor as the former group entrance to the Science Museum itself. The building has five floors, with the basement used for workshops and laboratories, the ground floor for teaching activities and one of the exhibition spaces for student shows.

“The first floor is home to a magnificent Edwardian baroque atrium, which we will use for student presentations and break-out sessions, and two upper floors where we will house laboratories, studio and student learning facilities,” says Professor Peter Childs, head of school. “Also, we have space for design studios for staff and researchers, a human experience lab, robotics lab and specialised design research zones.

“We welcomed the first cohort of students onto the MEng in the autumn of 2015. Just over 40 students joined the first year of the programme, and were immediately immersed into an induction design and make project, prior to modules in engineering design, design, communication in design and mathematics. The first two terms were extremely positive, with students developing their skills through modules in production, context in design, and energy and design, as well as a major design project that runs throughout the first year. The degree is characterised by an attention to developing skills in design thinking, engineering science, design, design through making, enterprise and innovation, and physical computing.”


It is a work in progress, of course. “We are yet to get there, as we only have students in the first year, but applications for the coming year are excellent and we expect to take just over 50 students in October 2016, growing the programme towards an intake of around 80 or 90 in a few years’ time,” adds Childs. “The degree includes regular shows of the student work and a significant quantity of course work, with major design and design engineering projects in every year. The degree highlights in the third and fourth years include a group project, an industrial placement, a solo project and enterprise roll-out.

“We are encouraging our students to join the IED and are seeking full accreditation accordingly. Applicants for the MEng must have an A level or its equivalent in mathematics, along with other subjects relevant to design engineering. This might include a combination of subjects, such as mathematics, art and psychology, or alternatively mathematics, psychology and music, as well as more traditional combinations, such as mathematics, physics and another science. We are aiming at promoting the diverse nature of design engineering with an inclusive approach to the entry cohort. In our first year, the gender balance was approximately 45% female and 55 male, based on merit, and we are working hard towards encouraging a diverse intake.

“Prior to using our own building, we are taking advantage of the well-founded laboratories, teaching facilities and established workshops at Imperial. We have also established the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace, with its extensive array of 3D printers and network of practical spaces. Every week is new for us. This is just like a start-up, but we have the added advantage of Imperial behind us, so can be both agile and ambitious in each step.”

In addition to the MEng in Design Engineering, the Dyson School of Design Engineering also runs two masters programmes. “The Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) and Global innovation Design programmes (GID) are full-time double masters run jointly with the Royal College of Art. The IDE programme has a long-standing pedigree, having commenced in 1980 with a wonderful heritage of alumni and many successful designs associated with the graduates. Many alumni have gone on to leading roles at IDEO, Apple, Samsung, Ford, Bentley, Philips, Google and Microsoft, as well as setting up their own enterprises, with recent examples including Bare Conductive, Omlet, Concrete Canvas, Roli and Team Turquoise,” he confirms.


Recent prizes for the school’s graduates and students have included the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur’s 2016 award to Elena Dieckmann for her project, ‘AEROPOWDER: Material Enhancement Additives from Poultry Feather Waste’.

“Elena is in the final year of the Innovation Design Engineering programme,” says Childs, “and has developed a brand new type of material using chicken feathers, a copious waste stream for which, until now, we have struggled to find an application.”

As she herself explains: “Last year, 900 million chickens were slaughtered by the poultry industry and hence 2,000 tons of feather waste per week must be disposed of. Current disposal methods are either energy intensive or result in feather waste, having minimal economic value. By creating feather-based insulation materials, our products would create value from feather waste. Material costs will be kept low and thus the cost of the insulation product will be extremely competitive, compared to competitors’ alternatives.

“We are designing AEROPOWDER to be high-performance insulation materials that make use of feather waste. Such products include foam insulation boards, insulation granules and blanket material. Our product will be manufactured using standard insulation material production techniques, but with the addition of feather waste material. We are currently testing and developing different materials that try to extract/capture feathers’ natural properties. Furthermore, feathers are a natural, non-toxic fibre, chemically unreactive and lightweight.”

Childs also references other winners, such as Malav Sanghavi, with his incubator design project, called BabyLifeBox, which won the 'Rising BioStar Award' 2016 most promising start-up award.

“Also, Yusuf Muhammad and Paul Thomas, graduates from IDE, have won the Red Dot Best of the Best for their Automist Smartscan innovation. This very prestigious design award was announced at the end of March.”

The Dyson School welcomes contact with industry, Childs concludes. “There are multiple ways in which we would like to engage, ranging from collaborative research projects to industrial placements. We have a wide range of active research areas – from human factors, engineering product design and audio experience design to fast-moving consumer goods, robotics and food design.”

To contact Professor Peter Childs, email: p.childs@imperial.ac.uk.


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