AUGUST COVER STORY: Up for the Challenge 

Whilst the skills crisis in UK manufacturing is well documented, finding a solution is somewhat complex and convoluted. One thing’s pretty certain though – the inspiration to pursue a career in engineering or manufacturing needs to be instilled in students and teachers alike to produce our engineers of the future. As Dave Tudor found, the TDI (Technology, Design and Innovation) Challenge, organised by the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) aims to do just that.

There are a number of projects that set out to inspire school children – the Bloodhound Supersonic Car is the obvious example that springs to mind – and the MTA’s TDI Challenge is another. It’s an annual, nationwide competition that has been running for over a decade that aims to shine a light on young designers and engineers.

Essentially it’s a showcase for Design and Technology (D&T) projects: students submit their masterpieces of choice to a battle hardened panel of judges in the hope of selection for the final which took place at Yamazaki Mazak’s European Manufacturing Headquarters in Worcester in early July – a fitting venue for such an occasion if ever there was one.

Initial judging took place in early June at the MTA’s offices in London. From this, a shortlist of 12 finalists were selected by the MTA’s Learning and Development Committee to attend the final judging day and award ceremony in Worcester. A number of proud D&T teachers, parents and relatives also attended the event. All concerned were given a guided tour of the Mazak facility.

Final frontier

For the final, the judging was split into two age groups: 14-16 years old and 17-19 years old; six students in each with one winner and two runners-up chosen from each group. Experience wise, the panel of judges was well placed to make the unenviably difficult decisions that lay ahead and comprised: Alan Pickering (Unison); Dave Barnett (Yamazaki Mazak); Bob Shanks (Imagineering Foundation); John Aspinall (XYZ Machine Tools); Brian Marsh (Renishaw); and Howard Bamforth (600 UK).

Judging panel - TDI Challenge
Judging panel - TDI Challenge

It should be emphasised that the calibre of submissions was phenomenally high, exceeded only (arguably) by the enthusiasm, confidence and professionalism of the students themselves. This wasn’t only about showcasing innovation – the finalists also had to present their projects to the judges and discuss design briefs, manufacturing plans and potential marketing campaigns. Credit is due not only to the finalists, but also to the schools – and the teachers – that champion Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and work of a more practical nature.

After a welcoming presentation by Alan Mucklow, group product manager at Yamazaki Mazak and Laura Pickering, the MTA’s learning & development coordinator, it was time to move swiftly to the exhibition area for the presentations to the judging panel. The decided format was that the 17-19 year olds would be up first whilst the younger group enjoyed a factory tour; then after lunch the groups switched places. The award ceremony was scheduled for mid-afternoon.

Top talent and technology

The sheer diversity and outright ingenuity of the technology on show was both surprising and impressive. In the 14-16 age group for example, James Howard-Smith from Tonbridge School in Kent unveiled his UV Sunburn Warning Sensor – a belt or hat mounted unit with an integral UV sensor with user-adjustable skin type and SPF levels.

In the same group, Cameron Hubbard of Attleborough Academy in Norfolk showcased his marvellously named V8 Inline-Four Engine BBQ – a fabricated weather resistant barbeque that wouldn’t have looked entirely out of place under the bonnet of a Ford Mustang rather than used for cooking burgers!

The other finalists were no less impressive in the 14-16 age group and again the diversity really shone through: Christopher Kalogroulis from Sutton Grammar School for Boys with his ‘Stakamals’ animal MDF kits; Lucy Thornton from Queen Elizabeth’s High School in Lincolnshire with her Giraffe Push Along Rocker; Tom Adams from Balcarras School in Cheltenham and his Flatpack Folding Camping Chair; and Tomos Lewis from Ysgol Dyffryn Aman School in Carmarthen with his Cootle flask – a cup that can heat liquids via chemical reaction without using gas or electricity.

Laura Pickering - MTA Learning and Development Coordinator
Laura Pickering - MTA Learning and Development Coordinator

In the 17-19 age group, competition was no less intense: William Scott for example, also a student from Tonbridge School devised a teaching aid for budding wind surfers – without moving away from the safe confines of dry land.

The other five candidates in this age group comprised: Jack Fox and Ben Noar, both of Highgate School in London who unveiled their ‘Helicopter Emergency Procedure Simulator’ and ‘Spherical Wheel’ projects. Elliot Downes of the Royal Grammar School in Worcester showcased his ‘Lorry Wheel Removal Device’; and Charlie Brinicombe and Georgia Bulled, both of Bedford Modern School introduced their ‘Climbing Safety Equipment’; and ‘Elevated Raised Platform Bed’ – an elevated sleeping platform for homeless people and refugees.

Instrumental in making the TDI Challenge happen was Laura Pickering, the MTA’s learning & development Coordinator. As well as looking after the Learning & Development Zone at MACH, she was also responsible for rallying interest in the competition: “The Challenge has been running for more than a decade now,” she says, “so a number of schools are familiar with it and enter regularly. This year, following a dedicated marketing campaign, we welcomed a number of new schools on board which is fantastic. Some made it through to the final awards.”

Past the winning post

In the 14-16 year old category the award was won by Christopher Kalogroulis from Sutton Grammar School for Boys with his Stackamals project – a range of animals created from stacked laser cut sheets of MDF, that can be used to store valuables. The judges felt that Christopher’s entry was a well-engineered finished project and were particularly impressed that he had created a brand – complete with marketing literature, social media channels and a website ( – that was commercially ready.

Christopher Kalogroulis
Christopher Kalogroulis

“Stackamals are ornamental as well as practical,” Christopher explains. “They make great ornaments but also feature a storage compartment so can be used as jewellery boxes or as a place for keeping spare keys for example. They come in kit form and the range currently comprises a pig, dolphin and four sizes of frog.”

The idea hatched one day when Christopher was looking at a map and observing the contour lines of mountain ranges – and the way that they appeared as stackable slices or 3D layers. He had the idea of creating a 3D frog and designed a model in SolidWorks. After building a clay model prototype, he painstakingly set about creating the MDF part layer by layer using a laser cutter, held together by a retaining rod.

Christopher comments: “It has been a really good day and a fantastic experience. I’m so pleased with the reaction to my entry and I’m going to try and get a Kickstarter campaign started online to get the product to market this summer.”

Second place went to Lucy Thornton from Queen Elizabeth’s High School, Gainsborough, with her Giraffe push along rocker and third place was awarded to Cameron Hubbard from Attleborough Academy Norfolk, with his V8 inline four engine BBQ.

Perfect parking

The winner in the 17-19 category was Ben Noar from Highgate School with his Spherical Wheel, designed to make the bane of everyone’s lives – parking cars – that little bit easier. The judges commended Ben for being inventive, with progression of research, stating: “The project has a wide application of uses and Ben has a great attitude.”

“Generally, car wheels today can only move about 30° in either direction which seriously affects manoeuvrability,” Ben affirms. “With the Spherical Wheel, the wheels can move through 360° in any direction so you literally can park parallel. Simply move adjacent to a parking space, turn the wheels through 90° and drive the car into the gap.

“It’s also really effective for three point turns,” he adds. “The front two wheels can be turned through 90° clockwise whilst simultaneously turning the rear pair 90° anti-clockwise. This means the turning fulcrum of the car is effectively at its centre making tight turns really simple.”

Ingenious, and like many potentially game changing inventions, the inspiration can strike like a lightning bolt: “My Dad had a gyroscopic clock at home and I began thinking about how all the ring mechanisms interacted,” Ben recalls. “Much to his annoyance, one day I decided to take it apart to see how it all worked. I soon realised the principles had real potential for other applications so I approached my D&T teacher with the Spherical Wheel idea and he suggested I use it for my A Level project.”

Ben Noar
Ben Noar

The first prototype was made from laser cut wood; mark 2 (the working model used for the TDI Challenge) is a fully electronic version incorporating internal and external motors to provide independently controlled motion.

“The model uses copper rings and works a bit like Scalextric,” Ben observes. “The rings feature carbon electrical contacts so whichever way they turn, there’s always a connection.”

The future looks very bright for Ben Noar: he intends to study Design Engineering at Imperial College, London and as far as the Spherical Wheel is concerned, there’s a patent pending in process.

Winning the TDI Challenge really was the icing on the cake: “It is quite incredible and I wasn’t expecting it at all. It’s a great thing to put on my personal statement for University, but it was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Third place in the 17-19 age group went to William Scott of Tonbridge School with his Wind Surfing Teaching Aid, whilst the runner-up prize was awarded to Elliot Downes and his Lorry Wheel Removal Device.

Both group winners received an Apple iPad Air; first runner ups bagged a Kindle Fire HD each and third placed students received a Wacom Intuous Graphics Tablet.

Credit where it’s due

For the judges, selecting the winners was an unenviable task, simply because of the high standards reached by all of the finalists. Chair of the MTA’s Learning and Development Committee and managing director of Unison, Alan Pickering enthuses: “We were genuinely very surprised by the quality of both the students and the projects. There were a few disagreements and arm wrestles amongst panel members during the selection process but generally we were pretty unanimous.

“The students and their projects were tremendous, a real credit to their schools and parents. I am sure they’ll all have very bright futures.”

To see PES' video interview with the competition winners, please visit:


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