Roderick A Smith


In the elections of May 2009, I was elected deputy President which leads to being President for the year 2011-12.

I will be the 126th President, following in the footsteps of George Stephenson, the first President in 1847.

Background: training and career in engineering

I started my engineering training with a student apprenticeship with the David Brown Corporation in January 1967. Brown's was then a major gear manufacturer based in Huddersfield and remains so to this day. But in the late sixties it was an engineering conglomerate making Aston Martin cars (the era of the James Bond car), Vosper Thorneycroft ships, Raydyne ovens and, of course, the famous David Brown tractors at Meltham. These varied businesses gave many opportunities to learn different branches of engineering. I started a three year course in Engineering Science at St John's College Oxford, and continued training at Brown's during vacations.I was elected a Student member of the Institution on15th December 1969.

On graduating from Oxford, I spend some months finishing my formal training, before becoming a gear technician at Brown's Salford works. I was involved with the vibration stabilisation of a 40ft diameter gear hobbing rig, the largest of its kind in the world, the introduction of the PERT work scheduling system, the installation of the gears on the Jodrell Bank telescope and the fitting of gears in many steel works and coal mines. A memorable and practical year!

In October 1971, I was awarded a Gas Council Research Scholarship to study the effect of notches on metal fatigue. The first several months was spent attached to the CEGB Laboratories at the Berkeley nuclear site near Bristol. I was lucky in being introduced to a world class research team which was working developing the then new science of fracture mechanics. Within a few months I had the pleasure of publishing my first paper (The Growth of Fatigue Cracks from Circular Notches, Smith, R A & Miller, K J, International Journal of Fracture, Vol.9, No 1,1973, pp101-104)  which kick started my research career when I returned to Keith Miller's fatigue group at Cambridge University Engineering Department. Some extremely happy years followed, research and much mountaineering, including an expedition to East Greenland in 1974, led me to completing my PhD, marriage to Yayoi Yamanoi of Tokyo and election as a the Godfrey Mitchell Research Fellow of Queens' College Cambridge in 1975. A University Lectureship at Cambridge, an Official Fellowship and the Directorship of Engineering at Queens' followed. Briefly, I moved to a Chair in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield in 1988, where I was Head of Department from 1992 to 95, before moving to the Headship of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London in 2000.

Interactions with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

I joined the Institution as an Affiliate in 1968, upgraded to Associate Membership in 1970, and to Fellowship in 1991. Fellowship of the the Royal Academy of Engineering  came later in 1999. Through out my academic career I have sought to engage in the real world of engineering through extensive contact with and contracts fron industry, including Rolls Royce, UKAEA, British Steel, British Gas, British Rail, Railtrack and what is now EPSRC. I have acted as a consultant for many companies, including, in recent years, in many legal cases arising from serious railway accidents and contract disputes, both in the UK and abroad. I have been very active in the I Mech E for many years, writing papers for its journals, presenting papers at Conferences and sitting on Committees. From 1996 to 2005 I was Editor-in-Chief of the Proceedings Part F, the Journal of Rail & Rapid Transit. In this period, the journal was in real danger of extinction because of the decrease in the supply of papers from UK sources as the railway research activity in the UK decreased in the years leading to privatisation. By considerable effort, I promoted the internationalisation of the journal, and its eventual expansion to six issues a year.

I was elected to Council in 1999 and to the Trustee Board in 2006. I played a major role in establishing the Institution's major themes of Energy, the Environment, Transport and Education, latterly as Deputy Chair of the Technical Strategy Board. In the last year I have toured the UK regions giving variants on the Hawksley Lecture, Energy for Transport, which I first delivered at HQ in December 2007. This has helped me in my new role as Chairman of the Regional Strategy Board, to meet, discuss and appreciate the views of many members throughout the country. This experience has also encouraged me to stand in the 2009 elections for the post of Deputy President of the Institution.

Insitution elections 2009

The current rules allow only 150 words of personal statement and manifesto. This is patently insufficient to say much of consequence. I hope what you are reading now will be more meaningful. My 50 allowed words of policy statement appear as follows:

Aims: to raise the profile and influence of the Institution to politicians and the public by indicating and publicising our relevance to people’s lives, to seek greater accountability and transparency of Trustee Board to members: to work for a modern railway system, and infrastructure generally relevant to the country’s needs.

It is worth amplifying these aims: it is clear that engineers need to be involved in the decision making process in this country. We cannot bemoan lack of status and lack of influence if we are not deeply involved ourselves. The themes of Transport, Energy, the Environment and Education have proved to be a spring board of much increased Institution visibility in recent years. We should not just aim at politicians, but remember that the politicians will respond to what they perceive to be public opinion. Our audiences must include children and young people, the electors and engineers of the future. I am concerned we are not making an issue of manufacturing, a topic which we could historically claim to have more ownership than even the present key themes. The economic downturn provides an opportunity for rational voices to be heard. Our politicians seem to want to "get back to where we were before" and to resume growth as soon as possible. Yet we should be debating the intrinsic unsustainability of growth and more growth. The depletion of natural resources may yet prove to be as big a challenge to the future of mankind as climate change, and, of course, maybe the two are inter-connected. 

Recent years have seen an improvement of the governance of our Institution. but we must recognise that many of our members are passive, many are ageing and many remain unconvinced of the Institution's relevance. We must endeavour to change this. We need to be quick to respond to opportunities, whist at the same time being aware and informed of the opinions of our members. Continuous improvement in all our activities must be our policy:our governance is no exception and the link between accountability of the Trustee Board to our members must be strengthened though radical questioning and subsequent overhaul of our internal procedures.

I have been closely involved with both the Government's and the Opposition's plans for high-speed rail in the UK, and will continue to play a championing and advisory role. I am deeply concerned by our long term planning of our electricity supply capability: I am convinced that power cuts are merely a matter of time. If we are to replace fossil fuels for transport with electrical alternatives, we urgently need a huge increase in electrical supply capability. As well as the loss in capacity caused by closure of "dirty" coal plants and ageing nuclear plant, we need to augment existing supply to provide for both population and demand growth and the aforementioned switch to electricity for transport. After years of arguing for infrastructure spend and being told by politicians that it is "impossible to print money", it is galling now to see the astronomical sums now being spent to bail out greed and incompetence in the financial sector. A small fraction of, for example, a "Northern Rock unit", would have built a London, Birmingham, Manchester high-speed railway many years ago! If only we had heard of "quantitative easing" then.


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