Dyson’s double vision

Posted on 9 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

In the midst of difficult economic times, entrepreneurial engineering company Dyson is swimming against the tide once again. The appliances manufacturer is seeking to double its engineering team in the UK boosting numbers from 350 to 700.

Dyson is already established as an imaginative and innovative company – it is second only to Rolls Royce as a patent filer. Its reputation and market leadership is based on innovation, but new ideas need new blood. Sir James Dyson, founder and the enduring powerhouse behind the company that bears his name, recently published a report, Ingenious Britain which calls for education reforms, including the establishment of more engineering academies, and greater R&D tax credits to make Britain Europe’s leading high tech exporter – so the upcoming recruitment drive could be seen as him putting his money where his mouth is.

“Engineering and design need to be encouraged through schools and universities, and in industry itself,” says Sam Bernard, engineering manager.

Dyson supports a number of university activities and it also has a programme that is designed to raise interest in engineering in schoolchildren. However, the company maintains that the education system itself has to support and encourage children, as other countries do. But meanwhile, it is actively seeking talent within the UK.

Recruits: from university and beyond
“We’re recruiting 350 qualified and trained engineers, many from university. We want to attract talented people with specialist knowledge,” says Bernard. One of the recent recruits is Jude Pullen, a Cumbrian, who joined a few months ago. He is an M.Eng graduate from Glasgow University/Glasgow School of Art, a course that enabled him to work on broader aspects of product design, not just engineering.

“It included what I would describe as a ‘human approach’, design with the user in mind and how people interact with technology,” he says. His final degree project was a medical device. “It included study of engineering but also industry safety regulations, the ‘why’ of design, who it was being designed for.” The attraction of working for Dyson, to him, is that he can use the skills and awareness he acquired in Glasgow.

Scope to develop
“What is key, for me, is the scope,” says Pullen. “I am aware of the company’s existing projects, such as the Air Multiplier and Air Blade hand driers. I am getting exposure at various levels and am now working on related projects. It isn’t just about the products themselves – it’s about how they’re designed.” This is the way that Dyson operates, according to Bernard.

He has been with the company for seven years and has worked on every aspect of design, from concept to production, and with analysis, test and motors teams among others.

“As an engineer at Dyson you need to be able to grasp the whole development process,” he says. The company’s engineers need to develop a breadth of knowledge but, at the same time, they have the time and opportunity to develop their own specialities, whether in acoustics, motors, fluid dynamics, cyclones, cleanerheads or other applications. As they work on a project they will be involved in design, CAD, prototyping, testing, and analysis. Pullen already had experience with other companies, including Vickers Pressings in Newcastle, Caterpillar and Jaguar.

“They gave me a view of the rigours of organisation,” he says. “At Dyson, I have been working on how to design with CAD for tooling, for example. I have seen the process either at first hand or by working alongside a senior engineer.” While he had previously worked on part of a product, he can see the time coming when a product will actually be something he has designed. “I’m involved in some interesting aspects of Dyson digital motors.

It’s exciting – I’m involved with new applications and finding out what can be done with them.”

Country file, city slicker
The engineers Dyson recruits, many straight from university, will work at the company’s Wiltshire laboratories. However, while Malmesbury is Dyson’s global HQ, it isn’t known as a magnet for young people.

“It’s actually quite close to Bristol, which I think is similar to Glasgow,” Pullen responds. “They are both ‘young cities’ – both had industrial bases, both suffered decline and have gone through rebirth. Bristol is a dynamic place.” So that’s a vote in favour, then.

Dyson has quadrupled investment in R&D since 2005, a period that has seen the launch of the energy-efficient Air Blade hand drier line, the Air Multiplier bladeless fan and its smallest-ever vacuum cleaner, the DC26 City. It is expanding its motor development team – the digital motors Pullen mentioned are the power units found in 1.2 million machines produced in 2009 alone. New positions include graduate design, mechanical and acoustic engineers. Naturally, the company wants to be sure it’s getting the best available.

Rigorous recruitment
“I was recruited on the back of the degree show. I had entered the Dyson Award programme and that helped me to get a foot in the door,” Pullen says.

“The interview and selection process was definitely challenging.” The skills required and developed by Dyson are not exclusive; they are needed in other sectors like aerospace, motorsport and process manufacturing, as well.

“These skills and techniques (labview, Six-Sigma, matlab and so on) are used throughout industry and provide a great background for most other sectors,” says Bernard. “Most importantly, we all remain aware of the complete design cycle and what is required to create a successful product.” As a manager he has seen that graduates can only develop with lots of training, exposure to different techniques and support from senior engineers. “I give them lots of technical challenges as soon as they come through the door, plus plenty of support to make sure they learn fast from failure. This seems to be very good for their personal development, also.” Dyson exports its machines from the UK to 49 countries and is market leader in the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe and Canada.