Peter Hellawell is an aerospace engineering undergraduate from Manchester University who has joined KW Special Projects (KWSP) on a one-year placement as part of his four-year course. Specialising in CAD simulation, CFD and FEA, he’s been working on numerous projects, including wind tunnel development. (And in case it had slipped your mind, KWSP designs, manufactures and supplies solutions to the high-performance engineering sector.)
The Student Engineer got in contact with Peter to talk about his placement.
What motivated you to study aerospace engineering?
For as long as I can remember, I have followed Formula 1. However, more recently, I developed an interest in understanding how the aerodynamics of the cars affect the handling. Following extensive research, it became clear to me that in order to enter this field after I graduate, an aerospace engineering degree would be of interest to employers.
Can you tell us about the application process to join KWSP on placement?
At my university, the placement year is completely independent from the degree – so the application process was self-motivated. I wanted to do a placement as it would allow me to gain invaluable experience, which will be useful after I graduate. At KWSP, to secure my placement, I undertook an in-depth interview, some technical tests and attended a briefing about the facility. I started my placement in September 2016.
You’ll be doing your placement at a relatively small company. Was that a motivating factor when applying to do your placement?
At first, I was applying mostly to large companies and receiving little response. I then widened my search and ended up discovering KWSP. Working in a smaller company has helped me gain more experience and greater responsibility in high-performance engineering projects. I have had the opportunity to work with new technologies that I may not have had at larger companies.
What advice would you give an undergraduate who is about to embark on applying for placements?
I’d say the key to securing a placement year is determination. When I was applying, I was completing my third year at university and I had a lot of rejections which set me back. I did find though the more places you apply to, the more effective applications become. I would also widen your search to SMEs and consider doing speculative applications. Another thing I’d like to add is many companies with placement openings are not always looking just for high grades. They also want to see experiences outside of your academic study that show core competencies such as teamwork and communication – such as practical engineering projects you have worked on yourself.
In what ways will your placement year at KWSP make you more employable?
From the simplest level of being work ready, able to turn up on time five days a week and work effectively in a team, to more technical areas, the placement will provide significant development opportunities. Specifically, I will become more proficient in CAD and gain knowledge with detailed engineering drawing. Finally, I will develop as an individual with increased confidence in presenting and communicating with those outside the business – such as suppliers. At university, ideal world engineering is taught which allows the theory behind engineering practices to be learned. The real world, however, is very different and understanding this aspect to engineering will make me more employable.
You’ve been working on a wind tunnel project for performance sport while you have been at KWSP. Can you tell us some more about it?
The wind tunnel for performance sport is a very interesting project and one on which I am enjoying working. The project will be delivered to the customer in Autumn 2017, allowing me to see most the programme through during my placement and as a result gain a vast amount of experience. Within the wind tunnel, my focus is currently on the redesign of the drag force measuring device. It’s incredibly satisfying to be a part of all the aspects of this sub-project, from scheming all the way through to the manufacture and assembly of new parts.
Finally, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
My main goal for the next five years is to gain all the required competencies to become a chartered engineer. My time at KWSP has caused me to rethink some of the areas in which I would like to work and has certainly opened my eyes to the wide range of engineering that exists. Although I am still very interested in aerodynamics, I’d like to be working in the performance engineering sector.
Currently, my main motivation is to gain as much experience as I can to help me graduate as a highly employable engineer with more confidence and strong opportunities.