What area of engineering do you work in?
I work in a sub section of mechanical engineering called mechanical building services engineering. This covers the design, installation and control of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in buildings. On Crossrail my main focus is on the station ventilation and air conditioning systems, which are hugely complicated systems. It’s about designing the systems and then policing the installation of the design to make sure it’s done correctly.
What does your role at Crossrail involve?
From September 2014 to March 2016, I worked as a Mechanical Building Services Design Assurance Engineer on Crossrail. I was responsible for making sure the Building Services designs being developed by Crossrail’s Tier 1 Contractors complied with applicable Standards, Regulations and the Works Information.
Of first and foremost importance were the safety aspects of the design and demonstrating compliance with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations - (CDM). Part of this activity was to ensure that the equipment could be installed, tested and maintained in a safe way. Secondly, I ensured that the principles of whole life cost were being applied so we do not burden the end user (London Underground or Rail for London) with overly complex and expensive systems to maintain and operate.
I met regularly with the designers to work through design issues, to help them apply best practice, and eliminate risk. My team and I developed technical papers to clarify certain requirements and communicate changes in design criteria.
With the design phase coming to an end in April 2016, for most Crossrail locations, my new role as Lead Mechanical Field Assurance Engineer involves overseeing the installations on site and ensuring that the equipment is installed and operates as per the agreed design. I am currently focusing on the new Crossrail Bond Street station installations. I am leading a team of field engineers. It’s a very interesting phase of the project and there are plenty of challenges ahead.
How did you get into engineering?
My route into engineering was quite different to many other engineers. I didn’t do A levels. I left school at 16 after my GCSE’s and then joined Ford as an apprentice. I worked for Ford for six years, where I qualified as a technician. I then went to Australia and worked for Lexis. When I came back to the UK, I had to choose whether I wanted to continue to work in the automotive industry or take the plunge and go down the degree route to qualify as an engineer. As a technician, I needed to take a leap if I wanted a chance of becoming an Incorporated or Chartered Engineer. I needed to develop my skills in the design side of engineering.
I joined a foundation course and it was a real step back to first principles and the basics. I then went on to study engineering at City University London in Islington as a mature-aged student. My MEng degree took four years, but it was worth it and I graduated with first-class honours.
What would be your advice to a technician considering doing an engineering degree?
I would recommend it and would say there are opportunities you can take advantage of. There were definitely some incentives for me. If you’ve done an apprenticeship and enter higher education then you are eligible to apply for a Whitworth Scholarship. Fortunately for me I was awarded a Whitworth Scholarship through the IMechE in 2003 and it made the studying costs a bit more manageable. I would also recommend they try and join a scheme where a company will sponsor them, as debt from university fees can be a real burden.
How does the Institution support you as a mentor?
I became a Chartered member of the IMechE after completing the MPDS graduate programme in 2009, while working at Tube Lines Ltd. I was mentored on the scheme, and now I’m a mentor and help graduates on the Crossrail MPDS scheme.
I draw on the experience I gained when I was undertaking MPDS. When I was being mentored, I was able to grasp what was required in terms of the objectives and the plans, the evidence to be submitted and the final reports. However, the guidance notes and pack for mentors from IMechE is very helpful. With mentoring it’s all about discipline. If you can get the developing engineer to be disciplined enough to submit their reports every quarter and not fall behind then it works well. I tell my mentees that the scheme is whatever you make it. If you challenge yourself, you will get out what you put in. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.
What are your aspirations for your mentees?
First and foremost it’s about them satisfying the competence requirements as best they can. It’s all about them keeping on top of it. Where an organisation does not offer them the opportunity to gain a particular competence, my role is to help them seek a placement with another organisation, or swap placements, to gain that competence. My ultimate goal is for mentees to become Chartered or Incorporated Engineers. Also it’s about encouraging them to enjoy what they are doing and take advantage of graduate opportunities, such as training. This is because once they get into a role it’s a lot more difficult for them to move around.
What have been the highlights of working on Crossrail?
Crossrail is so high profile. Being able to go into the tunnels and see the immense scale of the project is just mind blowing. Having the opportunity to work with people who have such high levels of expertise is incredible. Also being able to implement a safety improvement or a whole life cost improvement to the designs is also a massive highlight for me. We assess and assure the designs and optimise them. This can make significant savings to the planned operational costs and the carbon footprint of the buildings for the next 50 or 60 years and being able to do that is particularly rewarding for me.
Also when the BBC ran a series of programmes about Crossrail, it was nice to be able to say to my friends: “This is what I do.”
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