A pipeline sealing innovation inspired by a bleeding finger, an ultra-wide retinal imager to improve diagnosis of eye diseases, a step change towards green chemistry processes and a ‘next-generation’ aircraft wing - four radically different innovations are vying for the UK’s most prestigious engineering accolade, The Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award 2006, together with its £50,000 cash prize.

“Size is never a barrier to innovation,” says Dr Robin Paul FREng, Chairman of the judging panel, “and this year’s final confirms this. The 2006 shortlist sees a company employing just 13 staff alongside another employing 13,000. Each of the four shortlisted companies has delivered innovations which exemplify the best of British ingenuity in engineering disciplines. It’s going to be extremely difficult to select an overall winner.”

The four finalists, announced today, are:

Airbus UK

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest commercial aircraft. A raft of design and manufacturing innovations coupled with a new integration approach has resulted in an aircraft which is significantly quieter and more fuel efficient than the nearest competitor and which also offers more range and significantly lower operating costs. Many of the innovations are incorporated into the British designed and built wing. New features include novel rib designs, carbon fibre primary structure used in a large civil transport for the first time, patented high lift devices and load reduction techniques. In addition, patented manufacturing processes helped to save weight and optimise the build. The A380 is currently undergoing flight testing and has already achieved an unprecedented number of firm orders at this stage - 159 aircraft for 16 of the world’s major airline customers.

Team members: Chris Holmes, Rob Bray, Dave Tighe, Mark Holden and Dave Brett
Contact: Tony Rooke, Engineering Communications Manager, tel 0117 936 4481, mob 07793 905505

Brinker Technology Ltd

A spinout from the University of Aberdeen, Brinker Technology uses mechanical Platelets®’ to locate and seal costly pipeline leaks in the oil and water industries. Inspired by the human body’s own healing mechanism in sealing small wounds, Brinker’s Platelets® are introduced into a pipeline and carried in the fluid flow to the vicinity of a leak, where the differential pressure pulls the Platelets® into the defect to seal it. Flow pressure keeps the plug in place against the pipe wall until repair work is carried out and gives pipeline operators valuable time to plan a shut-down, ensuring minimal loss of production. Platelets® are also embedded with a remote tagging device which enables the location of the leak to be accurately determined by either externally or internally surveying the line.

Team members: Bernie Anson, Iain Chirnside, Dr Ian McEwan, Professor Jason Reese and Dr Nick Ryan
Contact: Iain Chirnside, General Manager and Director, tel 01224 355238

Davy Process Technology Ltd

Davy Process Technology has demonstrated how industry can manufacture commodity chemicals from sustainable feedstocks. Using a unique Mini-Plant test facility - a complete chemical process plant in miniature - to provide a single step between the research laboratory and commercial scale process operation, a highly innovative carbon neutral process technology has been developed. This technology uses regenerable bio-ethanol as the feedstock with specifically developed catalysts for the manufacture of ethyl acetate, a non-toxic bio-degradable solvent used in the printing and pharmaceutical industries. Already 15% of global capacity has been licensed in a 100% export business with major growth potential. The new process is attractive to developing countries as it profitably uses local raw materials, it is simple to operate and maintain and avoids importing non-regenerable petrochemicals.

Team members: Dr Steve Colley, Mike Tuck, Chris Fawcett and Roger Lawrence
Contact: Mike Ashley, Public Relations Manager, tel 020 7957 3975

Optos plc

Routine retinal examination methods typically capture only a very small area of the retina at one time (between 0.1% - 11%), raising the risk of missing early signs of retinal disease and other associated systemic diseases. Optos engineers have developed scanning laser ophthalmoscopes that capture a digital image of over 80% of the patient’s retina in a single capture using low powered lasers manipulated by ellipsoidal mirror technology. Optos’ proprietary suite of software allows the practitioner to capture, manipulate and enhance the image as required, enabling a detailed evaluation of the retina, and producing a permanent clinical record of the examination. Over 2,000 devices are installed in eye and health care practices in the UK, Germany, USA and Canada, which have conducted over 7 million patient examinations to date. Expansion plans into Spain and France are underway.

Team members: Douglas Anderson, David Cairns and Alastair Atkinson
Contact: Alastair Atkinson, Global Product Director, tel 01383 843780

The winner of the 2006 MacRobert Award will be announced at The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Awards Dinner, on 05 June in London and will be presented with a gold medal by HRH the Duke of Kent. A cheque for £50,000 and individual team medals will be presented at Buckingham Palace by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on 16 June 2006.

Notes for editors

  1. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award honours the winning company with a gold medal and up to five team members with a tax-free prize of £50,000 between them.
  2. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Academy after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry.
  3. The 2005 winner of the MacRobert Award was CSR plc, the Cambridge-based wireless silicon company, for its single chip BlueCore™ family, the revolutionary devices which have fuelled the rise of Bluetooth wireless products, from mobile phones to medical devices.
  4. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Clare Huddlestone, Manager, Events and MacRobert Award, The Royal Academy of Engineering