Recently, he has collaborated with surgeons to look at the engineering analysis of back pain, and to apply unconventional cutting methods to surgery. The Ayrshire native, who is an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Edinburgh, has been a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers since 1979, and has previously served as chairman of the Scottish region, a member of the trustee board, and as vice-president. We spoke to him as he started to lead the Institution into what will be another pivotal year.
What are your aims and ambitions for your time as president?
“I want to listen to members and I’ve already started doing that. I’m listening and getting a feeling for what our members want from IMechE and what they could contribute. Secondly, I am committed to steering through the reviews for finance, governance and code of conduct. We’ve put in place an exceedingly competent implementation team to take this forward, and we see the reviews as being a major task for IMechE. Finally, I want to continue to popularise mechanical engineering, and encourage young people.”
What’s your message to young people about engineering as a career?
“Mechanical engineering remains a pivotal subject. Everything else feeds into it. Drawing on my own experience as a university professor, young people, when they want to go to university, choose a subject that will give them a very good chance of getting a job. And mechanical engineering very much offers that, whether they want to stay in the profession or try something else. The analytical skills and thinking processes will stay with them.”
How can the Institution stay relevant to those people?
“UK companies with bases overseas and overseas companies who want to establish themselves in the UK want to know the quality of the mechanical engineering graduate they’re going to get. And they are turning to us at the IMechE for that. I’m really encouraged by the number of UK universities that have established bases in overseas countries, notably in Asia and the Middle East. They’re following the accreditation procedures from the UK and that’s the hallmark that companies are looking to see. And that’s why IMechE is increasingly relevant today.”
Could the Institution be doing a better job of emphasising the importance of engineering to the public, and can this help improve the diversity of the profession?
“I see that as one of my main tasks as president, and I will lead in that respect. Clearly, I need support from my colleagues, but already my presidential address dealt with that message. I think the message can also go to mothers and fathers, to talk about the opportunities that are available in engineering.”
What are the big challenges that engineers need to solve?
“I’m going to draw attention to two other issues facing the world. One is health, and the ageing population. The human joint replacement is an example of how powerful mechanical engineering is in supplying the answer, from the materials being used to the extensive use of rapid prototyping. I think we also need to be emphasising more interest and activity in agricultural engineering and food engineering. Everyone in the world requires food, and the use of robotics in agriculture and new methods for preparing foods are all relevant.”
What about the biggest challenge facing the Institution itself?
“The IMechE has come back into a position of stability. It has been a turbulent time, but most places will go through a period of turbulence where they are reshaping themselves. Once we’ve got the implementation of the big reviews under way, I think you’ll find IMechE a far more stable, forward-looking and enthusiastic place than it has been.”
What will success look like for you, in a year’s time?
“If we’ve started implementation of the reviews and emphasised how mechanical engineering is pivotal and available to all, not only in the UK but all over the world, I’d consider it a job well done.”
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.