I grew up on a large farm in Suffolk where my father was a manager. It was one of the biggest mechanised farms in the country and so I spent a lot of time working with machines from an early age. It was here I developed, and still have, a love for farming, the countryside and engineering.
1992-96, Harper Adams University
I went to Harper Adams University in Shropshire and graduated with a BSc in agricultural engineering with marketing and management. I didn’t want to study pure engineering. My experience on the farm had shown me that farmers and agricultural companies had a real need for people that can interface between the pure engineering knowledge required and the problem-solving challenges they face. I wanted a job where I could be this link between the two disciplines, so this degree was perfect for that.
1993-96, Herbert Engineering
As part of the sandwich year on my degree, I worked with Herbert Engineering, a large potato handling equipment manufacturer that made equipment for farms and large industrial pack houses. Here I designed an automated one-tonne potato box filler. Potatoes are as delicate as eggs and damage easily, so they must be treated gently during processing. The existing industry standard was slow, out of date and expensive. I redesigned the concept and the action of the box filling, allowing the process to be fully automated by using conveyor tracks to move the boxes around. The company went on to commercialise and manufacture the unit.
1996-2018, Chafer Machinery
My first job out of university was for a company called Chafer, part of the Norsk Hydro group. Here I worked on a project where we used near-infrared reflectance technology to scan the colour intensity of a crop, to deliver just the amount of fertiliser needed for a healthy crop. When Norsk Hydro sold Chafer a few years later, I was invited to be part of the management buy-out and still own a small part of Chafer, which is a leading crop-sprayer manufacturer in the UK.
In 2010 I went on a stag do to Germany. As we landed at Munich airport, I vividly remember being surprised that every building had solar panels on the roof. On my return to the UK I got quotes for solar panels for my own home and got back quotes up to £15,000.
A friend in Germany had told me solar photovoltaics could cost as low as €4,000, so I purchased the panels myself and quickly realised that the mark-ups in the industry came down to the need for accreditation and certification for installation. Undeterred, I went on a three-day course, became qualified and began installing solar panels locally – this was the start of NerG.
In 2014 we diversified into biomass boiler installations. Farmers across the eastern part of the UK were looking to meet their commercial heating needs using their readily available supply of woodchips, so NerG was well-placed to serve this community. Despite this, I understand better than most that the heat and power market can change very quickly, which is why today NerG offers a diverse offering. This includes everything from biomass boilers and commercial heat pumps to combined-heat-and-power generation installations.
The approach to engineering across the farming sector favours long-lasting relationships that deliver on customer service, problem solving and ingenuity. Farming is a small world and everyone knows everyone, so, if you give poor service to one customer, the world will know about it. It doesn’t matter if the challenge is hydraulic, mechanical, electrical or chemical, I’m in my element when I’m solving these problems.
Want the best engineering stories delivered straight to your inbox? The Professional Engineering newsletter gives you vital updates on the most cutting-edge engineering and exciting new job opportunities. To sign up, click here.
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.