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Sir David accepts his degree
Sir David accepts his degree
Orator  Professor Tony Mileham
Orator Professor Tony Mileham
Sir David and Professor Mileham
Sir David and Professor Mileham

Internal News - 27 June 2008

Honorary graduate - Sir David McMurtry

Oration by Professor Tony Mileham:

When an aerospace or automotive company makes a precision part it needs to know that it has made that part correctly.

Virtually all aircraft and cars built today have component shapes and sizes that have been touched and verified by one of Sir David McMurtry’s inventions. His inventions have revolutionised the manufacture of precision products and improved product reliability significantly.

Sir David was born in Ireland in 1940. He became interested in model aeroplanes as a boy, particularly the miniature diesel engines that powered them. Modifying these engines to increase performance convinced him that he had much to offer the emerging aero engine industry.

In 1958 he joined Bristol Aero Engines (now Rolls-Royce) as a craft apprentice specialising in machining and fitting. The modified model engines he brought to the interview were the clinching factor. He did well at college and after 2 years was promoted to student apprentice. He also joined the Bristol table tennis league, playing for BAe in the premiere division. As a student apprentice he studied for a Higher National Diploma at the Ashley Down College of Advanced Technology in Bristol; this was prior to it becoming the University of Bath.

Sir David’s career in engineering design had finally started and his first role was as a junior designer in rocket design. His undoubted talents rapidly became recognised and within four years he had become head of the Final Nozzle and Thrust Reverse group. In 1971 as part of the new Rolls-Royce, he was promoted to assistant chief engineer (special design problems) and in 1974 he became deputy chief designer for the RB401 and assistant chief engineer for all engine design. It was during this period that he was asked to concentrate his mind on solving a pipe problem.

The method of making and validating fuel pipes was causing significant engine assembly problems, the answer was to measure the pipes in free space. Sir David took the problem home and within a few days he had invented the first touch trigger probe that was patented by Rolls- Royce. The device worked so well that several other companies wanted it and a cottage or shed industry was born.

The “touch-trigger-probe” had taken off, and the only way to meet demand was to set up a new company “Renishaw”, with Rolls-Royce, after negotiation, receiving 10% royalties. To do this Sir David teamed up with John Deer who concentrated on marketing and the business of getting the probe properly manufactured. John is now Deputy Chairman of Renishaw and the partnership of McMurtry and Deer has been one of the great industrial partnerships in recent years.

In 1976 Sir David handed in his notice at Rolls-Royce, but the chief engineer turned it down as he was too valuable to the development of the new “quiet” engine. So he stayed on two days/week for the next three years to complete the engine and finally took up the helm at Renishaw in 1979. This coincided with Renishaw buying the patent for the probe from Rolls-Royce and the start of a period of phenomenal company growth that has resulted in a major multi-national company with a turnover of £180M.

His achievements have been widely acclaimed both in the USA and the UK. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers, is a Royal Designer for Industry and a Fellow of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. In 1994 he was awarded a CBE and in 2001 was appointed Knight Bachelor, “for services to Design and Innovation”.

It is good to see a highly acclaimed engineer at the helm of one of the UK’s leading companies, who still finds engineering the most exciting career to be in and who is an inspirational role model for young engineers. In his career he has played a fundamental role in the design and manufacture of a family of products that have revolutionised precision measurements and made Renishaw the internationally leading company it is today.

Chancellor, I present to you Sir David McMurtry who is eminently worthy to receive the Degree of Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa. Orator