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Day 4 - IFA International

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Exclusive Interview

Exclusive Interview Taking up the challenge Sir James Dyson explains why failure is a vital step towards true invention Sir James Dyson and the bladeless Air Multiplier Your new fans are eye openers, the latest outof- the-ideas box. Can you tell us more about this invention? While our engineers were developing the technology behind the Dyson Airblade hand dryer, they noticed that fast-flowing air from the aperture induced surrounding air into its stream. We realised that this inducement, or amplification effect, could be further enhanced by passing airflow over a ramp. And of course, this was the point where the idea of a new kind of bladeless fan became a real possibility. Here was a way to create turbulent-free air and finally do away with blades. How would you describe yourself? Do you feel like the ‘Edison of the 21st Century’? Thomas Edison once said: "I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work." I proudly admit that I am a failure. I’ve made By Richard Barnes As electronics pioneer Dyson showcases its Air Multiplier bladeless fan at IFA 2010, company founder Sir James Dyson explains why taking chances is key to the company’s ethos. mistakes, blunders, errors and miscalculations. But each is a vital step towards true invention. There’s no new technology, no new way of doing things, without having failed several times along the way. It took you more than 5,000 attempts before finally getting your dual cyclone vacuum technology right. How many people tried to discourage you in the early days, and what drove you to follow through? It took me five years, 5,127 prototypes, lots of cursing, bangs and crashes, and a rollercoaster ride from euphoria to disappointment and back again, before my vacuum cleaner was ready for market. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child Sam was born. By the 2,627th prototype, my wife Deirdre and I were really counting our pennies. By the 3,727th prototype, Deirdre was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but I wouldn’t change them for the world. Life was exciting – no risks, no progress. Why is it that more companies don’t innovate in the way that you do? In a recent interview, Alex Moulton, designer of the Moulton bicycle said that the ruination of the British car industry was down to the accountants, who make or break companies purely from a financial perspective. So when times are tough they refuse to invest in new technology. But I believe the opposite is needed. When the economy is gloomy, we have to think ahead to the next invention and the one after that. We need to take risks and do things differently to stay competitive. Corporate culture discourages making mistakes, which is evidently the opposite of your philosophy and that of other great inventors. How should company culture be developing today? We invest most of our time and money in research, design and development, which is a hefty financial risk, but one which allows our engineers to try out new things. And we’re not afraid to take on a challenge and venture into new technological territories, just because we may not have the expertise. In fact, I rather distrust ‘experts’. It’s a rather extravagant, self-important title, which hides the fact that in any field there’s so much more that one doesn’t know. We take an iterative approach to design engineering, one small change at a time. A mistake or failure is just as valuable as a success – it’s one step nearer to discovery. In fact, I think school children should be marked on the number of mistakes they make, rather than how many facts and figures they can recite verbatim. We all learn through our mistakes and should embrace them. That is why I say to any budding inventor: “Carry on failing – it works.” How many other surprises do you have in store in the next year or so? What kinds of things can we expect to see? There is a lot of new technology coming up, which is why we’re looking to double the number of engineers to 700. I can’t give too much away, but we’re not interested in token green gestures, which is why we’re focusing on energy efficient technologies. Take motors; bigger motors don’t mean better performing machines. In fact, they symbolise outmoded, ineffective design. We’re looking to develop motors in a significant way. How do you feel about the achievements you have made so far, and what are your goals for the future? I hope that I’ve made everyday life just that little bit easier, whether it’s a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction or a hand dryer that actually dries your hands. But I’m never satisfied. Our latest vacuum cleaner, DC32, has really taken 25 years to develop, but there will always be something else that could be improved. We will still be refining the vacuum cleaner for the next 50 years. Hall 4.1 Stand 204 www.ifa-international.org IFA International • Monday, 6 th September 2010 11

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