BEEAs highlight engineering as ‘worthwhile profession and career’

Written by: Chris Shaw | Published:
Mark Sanders from MAS Design Products

Chris Shaw catches up with British Engineering Excellence Awards (BEEAs) Design Engineer of the Year 2009, Mark Sanders from MAS Design Products.

Back in 2009, Mark Sanders was awarded Design Engineer of the Year, judged by a range of leading industry figures who described him as, "prolific, practical and creative, with a range of design expertise". In particular, the Judges were impressed with his involvement in the education of the next generation of engineers.

Sanders runs MAS Design Products singlehandedly and he has conceived, designed and engineered many patented, successful and multimillion selling products. A qualified engineer and industrial designer, Sanders specialises in combining engineering and industrial design and can take projects from preconcept stage to production. Most projects involve a high level of innovation and usually result in at least one patent. He also runs a workshops in schools and universities, both in the UK and internationally. During most of the last 20 years, Sanders has been a once a week visiting tutor on the innovation design engineering Masters degree course run by Imperial College and the Royal College of Art.

Chris Shaw
Having been voted Design Engineer of the year by a panel of judges including Richard Noble OBE, Kate Bellingham, Harry Tee and Nick Appleyard, what did winning mean to you?
Mark Sanders
It was both a huge honour and also immensely satisfying that the work I do has been recognised as significant, and worthwhile.

Chris Shaw
The judges were particularly impressed with your involvement in the education of the next generation of engineers. What does it take to inspire younger engineers? And what do you see as the best way to encourage more young people into the industry?
Mark Sanders
In one word: 'Enthusiasm'! Which if you love the subject, as I do, it is natural to share the excitement of creating something new, the ups and downs of developing it towards mass production, and the subtleties of market acceptance and sales. I think it helps to show case studies of projects that younger people can relate to, ideally products they know, and then they are interested to hear the 'back-story'. It helps if this is presented with honest 'warts and all' authenticity, rather than a slick 'sales pitch'. I highlight the human aspects, the lows of say many unsuccessful concepts, and the highs of when say a mechanism first whirrs into life. Likewise, all the retrospective key events that make a product successful (or not), such as key meetings, timings, lucky media breaks, and of course any 'eureka' moments!

The best way to encourage more young people into the industry, is to use broadcast TV media (and well as narrow-cast print and internet media). It is a simple numbers issue - getting across the excitement of engineering to the maximum number of young people, and importantly their influencers (parents, teachers, friends etc). This needs to be done 'top down' with TV audiences in the millions, as well as 'bottom up' with work in schools and colleges to smaller numbers. Having subjects on TV is our society's way of anointing 'credibility'. Engineering needs to have this credibility amongst the young, and UK PLC needs this SO much more than the media's constant grabbing of 'low hanging fruit' aka celebrities of pure entertainment.

I believe if done well, educational TV series such as 'Brian Cox's Universe', or David Attenborough's 'Natural World' can be even more satisfying than pure entertainment as they also share knowledge. The potential for popularising engineering on TV, could be even more exiting - as, unlike the limited career opportunities in astronomy and animal science, careers in engineering are relatively abundant. Also by adding such credibility, the British pioneering engineering and inventiveness might be reignited to the benefit of the country.

Chris Shaw
Since you won the award, what have been the biggest challenges and achievements in running MAS Design Products in such an unstable economic environment? And how were these overcome?
Mark Sanders
There are many products currently under development - which, of course, I cannot share! It has never been too much of a challenge to create new exciting products - it is the marketing, distribution and selling which is more difficult. Luckily, I have good partnerships with companies who have these skills. As with publicising engineering, it is also important to publicise new products. To get messages out in the current climate, amidst all the media 'noise' of everyone else's messages is the key.

Chris Shaw
Can you describe any developments / patents that you have worked on since 2009?
Mark Sanders
All I can say are a few keywords "Robotic", "Fold", "Drive" and "Juice" (!)

Chris Shaw
Finally, what would you say to any companies reluctant to nominate a design engineer?
Mark Sanders
Apart from the personal benefits to the individual Design Engineer, which are probably better than financial rewards, having the media spotlight will enhance the whole company, and engineering as a worthwhile profession and career. It will inspire people within the company and also outside, bringing potential business as well as human capital.

If you would like to submit an entry for the 2011 BEEAs, you have until 31st July 2011. Go to BEEAs entry page.

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