Sunday, 15 June 2014

Hornby, Liverpool's famous inventor, manufacturer and entrepreneur!

I am of course referring to Frank Hornby of Meccano fame! I read his Biography: Toy Story by Anthony McReavy over the weekend and it provided a nice example of the value in bringing together Science, engineering, maths and the key ingredients of successful business: manufacturing, economics and sales and marketing. However, business success associated with innovation and manufacturing one hundred years later must necessarily include considerations of sustainability and the environment as well as more developed elements of wage equality and welfare of the workforce. Of course all of these may impact on profit margins in the short term, but we now realise they are a key part of sustainability.

Frank Hornby (RHS) came from an ordinary family near Lime Street, and was born at the start of the railway revolution in Victorian Britain. What I find interesting is that Frank Hornby recognised the value of construction as a means of amusing and educating young children. Despite formidable difficulties: he had access to very little money, he had to develop his toys from a garden shed and the difficulties of outsourcing the manufacturing of components, Frank Hornby became one of Britain's most successful inventors and businessman combined.

His first Meccano sets were assembled and packaged in an amateurish way, and were expensive at the turn of the 20th century (40p!). However, he secured endorsement from Professor Hele-Shaw, an academic engineer at the University of Liverpool, which marks an interesting moment in the collaboration between industry, education and University research. It should also be mentioned that a few years earlier, the use of scale models was pioneered at the University of Cambridge, by the chemist William Farish (LHS). Farish was a great innovator in teaching: his concept of assembly kits that could be used to construct scale models of industrial machinery to aid in the teaching of the subject, became an important part of education in both engineering and architecture. He was, incidentally, the first person to introduce examination papers into University courses at Cambridge!

I have become fascinated by the way in which 3D printing, you could argue a logical extension of Meccano, is influencing our research programme in the Innovation Labs at Liverpool. The concept of design and technical drawing, building on Farish's introduction of "isometric projection" which later became a cornerstone of architecture courses in the UK and USA, is closely linked to some of the laboratory equipment design and 3D printing work that the Greenland Biodesign team (see earlier Blogs) are engaged in at the moment. The value of model building (without which Linus Pauling may not have thought of the alpha helix in proteins, and the DNA double helix in the case of Watson and Crick!) cannot be overestimated in Science.

I am looking forward this week to hosting a group of Business delegates in the UTC innovation Labs, as part of the International Festival for Business in Liverpool. I am aiming to demonstrate the teaching approaches that we are developing to train a new generation of Young Scientists by a hands on session in which we will incorporate aspects of Synthetic Biology and 3D Printing. As the Nobel Prize winner Sir Harry Kroto (and others) have pointed out  "Britain needs more Meccano and less Lego", by infusing our Science programme with contemporary research methodology, design and manufacturing concepts, together with an appreciation of business principles, I believe we can not only produce a Frank Hornby for the 21st Century but a group of young scientists who will make a real difference to our collective futures. 


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  2. It gives good information about famous inventor,manufacturers and enterpreneur.This type of informations are mainly used in business people.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    Zarah from Svasamsoft

  3. Thanks, nice to know it is useful to you!