Case Study: Design Engineer - Andy

What do you do?

My job revolves around designing special purpose machinery, detailing the machinery into separate components and issuing them out onto the shop floor for manufacture.

It could be anything from designing a whole production line for a garden furniture company or designing something as small as a conveyer belt for the food industry.

What is your background?

When I did my GCSEs, I was pretty happy but when it came to my A levels, I wasn't really sure where I wanted to go in my life.

I did a year of A levels but thought that college wasn't really for me, so I applied to a local training group and they asked me which sort of careers I had in mind.

All I wanted to do was something involving computers. The training group searched through their database and found me a few options; I basically stumbled across this job by chance, I didn't really know anything about design engineering before I started this job.

I came to the interview, liked what I saw and was offered this job the next day.

I undertook an Advanced Level Apprenticeship with the company, leading to an Edexcel (BTEC) National in Mechanical Engineering and an NVQ level 3 in Engineering Design. My company is now sponsoring me to complete an HNC in Design Engineering by day-release.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

In this job, there are a lot of deadlines to be met; at the end of the day, people want work doing to a set time and you have to do it to that set time.

There's a fair bit of stress involved with getting work done; you have to have a cool head, be able to think straight about what you're doing - don't rush into things, always check and double check things because if you issue something and it's wrong, it's on your head.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

In the family of design engineering, there are two or three other jobs that are possible. One would be technical author; when a machine's completed, it always needs documentation, maintenance procedures etc, and that goes along with design.

There's also the project engineer side of things; this is overseeing the job. There's also technical sales.

What changes will there be in the future?

There are always going to be advances in computer technology. There will always be new computer programs coming out, new computer-aided design programs, so if a new one comes out, we have to make ourselves familiar with it.

There will always be ongoing training with computer-aided design.

Also, companies will always want bigger, better, quicker machines. As I'm progressing with my job, I'm getting more knowledgeable about machines and certain companies.

Sometimes, for example, we have a design engineer who is solely based in one company because he knows that company so well, so one trend is to have a single designer specialising in one company.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

When we do a design, we are given nothing - we go over to the company, they tell us what they want and we have to work off a blank piece of paper.

It's basically sitting down, thinking out positively what you're going to do and how you're going to do it, and then actually getting it down onto paper and hoping that in the end, when it's all completed, it will work.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

I've been looking around in some of the job newspapers and magazines and there seem to be a lot of openings at the moment for design engineers, ranging from detailers right up to project design managers.

What do you like about your job?

The main thing I like is the satisfaction you get from the end of a job, once you've designed it, and the design process is enjoyable, seeing a machine grow from nothing to the end product and then, when it's being trialled, you can actually see the whole thing working.

When the company comes in and sees the job and they're happy with it, they sign it off and it gets placed into the company where it's going to be working, and you do get a lot of praise.

What do you dislike about your job?

My main dislike, and this is across all engineering, is the times we work. We do start very early at around 7:30 in the morning and some companies start even earlier than that.

There's also the stress levels involved; there are very short deadlines on some of the jobs we get, so we have to knuckle down and get everything done on time, and if you don't get it done on time there can be penalty clauses, by which we are held liable for machines not being completed.

Also, if you do make a mistake, people make sure you know about that mistake, and you'll be told - in the future, do not make that mistake.

What are your ambitions?

I'm just hoping to move up the ladder here. At the minute, I'm a design engineer. I can go two steps higher; I can be a design project engineer or a project manager, obviously earning more money and gaining a better lifestyle.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Basically, I'd tell them to look around, don't jump into a job; find out some information about the company.

I was lucky to find a company that produces special purpose machinery, so I don't design the same thing twice. Some companies design the same thing, day in, day out, so it can be a bit tedious. So I'd say to look around, don't just jump in at the deep end.

A day in the life

7:30 am - 8:20 am

Arrive at work; talk to sales manager about any jobs that need completing today.

8:30 am - 1:00 pm

Draw up preliminary designs and pass them to the sales manager for confirmation.

1:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Lunch break.

1:30 pm - 4:00 pm

Detail the designs into smaller components for manufacture.

4:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Issue all the components to the shop floor for manufacture.

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