The Institution of Mechanical Engineers Annual Meeting will take place on 22 May 2019.
Following the Annual Meeting there will be a Presidential Address given by Professor Joe McGeough BSc PhD DSc FRSE FREng FIMechE.
Presidential Address - How “Theo” Williamson FRS changed the Sound of Music
David Theodore ‘Theo’ Nelson (DTN) Williamson was one of the most creative engineers of the second part of the 20th century. Yet the earlier part of his life was marred by life-threatening illness, failure and rejection. He is an example of what can be achieved in Engineering despite set-backs.
He was born and raised in Edinburgh. His father ran a car hire business there. He was a practical man, doing most of his own maintenance, with family assistance. The young Williamson gained a great deal of practical knowledge, including plumbing and wood and metal working.
His performance at school was unremarkable although he did win a prize for applied sciences for building a lathe for recording gramophone records and another for handicraft and design.
In 1940, Williamson began undergraduate general engineering studies at Edinburgh University, relishing in the lectures on mechanical, civil and electrical engineering. Unfortunately he four times failed a compulsory mathematics examination, and was obliged to discontinue his studies. It was wartime but he was declared medically unfit for military service, owing to have suffered from tuberculosis as a child. When he then applied for a post as research engineer at one of the government establishments, he was turned down for that too, and was drafted to the Marconi-Osram Valve Company in London, testing valves. Tedious and repetitive work.
In his spare time, he devised a sound amplifier with very lightweight pick up. On publication of an article on his work in 1946, 100s of 1000s of amplifiers were made by amateur enthusiasts all over the world.
Williamson joined the Ferranti Company back in Edinburgh in 1946. At Ferranti, he and a small team designed and constructed computer controlled milling machines. These unprecedented innovative machine tools which applied to the precision manufacture of aluminium alloy wave guides for radar. The work also led to a precision measurement system that Ferranti (now Leonardo) continue to make.
Williamson was head hunted to join Molins Company in London in 1961. There he devised the world’s first flexible manufacturing system (FMS) capable of running 24 hours a day was known as Molins System 24 and described by him in the IMechE’s James Clayton lecture in 1967. In 1974 Rank Xerox recruited him where he directed their development of the colour copying machine.
The Science Research Council (now EPSRC) made him chairman of its manufacturing technology committee. He fostered the establishment of its Teaching Company Scheme (now Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP)) applying expertise of academics to the benefit of manufacturing industry. Made aware of the lack of the traditional skills needed in surface finishing of dies and moulds led him to start a coordinated programme of research in unconventional methods of machining among major universities in order to redress these deficiencies. The programme led to some of the UK’s first university spin off companies.
Williamson’s legacy continues to this day, with world leading manufacturing research in our universities, and industries still using his inventions. He remains a prime example to especially young engineers of creativity, how to solve problems for which there is no known solution and the need for perseverance.
Find the Trustee Board's Report and Annual Account Year Ended 31 December 2018 here.