The urgent need to engage UK students in engineering and science subjects has prompted a group of leading engineers to promote hands-on skills.
Their organization, Hands on the Future (HOTF), aims to re-imagine and revive declining hand skills through training, events, exhibitions, seminars and workshops in schools, colleges, universities and museums.
“The idea is to raise awareness of the importance of making/repairing things and by offering choices at the start, drawing people toward something that may interest them, if it is attractively presented,” says Peter Mucci, one of the founders of HOTF. The brainchild of fellows of The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA), HOTF is partnering with interested parties in creating easy-access introductory schemes and training, to give students a hands-on experience of the skills needed for creative design, manufacture, repair and maintenance.
On 27 June this year, HOTF demonstrate their ‘Rotor Challenge at a free event at Beaulieu called Get Inspired. The Rotor Challenge offers an interactive display of the tail rotor of the ‘Lynx’ helicopter for youngsters to work on at the show.
Visitors to the stand, which HOTF shares with Solent University, can take on the challenge of fitting a new blade to the rotor using high precision components. So participants can learn about the design of the rotor mechanism, and make their own suggestions for improvements. They can discover how the complex mechanisms used on the rotor can also be found in automotive, marine and manufacturing machinery.
The Lynx is medium-size helicopter in service all over the world in transport, rescue, military and humanitarian roles. Its design is very effective and reliable and, with trained engineering support, it can be serviced/operated in almost all weather conditions.
The HOTF group points to the decline in teaching creative hands-on design and manufacturing skills to students in schools and colleges. “The majority of products – from computers to aircraft carriers – are made, maintained or repaired by hand, by technically able and qualified people,” says Peter Mucci. “This requires high levels of creativity and skill at pre-production, production and post-production stages.
“A free introduction to hand skills for people of all ages and abilities can be a gateway for further education, apprenticeships, and employment. These well-designed introductions may lead to part-, or full-time courses, apprenticeships, or retraining, or provide new skills for those with disabilities – a starting point for entry into a variety of industries.
The group also deplores the “mistaken belief that products are cheaper and better when sourced from abroad”. This has led to a widespread obsession with outsourcing products which could be made in the UK cost-effectively and with quality.
AI and robotics are important, the HoTF group knows. But they insist that robots may never have the essential hand skills of humans. It will not be practical or cost effective to replace some human hand-eye skills with machines, so they want to see their methods working alongside new technology. They are confident that their campaign can create new businesses and jobs which will work with new machine and digital technology.
The H0TF founders have spent their lives working in aerospace, naval, civil, and mechanical engineering projects. Their experiences range from the smallest to the largest private companies and the military, civil service and academia. Within the team there is expertise from 20 years of developing student projects and CPD. They know that the only way to excite and interest young people is by the use of real products and systems.