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The first Dyson vacuum - launch of an engineering giant



Since January we’ve been highlighting a key engineering accomplishment from each year beginning with 1970, in honour of Fircroft’s 50th anniversary. Over the last 23 weeks we’ve covered topics from oil platforms to space projects to hydroelectric dams. But for 1993 we’re looking at an invention a little smaller, a little less glamorous, but which still had a huge impact on the world.

Because 1993 was the year the first Dyson vacuum cleaner was sold. 

(Image via Dyson)

Several years in the making, that first vacuum design would prove to be an engineering accomplishment that revolutionised the industry and took James Dyson’s company to become a multi-billion dollar firm that went on employ thousands of engineers working on new variations of appliances ranging from fans to to hand dryers to battery storage devices and even an attempt at a new electric vehicle.

It also led to the James Dyson Awards and James Dyson Foundation - two initiatives intended to encourage the next generation of design engineers and push the creative inventions of the future. 

(Image via Dyson)

So what were the humble beginnings of this now-ubiquitous company? It started with a simple problem - a vacuum cleaner owned by design engineer James Dyson that clogged quickly and lost its suction. Frustrated, Dyson sought to find a solution that would resolve the problem. 

At the time, Dyson was already running his own company developing the “ballbarrow” - a wheelbarrow that used a ball instead of a wheel for enhanced maneuverability. There arose another problem - the manufacture required large and inefficient vacuum systems to contain the fusion bonded epoxy coating that was used to coat the ballbarrow arms. Hearing that giant cyclone systems used in sawmills were better, Dyson constructed his own 30-foot model to use in the factory. While building it at home he noticed that the cyclone would successfully extract dust without clogging and he wondered if this could be appropriated for a home vacuum. 

The first model was crafted out of cardboard and sticky tape, and connected to his old Hoover. But it worked.

(Image via Dyson)

Dyson took it to the ballbarrow directors, but they were not as impressed by its potential - reasoning that “if a better vacuum was possible, Hoover or Electrolux would have invented it”.

It took Dyson 5,127 prototypes, developed between 1979 and 1984 in a shed behind his house, to prove them wrong.

(Image via Dyson)

A series of licensing deals were made, with some falling through and one in particular being successful in Japan in 1985. The profits from this allowed Dyson to set up Dyson Appliances Ltd. in 1991 and - finally - begin selling the first dual-cyclone vacuum, the DA 001, in January 1993. It was crafted by Phillips Plastics in their Wrexham facility and sold for £200. 

Over the years several models were developed by Dyson (operating under the shortened name since 2001), all based around that original concept built out of cardboard. Not only was it a success - the style and design was mimicked by other vacuum manufacturers. Dyson had made the old system of vacuum bags obsolete and consumers wanted the machine with the clear cylinder that wouldn’t lose suction. By 2001 the Dyson DC01 accounted for almost half of the upright vacuum cleaner market. 

(Image via Dyson)

Next steps

Based on that first success, Dyson progressed to new devices and dramatically expanded their range. The most successful include the Airblade hand driers and the Air Multiplier bladeless fan. In March 2015 Dyson invested $15 million in a US start up developing solid-state batteries - with the company reported to have been working on battery technology since 2010. In 2017 James Dyson announced that the company had been secretly working on a battery powered electric vehicle that they hoped to release by 2021 - although the vehicle was eventually deemed “not commercially viable”. In March 2020 Dyson announced they would begin manufacturing ventilators for UK hospitals to help cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s estimated that Dyson now employs more than 12,000 people worldwide, and turns over an estimated £4.4 billion per year. The company remains at the forefront of engineering design and puts a high value on supporting engineers to innovate new products. 

50 years of engineering

Fircroft has been supporting engineering professionals since 1970. Find out more about our services or register your CV with us today.

Tags: Engineering
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The first Dyson vacuum - launch of an engineering giant - Time to read 4 min
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