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Technology for exports UK must face market challenge

EXPORT EFFORTS of UK engineers should be concentrated in the harder, sophisticated markets, urged Mott MacDonald International managing director Peter Lee, addressing delegates last Friday at the workshop on ICEs Technology for Exports project.

We have to do the hard things now. In the future they will all be like that, said Lee when presenting the strategic objectives of the project in which ICE is identifying areas of research needed to support UK civil engineering companies overseas (NCE 19 February).

Lee emphasised the importance of research and of having a technological advantage in order to avoid being sidelined by the ever improving engineering being developed in what are presently the client countries for UK civil engineering.

Current difficulties of UK universities exporting their expertise in technical training to nations with collapsing currencies (News last week) were put in perspective by Professor Roger Flanagan of Reading University.

Universities in Malaysia were leapfrogging those of the UK in terms of their new state-of-art facilities, Flanagan told delegates.

And in Malaysia the view is that two new universities could be built locally every year for the money spent sending students to the UK. He dismissed other academics hopes of attracting more overseas students to the UK as: something that was fine in the 40s and 50s.

I think we are in the biggest shakedown in this area for a long time, he added.

Flanagan had begun by emphasising the need for research but brought some realism to its application: Everybody wants new technology. But not on their project!

Buzz acronym of the workshop was IRDA: identify, research, develop and apply. Flanagan noted that: for every 1 spent in R theres 5 in D and A.

Public domain research has been fundamental to what we are doing now thats changed. Research has become a private sector industry.

And he pointed out a major weakness of current UK research and development:

Universities are doing I&R but not D&A. By contrast the US Corps of Engineers was cited as giving the US a competitive advantage because of the huge spending there on military research. Flanagan quoted the example of placing concrete at great depths under water. The technology was developed for encapsulation in case a nuclear submarine goes down.

Another probem is the need to bridge the industrial divide through the use of one industrys technology in another, said Flanagan. Civil engineering is reluctant to use adhesives yet: We fly at 30,000ft in aircraft repaired by glueing.

Again referring to the aircraft industry he described the breakthough of the Boeing 777 which prototyped as a 3D design in a computer using the CATIA program. Why dont we prototype our projects? he said.

Delegates worked on revising a draft report which is to be delivered by ICE, Reading University and project manager Venables Consultancy to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions by the end of April.

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