Friday, March 1, 2013

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

Today online

28 Feb 2013

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?


Britain is not the only country that is creating incentives for invention — and companies such as ours are in global competition. Singapore understands this and rewards investment in research and development with a thumping 400 per cent tax credit. The country supports and values inventiveness and backs it up with an education system that encourages ingenuity — they have plenty of world-class engineers.

Bereft of natural resources, Singapore realises that human resources and ideas are its trump cards.

The result is a buoyant economy, with highly inventive companies such as Rolls-Royce knocking at its door. 

Building a complex motor such as the one that Dyson is developing, with minute tolerances, requires the precision of a fully automated production line.

 The highly-skilled workforce, the tax incentives and the nearby supply chain make Singapore appealing for us. We will make six million motors this year; increasing our production capacity by 100 per cent — a necessary jump to meet rising demand, particularly from Japan and America. We source the motor’s 22 components from across Asia, so it makes little sense to ship them to Britain, only to export the finished motors back again. So Singapore is the obvious place for production.

Britain’s focus should be on generating ideas and patenting them — that is the high-value part of the process and the one that will earn this country a competitive advantage. Britons must focus on being the best problem solvers in the world, developing technology and then exporting it. And for this Britain needs high quality engineers, backed up by supportive  government incentives. The country has the foundations in place — but continuing government support, both through the education system and tax system, is essential.
Sir James Dyson is the founder of Dyson, the technology company. This commentary first appeared in British daily The Times.

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