People who put the widget in a can of ale

November 1, 1996

Success breeds success, argues Frank Hartley. And the cash pouring into Cranfield University from industry is proof. This year's figures of university earnings from industry revealed two interesting facts about Cranfield University, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a postgraduate seat of learning.

First, although it was known that Cranfield typically earned about 50 per cent more than its nearest rival, we had never before published our figures. Second, that Cranfield actually earns 100 per cent more than the second in the league table, Cambridge.

To say that we achieve this by hard work is simplistic, but true. Our 1,747 staff members take personal responsibility for making things happen. They make and maintain industrial contacts, leading to contracts for research and consultancy. They work with, not just for, industry for mutual benefit.

Cranfield's origins lay in aeronautics - it is the only UK university with its own airfield and aircraft - and many senior executives in British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and Boeing are Cranfield graduates. As it expanded, so did its influence in the worlds of defence, biotechnology, the environment and management.

The results of Cranfield staff work is to be seen in, for example the small "go-faster" wing tips on Boeing 747 aircraft. The designs of both the United States and Russian space shuttles are based on the work of Ian Poll, head of our college of aeronautics; the layout of aircraft passenger cabins and flight attendant safety and training systems stem from the seminal work of Helen Muir in understanding how aircraft evacuations are affected by the panic induced by a real-life disaster.

The Cranfield Impact Centre has used Frank Taylor's aircraft accident investigations to design safer seats and cabins, and to build crash resistance into cars and coaches. The modern gas turbine engine has benefited from Cranfield work on materials and combustion (in fact we claim that there is no Rolls-Royce engine flying to which Cranfield staff have not made some contribution).

Cranfield materials staff have made significant contributions to the off-shore oil industry and to underwater welding techniques, and also put the "widget" into cans of Tetley bitter, Britain's most popular pub ale. Most diabetics now use a blood-glucose level measuring device based on Cranfield technology - this one development is now the basis of an $800-million worldwide business.

Out of our technology have come several companies: the flagship Cranfield Precision has taken high-precision machine tools to the ultimate in precision engineering. Almost every Formula One car comes to Cranfield for crash testing, and many come at design stage for wind-tunnel tests. European aeroplane manufacturers send their aircraft to our airfield for final certification.

Our school of management is now one of the world's best. An American business magazine rated us second in the world.

Policemen appreciate our contributions to modern riot shields and to body armour resistant to knife attack. And many governments exposed to disaster, especially in the developing and underdeveloped world, have benefited from the foresight and planning developed by the Cranfield disaster preparedness centre.

Work on precision farming at our Silsoe site provides a brilliant illustration of Cranfield's expertise. By using satellite navigation on farm equipment it is possible to match sowing to the fertility of each part of each field.

The result is that the farmer saves money, we benefit from reduced costs and the much reduced run-off surplus fertiliser, pesticide that would otherwise pollute water. Precision farming is therefore the perfect example of the way we transform world-class science, technology and management expertise into viable, practical, environmentally desirable solutions that enhance economic development.

Frank Hartley is vice chancellor of Cranfield University.

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