Commentary

Why we invent in Britain, but build in S’pore

Published: February 28, 6:11 AM
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For the past 15 years, Dyson’s highly-skilled engineers have been developing a tiny revolution in our laboratories. It is a new motor a third the size of a traditional one, but which can spin 100,000 times a minute — five times faster than a Formula One engine. Making 6,000 adjustments a second for optimal performance, the Dyson digital motor can supercharge prosaic machines.

At Dyson we invest heavily in our ideas and develop all of our technology in Britain: All our research takes place in Malmesbury where we employ 850 world-class design engineers and scientists — about a third of them recent graduates.

Our new motor performs like no other — and because we are developing it in our own laboratories, with our own people, no one else can get their hands on it (despite trying!).

This is not only good for Dyson, but also for Britain. The intellectual property is owned here and all the profits will flow back to the United Kingdom where we pay more than 85 per cent of our global tax.

But last week, Dyson opened a new £150 million (S$281.4 million) motor manufacturing facility in Singapore. Why?

Savvy governments understand the need to support advances like our new motor and to create incentives for companies to develop them. They also value the highly skilled workforce able to develop them — 40 per cent of graduates are engineers, versus 2 per cent in Britain. They realise that the more successful the company, the more they export, bringing more revenue into the country and employing more people.

And the potential for discovery at the moment is enormous, particularly in the sphere of materials. There are significant gains to be made from materials such as carbon 60 and graphene, which was discovered in Manchester. This is 40 times stronger than steel and 1,000 times more conductive than silicon.

Thankfully, Britain is moving in the right direction and there is a renewed desire to develop technology on its shores.

Prime Minister David Cameron has increased the research and development tax credit — which supports companies that take risks and invest in developing ideas for the future — to 225 per cent. As a result, patent applications rose 29 per cent in 2011 and investors have reacted positively.

But Britain still has a shortage of engineers — it has a 60,000 engineering deficit. Who will develop the ideas?

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