A formula for growth

Posted on 22 Oct 2010 by The Manufacturer

IMechE’s Formula Student competition gears up for 2011 and despite Higher Education budget cuts applications are strong. Jane Gray finds out more.

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) run the Formula Student (FS) every year providing hundreds of engineering students in the UK (and abroad at their international events) to gain valuable experience in applying their academic education to real engineering challenges with relevance to the social and regulatory pressures that industry is also facing.

At an event in London on October 15 200 students visited the IMechE’s headquarters for a day of guidance on how to best approach the prestigious competition. At the event, Learn to Win, potential entrants representing 21 university teams met with judges and event sponsors to gain clarity on the broader challenges they would face over the coming year – not only in terms of engineering and innovating for the production of their race car – but also in terms of business issue like budget management.

The importance of budget in the 2011 competition is likely to more pressing than ever as students are forced to do more with less. Alex Hickson, senior development engineer at Lockheed Martin and deputy design judge for FS told TM “budget constraints will challenge students to be more innovative in the use of their limited resources and create opportunities for money saving designs and the reuse of parts.” In the context of the international FS competition Hickson believes that UK students will have something of a head-start on foreign competitors in this challenge to absorb economic pressures. “In the past UK students have done so much with very small budgets by comparison to European teams. The UK team which came second in Germany last year last year had a budget in the order of fifteen to twenty thousand pounds in comparisons to hundreds of thousands at the command of their European counterparts. This just goes to show that British engineering students have great capability in terms of applying their engineering know-how in challenging situations.”

This attribute is likely to become ever more pressing into 2011 and beyond as the spending cuts recently announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review bite into Higher Education budgets and limit university capability to support extracurricular education opportunities. This does not yet seem to have been the case with FS which is highly valued by participants, universities and industry alike as a way of highlighting job opportunities, developing the employability of engineering graduates for industry jobs and connecting businesses with the brightest emerging talent. However, as budgetary constraints build it may become more important than ever that industry representative continue to support the dynamic completion.

Currently sponsors for GFS include leading lights from the F1 and automotive industry as well as suppliers and technology providers; current supporters include McLaren and Red Bull Racing, Airbus and Autodesk. The support of these industry players is vital in providing materials, manufacturing capability and more to the student teams. In return companies ensure that engineering is fostered, protecting the interest of the industry as a whole and providing head hunting opportunities. Many FS participants are taken on for work placements, apprenticeships and later employment following their participation in the event every year and indeed Hickson is just one of many judges who are past participants. As UK industry look to grow in high value-added manufacturing the capture of talented engineers experienced in applying their knowledge will be invaluable.

Sponsorship opportunities for the 2011 competition are still avaailable and official entry for student teams will begine in January.