A day in the life of a mechanical engineer
With 2018 seeing HM Government's Year of Engineering initiative, aiming to inspire young people to join engineering professions, some of our employees have volunteered to share their experiences of working in mechanical engineering. First up, Derek Page, who's been with Focus SB for two years, and has worked in engineering for 40 years.
How did you get into engineering?
I came from outside the industry. My interest in engineering began when I started working part time for my father when I was 14 on Saturday mornings. My father was a toolmaker, whose experience included working on military casings for British nuclear physicist, Sir William Penney.
Tell us about your apprenticeship
I began my formal apprenticeship with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) at age 17. It was a four year apprenticeship, with day release one day a week. The right salary at the end of it was an incentive to start out as an apprentice. Engineering is going through a challenging time now, as there are few apprenticeships available. British engineering is dying away - shine a beacon on Focus SB!
Where else have you worked?
I've worked for Frances Barker & Son, part of Pyser Optics, which is a British design and manufacturing company based in Kent, specialising in military grade electro-optical products. I've been an engineering manager, and been made redundant eight times, but have since found stability at Focus SB. It's not a lifetime career, and you have to be prepared to adapt, although Focus SB is a shining example where most people have worked for years!
What makes a good engineer?
You've got to have the skills to be able to make, build or run machines and make parts. Replacement parts or parts for older machines are not available anymore, like vintage cars. Every job is different, you need to be good at problem solving and maths. You never finish learning.
Is mechanical engineering varied?
Every day is different! One day I could be making miniature T-nuts, the next a suite of fixtures for modifying inserts for bespoke demand. I've worked on really dexterous tasks such as on the complex Focus SB Smoothie® parts, which require a careful approach to finishing prior to despatch.
What's the favourite part of your job?
Working on manufacturing jigs and fixtures.
Does engineering feature in your hobbies?
Engineering is in my blood. One of my passions is model engineering, and I'm a member of the Tonbridge Model Engineering society where I'm licensed to drive live steam models. My other 24/7 passion is my Goldwing touring bike and I'm a member of the Goldwing Owners Club of Great Britain.
Name an interesting job you've worked on
I made all the tooling for a product that appeared in Bond. It's famous all around the world, and it's called a 'small arms collimator'. This involved serious precision engineering, where you start off with grotty old castings. You've got to be accurate every time. Reps weren't allowed to carry the real thing to show to prospective customers, so a prototype would be a gaspipe with a clip for a sight to demonstrate!
What's the future for factories?
Automation and robotics. But you've got to have humans working within design engineering - a blend of automation that works, or it'll be uneconomic.