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January 2017 - Diary of a 40-year-old placement student

When I left you last time, I was working on EDT’s Engineering Education Scheme, getting pupils from Wednesfield High ready for a two-day practical workshop at the University of Wolverhampton. Well I am happy to report that this went extremely well, with the pupils experiencing a wide range of manufacturing processes, as well as getting a taster of university life.

The reference gauge they are working on is progressing well, with the design being modified to account for practical issues and constraints they had not previously considered and they have made a good start on the report they have to present at the end of the project.

For myself, as I have been spending a lot of my placement learning from my colleagues and getting my head around lots of new processes, this workshop allowed me the opportunity to impart some knowledge on to others (whilst also consolidating it for myself) and possibly going some way to inspiring others to pursue a career in engineering, which as a STEM Ambassador, is something I always enjoy.

New challenges and opportunities

Back at Moog, this month has given me both new challenges and new opportunities, which have enabled me to further expand my skill set. As the main test rig I had been working on is undergoing some rather in-depth maintenance work, my time has been diverted onto a couple of new tests and their associated reports, which has involved sitting down and getting my head around lots of new information.

One particular challenge has been writing reports for tests that had been started long before my placement. This has involved gathering together large amounts of historical data from unfamiliar databases and cross-referencing them with entries in logbooks to compile the full sequence of events. This is no mean feat when some of the tests have been running for four to five years!

Another challenge I have had this month has been setting up new test rigs, as up to now I have been mainly working on tests that were already in progress. Not only have I had to ensure that the setup follows the strict criteria laid out in the test procedure, getting the various components checked and signed off, but also having to troubleshoot any problems arising from unanticipated rig issues or software glitches.

How industry and university lab tests differ

Compared to lab tests at uni, the difference in industry is the level of accuracy and detail required - documenting every step of the process – as well as having to get customer approval before any modifications to the test can be made. While I am sure that testing of new components is a rigorous process in other industries, in aerospace it is even more so, as safety has to be the number one consideration. This means that every single aspect of a test has to be carefully considered and double (even triple) checked, with any anomalies being thoroughly investigated and justified.

While not having much (or any) prior experience in this area, the benefit of having come to this straight from university is being able to approach problems from an analytical point of view, applying theory from various lectures to consider the system as a whole, rather than just focussing on the immediate problem.

In many cases, it is something further back down the chain, which may not present an issue on its own, but has the potential to create issues further along. Being able to systematically approach these types of issues is a great benefit and can save you (and the company) a lot of time.

Keep those notes!

Speaking of university and lectures, as many of you will have recently sat your semester one exams, I have a little piece of advice for you. Whether or not you are continuing a particular module into next year, do not be tempted to shelve your lecture notes, thinking that now the exam is done, you won’t need to look at them again.

Not only will you benefit greatly next year by spending some of your summer going over those few equations or theories you didn’t quite understand first time around, but you may also need to recall some of these at an interview, if you are considering a placement year.

Advice on placement interviews

In addition to the standard interview questions, it is highly likely that you will be given a couple of problems to solve, or a set of calculations to analyse. And while you may not remember everything you have covered, coming out with “Oh, I haven’t looked at that since my exams last year…” certainly won’t impress anyone.

Even if (accounting for interview nerves) you don’t manage to come up with the correct answer, showing that you know how to approach the problem, and possibly even identifying where you think you made a mistake, will still earn you some points. Points that may be the difference between the placement going to you or the next candidate.