Gap-year pioneers make their mark

The annual ‘Year in Industry’ awards, held at the ICE in London, salute this year’s major contributions.

When demand for Black & Decker’s Leaf Hog garden vacuum cleaner soared, it was faced with a dilemma. A supplier’s injection moulding machine was already running 24 hours a day to produce the crucial impeller.

The problem of finding extra capacity was handed to Stephanie McGovern, on a Year in Industry placement at Black & Decker’s Spennymoor plant prior to a mechanical engineering degree at Imperial College. Last week, she emerged as overall winner of the EEF/Year in Industry Contribution to the Business Award.

McGovern had been assigned to Black & Decker’s Six Sigma team and applied a six sigma technique, Design of Experiments, to the moulding machine settings to see if it could be operated more efficiently. The technique identifies the key variables, limiting the number of experiments that need to be carried out.

But first, McGovern had to overcome the initial prejudice of the experienced operators. She also discovered there was no quantifiable measure of the quality of the impeller and had to design a device to measure run-out (eccentricity).

Having overcome the hurdles, she ran a test to find the optimum conditions, which achieved a reduction in cycle time of 21% and a decrease in runout of 55%, saving £150,000 a year.

The Emta award for communication went to Ian Watson who worked at agricultural chemical supplier Syngenta on the problem of spare reactor vessels. Syngenta’s production processes require a number of expensive reactor vessels. Spare vessels exist for when one has to be taken off line, but to save money they are shared between two sites. But this system was not working, resulting in downtime costs.Watson devised and implemented a new web-based sharing system, prioritising needs if two users wanted a spare at once – after convincing managers at the two sites that his system would make their lives easier.

Nigel Rowcliffe will embark on his mechanical engineering course at Exeter with a patent application already to his name, along with the Engineering Integrity Society prize for innovation. Rowcliffe worked with Antech, a 12-strong company specialising in the offshore market. He developed the Gun Dog, a tool designed to strip the protective polymer encapsulation from any point along an oil well control line. The tool, which has just hit the market, looks set to boost Antech’s turnover by 15%. Antech is now sponsoring Rowcliffe through his degree course.

Chris Vessey won the Qinetiq prize for environmental impact for his work on waste minimisation at KP Foods Ashby site. He carried out an audit of waste streams, the biggest being reject ‘rope’ or out of specification dough. He found a way of grinding this down and re-introducing it into the dough-making process without affecting the product’s quality, saving £45,000 annually.