Richard Williams, Chief Mechanical Engineer, Surrey Satellite Technology.
When you were at school what career were you intent on?
Electrical engineering first, followed by mechanical engineering as I became more interested in cars.
Where and how did you finish your education?
University of Surrey, BEng in Mechanical Engineering
What was your first job?
My first job in engineering was while I was a student, working to earn cash to build my kit car, in the machine shop and maintenance department of a large engineering company. After I graduated, I started work for British Aerospace as a stress analyst on the Harrier. The time spent in the machine shop was my first introduction to real engineering. It was valuable experience, which I think many graduate engineers now miss out on, to the detriment of the profession.
What are your company’s main areas of business?
Spacecraft design, build and operation
What do you find challenging about your position?
Producing high quality products in a short time. This role can be made easier by throwing money at the problem, but to solve problems with limited resources is the real challenge. I always believed that Colin Chapman’s engineers were superior to Enzo Ferrari’s for this reason.
What are the biggest changes you have noticed in your career?
Although I’m still in the early stages of my career, I have seen the effects of the rapid introduction of computers. They certainly have their uses. However, I have begun to see the total reliance that some people place upon them. I feel that this is a very dangerous step. If professional engineers have become no more than staff slavishly running CAD or analysis packages and just believing the results, we will end up in a very sorry state. Engineering requires brain power and experience.
Do you think that manufacturing receives the recognition that it deserves from government and the general public?
No. It’s typically viewed in the media as a sweaty, mucky profession, hell-bent on producing pollution, rather than useful products that everyone’s lifestyle relies upon. Any whisper of high-tech usually results on the tag of `scientist’ or `boffin’.
Would you encourage one of your children to follow a career in Engineering?
How would you describe the current climate for manufacturing business in the UK?
Non uniform. Some sectors, such as defence and automotive, are having a very rough time of it, while others, such as aerospace and telecoms, are desperately trying to recruit to meet market demands.
How do you relax when you are away from work?
We have small children – there’s no time to relax.
What will have the biggest impact on manufacturing over the next 10 years?
The use of the internet in the supply chain. This will truly globalise the market, allowing companies to source components from anywhere on the planet and tailor their products to exactly fit the customer’s individual requirements – that is if there are any engineers left thinking by then.
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