Engineering (Mechatronics) Technician Advanced Apprenticeship
Apprenticeship Scheme Supervisor
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My apprenticeship has given me a varied and practical skillset. Coming out of college, I had never used a mill or lathe, had to interpret technical documents/drawings, produced anything in Computer Aided Design software, or conducted approved testing and fault-finding techniques. The apprenticeship helped me develop all these practical skills while also learning how to be a member of a team rather than just a student. I found apprenticeships to be a very useful transitional period from student to employee. The apprenticeship has contributed massively to my development as a person, and I now feel like I could adapt to most work environments.
I’ve always had a love for technology and robotics, opening things up and trying to learn how they worked. As I went through school, I developed an interest in science (specifically, physics). Getting to work practically with the technology used to conduct experiments while being trained and getting paid for it seemed like the perfect way to get into industry. When leaving A-level, I applied for apprenticeships with several local research centers as well as some university courses, but I knew that if I wanted to be an engineer, I was going to need practical experience. I chose Diamond over the other centers mostly due to a mixture of seeing the machine, the supportive work environment, and just a bit of a gut feeling. I am very glad I made the decision. Their dedication to your development and learning makes Diamond apprenticeships stand out, and Diamond has been hugely supportive and accommodative to my needs and any issues I may have. The placement supervisors are incredibly friendly and have an abundance of knowledge to share.
I think my general enthusiasm for engineering and willingness to constantly learn new skills or ideas made me a good apprentice, and I think the ability to adapt to situations and to solve problems is also very important. I enjoy working with my hands and getting to develop a variety of skills; the mechatronics apprenticeship gives you experience in machining, hand fitting, CAD design, soldering, electrical installation, electronics, fault finding, maintenance, control systems, and many other skills. I enjoy most kinds of engineering and making, so getting to do such a variety as part of my job is an amazing opportunity for me. As for my favourite bits, I particularly enjoy soldering. Fault finding can be frustrating but is also very rewarding when you resolve the final issue and everything works as expected for the first time. Getting a project complete and seeing it in use for experiments for the first time provides a feeling of accomplishment.
To get someone interested in what I do, I would show them the synchrotron itself, or possibly one of the large movable beamlines. Huge machines always have an appeal to me, especially as you notice all the smaller parts and systems that make it up, and how each part of this machine was made by someone. I like knowing that every piece of work you produce contributes to this one massive project. I’ve worked on two big commissions of beamlines, where the entire rigs are moved and reconnected to the synchrotron somewhere else: these are large projects that require the collaboration of many teams and often many hours of overtime to get them completed on schedule. The process of finalizing this work is very rewarding.
I’ve designed and produced several CNC (computer numerical control) parts for a baby chamber transfer stage (a small vacuum environment with a beryllium window and a sample holder): the users needed a mechanical solution to manually pull back the sample holder and a way of mounting it onto their beamline.
The pinhole detector was quite a complicated design, and I was proud of that because it was a test of everything I had learned about CNC machining. I also liked how I had to redesign the user's original concept as the original wasn’t practical to produce; getting to communicate with the user and helping them to develop a better solution was a proud moment.
My typical day starts with emails and meetings in the early morning, to make sure I'm up to date on current tasks and projects that need my attention. Vacuum group is a development branch which means we always have several “large” projects which are worked on incrementally as and when parts/solutions arrive. We are also a support group, so scientists and technicians will often come to us with issues of varying urgency, so lots of my time is spent juggling many different jobs. During the 3-week shutdown period, there are many high-priority time-sensitive jobs so work becomes very busy. Any projects or maintenance work that requires storage ring access must be completed in those 3-week periods.
I wish more people knew about the opportunity for continued development and how much of a qualification some apprenticeship schemes can be. Having worked through the scheme now I think it's important for students to know that some employers will encourage you to go further in your education, even offering to cover a majority of your expenses for a degree; this is something I will be applying for. On completing the scheme I will have an EngTech (engineering technician) qualification, a near-globally recognized qualification standard which makes applications for positions around the world much easier. I think students would be much more willing to consider apprenticeships if they were made aware of the opportunities that follow.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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