Sir James Dyson: Q&A

What has changed in engineering since you started out on your own career?

Homes are getting smaller and people are demandingcompact technology. Smaller machines with no compromise on performance. We see this particularly in Japan – where people live in very small homes. They demand the best, and they like it to be compact – globally we are seeing people follow suit. New York apartments halve in size every 5 years.

It’s a challenge to achieve high performance in a small package and we had to develop our own technology, over a long period to achieve it. We have been working with universities and investing in advanced digital motor technology over the past 15 years. The Dyson digital motor powers our cordless machines, the Airblade hand dryer, and most recently our first robotic vacuum cleaner, the Dyson 360 Eye. It is one of the world’s fastest, smallest motors. And it’s patented, so you will only find it in our machines!

By being very focused on high performance, and approaching the development in new ways, we have developed completely different formats of machine – like our digital slim vacuums, which are cordless and highly manoeuvrable. Because of continuing developments we have managed to get to the number one spot in Japan. Not bad for a British technology company in the home of consumer electronics. It’s a bit like selling coal to Newcastle.

What, in your opinion, is the best way to encourage diversity in engineering?

My Foundation runs an annual award for which the brief for the award is simply ‘design something that solves a problem’. Every year the young engineers that enter the competition amaze us with their ideas – it is the simplest ideas that are often the best.

But the young people entering the award come from people of all backgrounds and all countries. They are both male and female. They all have one thing in common and that is that they are engineers and that is guided by their mind-set. They rise to a challenge!

What in your opinion, is the best way to make sure that the engineering sector in the UK continues to thrive?

Britain is a world leader in education. We have some of the world’s best universities, undertaking pioneering research, creating the most nimble of minds. So how it possible that in parallel, Britain is suffering from an acute shortage of engineers and scientists.

It’s a gap we can’t afford in the face of growing competition from countries like India, China and Korea – who are churning them out as they value the skills of an engineer and invest heartily.

So our success depends on the supply of engineers. Britain must focus on creating and attracting, the next generation of wildly ambitious thinkers and makers – to help feed the pipeline of engineers. It is in our schools that this begins, and the job is finished in our universities. We must invest in our engineers.

What are you most proud of achieving yourself?

The Dyson Digital Motor shows what is possible when you invest for the long term. We had no experience in motors when we started – even my board of directors told me not to do it – but now we have the best and it allows us to do exciting things!

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