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Homes 5 minutes with Sir James Dyson, the inventor behind the Dyson vacuum cleaner

5 minutes with Sir James Dyson, the inventor behind the Dyson vacuum cleaner

Sir James Dyson
By Jacqueline Wong
February 19, 2015

Brilliance and determination born out of frustration led Sir James Dyson to create a brand synonymous with cutting-edge and effective vacuum cleaners.

Few inventors live to see the day their inventions not only break out of beta testing phase, but become a household staple the world over. Sir James Dyson is one of the few.

The inventor who today is best known for giving us the Dyson vacuum cleaner among various other household appliances manufactured under his namesake brand, Dyson Ltd, speaks to us about his first big break with the Dyson vacuum.  

Sir James Dyson

How did you get involved with the vacuum cleaner business?

It all started with frustration. I had bought a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner and realised it quickly lost its suction. I couldn’t understand why the performance of the machine dropped so quickly. Ripping out the bag, I saw that it was clogged even before it was full and I became obsessed with trying to fix the problem. Inspired by a large industrial cyclone at a sawmill, I wondered whether the same concept of separation could work on household dust. It wasn’t easy, it took me five long years and 5,127 prototypes to come up with the first bagless vacuum cleaner with cyclone technology. 


What was the biggest challenge you faced along the journey to unveiling your first model and how did you overcome it?

Inventing a new vacuum cleaner is one thing. Convincing others it is better is quite another. At first, I tried to sell the cyclone technology patent. I knocked on lots of doors with no success. The vacuum cleaner bag market was worth US$500 million a year and the big companies weren’t prepared to let it go. Eventually I decided to launch it under my own name. DC01 was the start of everything. Within 18 months it became the bestselling vacuum cleaner in the UK. 


What is Dyson’s star product?

DC62 – Dyson’s latest cordless vacuum cleaner is flying off the shelves, globally. There’s a demand for miniaturisation, high-end technology and big cleaning performance. Powered by the Dyson digital motor V6 that spins 7 times faster than a Formula 1 car engine, the cordless machines suck up as much dust and dirt as a full-size vacuum.


What has been your most fulfilling invention so far?

The Dyson Digital Motor excites me most. Other manufacturers rely on traditional motors but they are unreliable and heavy so we decided to make our own. It has opened the door for us to develop technology we couldn’t otherwise have created. Since launching cyclone technology in 1993 we haven’t stopped; it is an engineer’s mindset to keep inventing. Dyson is about solving problems. Inventing technology that performs better, and getting rid of everyday frustrations. 


How would Dyson envision the future?

Nothing is clear about the future – that is the exciting thing.  But there are real gains to be made in materials, science and robotics. Autonomous machines, batteries which last longer and super materials that can allow us to create lighter, stronger, machines. They will lead to unimaginable technology and spur advancement across industries. We have just embarked on a joint robotics lab with Imperial College London as well as a Graphene project with Manchester University that will lead to new machine capabilities for Dyson. 


How has moving production over to Malaysia impacted business growth?

In 2002 we began assembling Dyson machines in Malaysia. It means that our production is now much closer to our supply chain. And it has allowed us to grow internationally. Now we have thousands of engineers inventing, developing and testing in Malaysia. With one Dyson vacuum cleaner produced every 20 seconds, the Malaysian team runs a tight ship. 


What steps have you taken to ensure customers’ satisfaction?

Dyson machines are put through their paces – they are rigorously tested before we even consider putting them on store shelves. All our machines are dropped onto a hard floor over 5,000 times. And we have a turntable rig; it’s like a treadmill for vacuum cleaners. On average a new machine will cover 1,357km on the turntable rig; that’s like pushing and pulling a machine from Johor Bahru in Malaysia to Phuket in Thailand. Dyson machines are as tough as the households they clean.


Apart from the Dyson vacuum cleaner, what is in your opinion the greatest household invention?

I have a whole host of gadgets that inspire me. In fact, I have a table of miniature design icons in my office. Amongst them are a toy JCB digger, a model Harrier Jump Jet and a Sony Walkman. The Sony Walkman was the first music player of its kind. Previously music had been tethered to the wall or a clunky battery powered box. By applying clever engineering Sony condensed music equipment so that people could carry it wherever they went. We are applying similar thinking to our new cordless vacuum cleaners. 

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