Multimillion pound design centre to bolster UK innovation in transport

A new multimillion pound centre of design excellence to support UK innovation in the transport industry and boost efforts to bridge a shortfall in essential creative skills will be opening at Coventry University in 2017.

The announcement of the National Transport Design Centre (NTDC) comes as a new report from the Automotive Council UK identifies a need for improved education provision for the vehicle design sector to meet urgent demand for creative roles such as modellers.

The NTDC – whose construction has already started on Coventry University’s Technology Park – is being funded through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the government’s multimillion pound Local Growth Deal, with an initial £7 million contribution.

State-of-the-art features of the NTDC, which forms a key facility for the University’s existing Centre for Mobility and Transport, include:

  • a 6m interactive power wall which allows users to explore detailed design and engineering
    concepts in virtual reality;
  • advanced clay milling facilities for creating physical models of vehicles;
  • a projection mapping system which can cast digital images onto 3D objects below, helping designers to assess how multiple options would appear on full-scale models.

The centre is set to address many of the Automotive Council report’s recommendations, with key areas of focus including undergraduate and postgraduate education in transport design, research projects in collaboration with industry, and support for the UK’s high-value manufacturing sector and its supply chain to improve design capability.

According to the report – entitled The Value of Design in the UK Automotive Sector – there are currently only four universities in the UK (including Coventry) teaching transport design at undergraduate or postgraduate level, despite recent and significant growth in both the British car industry1 and the country’s design economy2.

David Wright, director of strategic initiatives at Coventry University, said:

In a global transport industry that is increasingly seeing cost-saving engineering collaborations between competitors, design remains one of the most important ways manufacturers can make themselves stand out.

Britain, and indeed Coventry as a city, has always been a leader in this field, but what is clear from the Automotive Council’s latest report is that creative skills like design and modelling will soon be in short supply if an ageing workforce retires without capable graduates and trainees coming through.

Our aim with the National Transport Design Centre is to meet this demand for specialised skills, building on Coventry University’s existing expertise in transport design with a range of new courses and research programmes. Not only that, but we’ll be ensuring the centre is ‘open for business’ for companies in the transport sector – whether automotive, rail, aerospace or marine – to work with us to help them grow.

Jonathan Browning, chairman of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

The creation of the National Transport Design Centre, funded by the Local Growth Deal, brings advantages in many aspects.

It underlines Coventry and Warwickshire’s place at the forefront of cutting-edge transport research and development and design, and is another example of the area’s world class ability to combine creative and technical skills to stimulate further investment in the future of our economy.

It will bring international work to our region and help further hone the skills of the professionals already based here.

And, on a different level, it further cements the already strong links between our universities and industry – a factor that has led to them winning such widespread recognition in recent years.

Commenting on the Automotive Council report, the council’s technology chairman Dr Graham Hoare said:

There are few man made creations more emotive and inspiring than the automobile. The challenge of creating beauty and function for cars lays at the feet of world class designers and modellers – and the UK is synonymous with these people, processes and visions.

This study, as part of the Automotive Council activities, seeks to assess the vital role of design in the UK automotive industry from the viewpoint of the UK’s design capabilities, skills and challenges. The findings reinforce our confidence in all that is great about British automotive design, but highlight some of the key challenges the industry and academia faces in maintaining our status at the pinnacle of the global automotive design world.

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