Alex McDiarmid, Design Engineer at Parker, Instrumentation Products Division Europe in Sheffield, has recently been shortlisted for the British Engineering Excellence Awards ‘Design Engineer of the Year’.
Alex joined the business in 2014 and has a BEng Degree and Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sheffield. Engineering Manager in Sheffield Chris Brown, recognised his talents and put him forward for the award, after Alex’s success in designing a range of high pressure cryogenic valves for the marine fuel industry.
The challenge was made even greater as Alex had to ensure the range was completed to meet a tight deadline with the launch of the valves planned for a major international gas exhibition in Australia. Alex ensured that components across the range were standardised, cost effective and designed to be efficiently manufactured in Sheffield.
Here we find out a bit more about Alex, what it means to him to be shortlisted and why he is so proud of his profession.
Take us back, what made you first want to become a design engineer?
"When I was young, I thought I wanted to be an architect but this was before I knew what an engineer did. In school, Design & Technology was by far my best subject. I found that the design process and practical skills came easy to me. I bought a car when I was 13 years’ old (Mk 1 Ford Fiesta) for £50 and enjoyed restoring it. I think this was the turning point when I realised I liked fixing and creating things.
I attended an engineering course when I was 14 years’ old at Sheffield University; this lasted a week and gave me much more of an insight into the world of engineering. After this I went full steam ahead and started stripping everything down I could lay my hands on: clocks, scooters, washing machines to name a few. I later went on to study for my degree in engineering at Sheffield University."
What do you enjoy most about being a design engineer?
"As a Design Engineer, you look at things in a different way to the average person on the street... you’re interested in what is happening inside materials and machines, how they interact when the conditions change, like putting a force on them or applying heat. You also develop what I call ‘engineering intuition’ and I enjoy the challenge of putting my theories into action! I like creating things. Sometimes from scratch and sometimes from existing equipment - each has different challenges..."
What did you think when you were put forward for this award?
"Chris, our Engineering Manager, has always pushed me to achieve in all aspects of my role, so I was really pleased when he put me forward for the award. He has always trusted my decisions with regards to design and reason and it is a big compliment to even be considered. I was over the moon when I found out I’d been shortlisted. I work as part of a team, though, and I really do think the whole of our engineering department deserves to be recognised."
Do you still get involved in any engineering projects in your spare time too?
"I haven’t had much spare time lately... I have spent the last year renovating my house, and got married last month, so everything else has taken a back seat!
Riding my motorbike is my favourite thing to do on a sunny day and fixing it up, when I need to, so yes, my life revolves around engineering both in and out of work."
Are you proud of being a design engineer, if so why?
"Very much so, I feel it is a very honest, down-to-earth profession because, let’s face it, it affects everybody from opening the fridge door in the morning to driving in a car to work. Engineering has moved the world forward so much in the last 150 years. As a design engineer, you are bettering society and helping people in everyday life. Obviously it depends what product and industry you work in but engineers are responsible for everything we know and love in this world, from cars to instruments to space exploration..... the list is endless.
Mechanical engineering design is a very vast and broad part of engineering, which gives lots of variety. This is what I like and it means no two days are the same. Using technology every day to design different things is really exciting."
Does technology play an important part these days in your role?
"Technology is part of everyday life as a design engineer. We use 3D modelling and CAD packages, Finite Element Analysis (FEA) for loads and stress simulations, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for simulating fluid behaviour, Mathematical software packages for doing complex calculations and that is just as a mechanical design engineer. You could look at electrical systems and processes, thermal stress, super conductors and nuclear... all engineers use more and more complex technology to create things. Engineering is a very exciting industry at the moment!"
Do you think you have inspired anyone to get involved in engineering?
"I’ve worked with a number of schools on engineering challenges, like ‘Get up to Speed’, where it’s all about giving young people an insight into being an engineer. The team I supported most recently from Bradfield School in Sheffield achieved first place amongst all the schools in South Yorkshire region. I have also mentoring apprentices in our engineering department in Sheffield.
I always try and give young people an insight into engineering, so they can appreciate the wide range of opportunities there are. There is so much more information out there these days for young people than there was when I was young, which makes life easier for them to get into the industry. I enjoy passing on the insight and knowledge I have gained to the engineers of the future."
Congratulations Alex and good luck for the British Engineering Excellence Awards finals on 6th October!