With HM Treasury having recently set up a new body to oversee £350bn of infrastructure investment, are we about to see an explosion of large projects around the UK? Or can we expect large-scale infrastructure projects to be used as political footballs and kicked into touch by a government too wary to risk its reputation on implementing them? The proposed HS2 high-speed rail network has been written off by some even before the first rail sleeper is to be laid in 2017, and not only on anti-development grounds; some suggest the future is with driverless cars rather than rail. Meanwhile, Thames Water’s proposed £4.2bn super sewer, meant to replace the capital’s creaking Victorian sewerage system, faces strong local opposition because of fears about smells, expected congestion and economic effects.Of course, not everything ends up being tied up in bureaucratic wrangling, opposition and procedural delays. The massive re-development of the 2012 Olympic park area including its stadia and underground infrastructure was a success—perhaps spurred on by an immovable deadline. There continues to be a lot of energy put into high-speed broadband networks, including providing digital infrastructure for the largest cities in the UK, in the hope that it will help businesses grow faster and make them more efficient. London’s Crossrail, currently Europe’s largest infrastructure project, provides another example of how to deliver an ambitious construction project that will have a significant impact on the capital’s rail network when completed in 2018. But while the spotlight is on improving the nation’s rail network, perhaps the more pressing problem is how to update our roads – with or without driverless cars – not least because the majority of the economy relies heavily on road transportation. Past governments have all resisted large-scale investment in road-building programmes, not least because of environmentalist concerns about cars.Why do some projects succeed while others struggle to get started? Is the problem the lack of a political sponsor, able to conjure up the compelling vision necessary to inspire support and private investment? Are environmental issues and concerns taken too seriously, or is the problem a NIMBY attitude that ignores the bigger picture? Should more effort be spent in deregulation and easing up the planning process to encourage competition between construction providers? Or is there an unwillingness to tear down existing infrastructure because no-one wants to lose face over betting on untested new ideas?
Over the past two or three years, the idea of 3D printing has gripped the imagination of everyone from creatives in design and IT through to wider industry and governments up to and including President Obama. At a time when many business innovations are based around how the product is packaged and sold to the customer, it is indeed refreshing to see a technology-led boost to how material things are made in the first place, potentially transforming the production of everything from children’s toys to cars and even guns. Some go so far as to proclaim that with ‘additive manufacturing’, we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, one that will restructure society, make the means of production more democratic and give the economy a much needed boost.Others are more sceptical – seeing additive manufacturing as just another (albeit still exciting) technique that adds to the multitude of existing manufacturing processes. So where we are with this technology, and does 3D printing really amount to an industrial revolution or is it just overblown hype?
Product Design + Innovation, ExCel, London
Head-to-head debate with James Woudhuysen and Martyn Perks speaking against the motion; Clive Grinyer and Andrea Siodmok speaking for the motion. For all full review, read this article on the PDI website.
Conveyning and introducing the strand of five debates.
Is it game over for manufacturing in the developed economies or might America stage a comeback? Can there be a rebalancing of production to the west and consumption to the east? Will gas galore provide the cheap energy to fuel that possibility? Does design drive engineering or the other way round? Why do we suffer droughts in wet old Britain? And is file sharing just stealing?