The decline of Britain's manufacturing industry has been well documented over the years, with many familiar names going bust or being bought out by foreign corporations. The continuing economic situation has led some to think that "Britain doesn't make anything anymore", something which touched a raw nerve within government. Make it in Great Britain at the Science Museum in London is part of a myth-dispelling exercise by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills: it is an exhibition which shows that Great Britain is not only still manufacturing, but that it is at the forefront of the industry, creating innovative products and often using the most advanced technologies to do so.
The exhibition room itself has an industrial feel: with metal-framed displays, clean lines and plenty of space, it's as though you're walking down a factory production line, except that each compartment off to the side represents a different British manufacturer. Immediately to the right of the entrance is Coca-Cola's vivid, red-themed display. Clear plastic bubble cases attached to the walls contain bottle components and cans, with explanations on how they are developed in the manufacturing process, as well as how the environmental impact of each material (glass, plastic, aluminium) has been reduced over the years—Coke cans, for example, are now only a hair's breadth wide, meaning that far less material is used. An interactive table-top screen enables users to select informational videos to watch on the large vertical display in front. Just across the way is the Slough-based Mars display. Although the interactive displays are more child-friendly, there is plenty of interesting information about chocolate production, and certainly enough to whet one's appetite (sadly, the 'create your own chocolate bar' feature is virtual only).
A great number of the displays are devoted to transport - the obvious household names include Jaguar Land Rover (a huge screen showing off the company's latest in-car technology), McLaren (complete with their newest sports car, which uses Formula 1 technology) and Rolls Royce (of the jet engine variety), but there are many others, too, whose products are far better known than their manufacturers' names. Messier-Bugatti-Dowty's full-size aeroplane landing gear proves the point, as do the Heathrow Pod on Ultra Global PRT's stand and Bombardier's cross-section of part of a London Underground carriage. I was surprised to discover that the ubiquitous Evac+Chair is a British invention, and not something produced by a US mass-manufacturer.
But it's not all about transport per se: the British materials manufacturing industry is enormous, and plays a behind-the-scenes role compared to other sectors. Amber Composite's Prepreg material is used in prosthetic limbs, wind turbines, aeroplanes and even Olympic kit; Axon Composites produces a super-light, yet very strong material used in modern car frames. The Green Roof Tile Company has developed 'Envirotile', a durable roof tile made from recycled polymers.
New technology is not only being used to create British products: as this exhibition shows, Great Britain plays an important part in creating the technologies themselves, whether through industrial X-ray machines, used for product consistency, or ground-breaking engineering processes to ensure the highest sound quality for home audio systems.
As the exhibition's website explains, there's something for everyone here, from children to school leavers to industry professionals. It is full of information - even if not all of it is easy to understand, despite the technological jargon being toned down. The displays themselves do not disappoint: the variety of static, product and interactive displays make what could be quite a boring tour of the British manufacturing industry really quite interesting. I spent a disproportionate amount of time in front of the shiny, concave display accompanying Optos's retinal imaging device - standing a couple of feet away, the reflections produce a convex mirage in which the surroundings are reflected upside-down, just as images are inverted as they reach the retina. It is not an exhibition which presupposes an interest in manufacturing - the colourful, intelligent way in which Make it in Great Britain is presented makes it a must-see for everyone.