James explains his Engineering summer placement experience
I spent my summer placement working as a wind turbine engineer in the Centrica Energy Renewables Asset Integrity team (a mouthful I know…). The team sits in Windsor but supports site maintenance teams who work on the Centrica wind farms in Aberdeenshire and Lincolnshire. The team purpose is to ensure that the way that they operate and look after their wind farms ensures that the wind turbines will survive to the end of their 20 year design lifetime. In practice, this means that the team performs what I like to call ‘investigative engineering’, working out why past failures have happened, and how we can prevent similar issues occurring in the future.
During my summer placement, I had the opportunity to work on a number of different types of project including performing root cause analyses, compiling business cases, reviewing and analysing historical data (to inform future decisions) and writing informative documents about the role that the Asset Integrity team perform. The work was very varied and hence always exciting and interesting.
Some of my main achievements included: approval of 2 business cases which together had the potential to save the business £92,000 per year; discovery of the cause of yaw gear failures through my root cause analysis (and consequently lasting changes to the yaw gear strategy on site as a result of my report recommendations); raising a safety consideration to improve safety for personnel on site as a result of research I did into crane usage; and a real input into focusing the team strategy through writing my information reports about the asset integrity team.
However, perhaps the highlight of my summer was when I went on a site visit and climbed a wind turbine in order to perform a repair up the turbine on a system that the Asset Integrity team uses to monitor the condition of the mechanical parts in the nacelle. It was great to be able to see the machinery up close (that I had spent most of 9 weeks learning about in the lead up to the site visit) and be able to put my work into context. It was also just exhilarating to be able to work at height, 50m above the ground, using safety harnessing…what a view!
The main things that I took away from the placement were a grounding in the energy and renewables industries, and more specifically a solid grounding in how to perform a technical engineering role. I think another key learning was about the best way I could work not just with other teams within Centrica, but even with people in other companies who were often geographically quite distant. Many of my projects required me to speak to other companies to gather information. I also hugely benefited from the chance to talk to people in many different roles in many different parts of Centrica which really opened up doors in terms of thinking about my future career opportunities - Centrica is a hugely friendly place with a great working environment which really made it easy to talk to people and find out what it is that they do and what it would be like to work in their team.
I’ve now returned to Centrica to the same Asset Integrity team and I would say that the summer placement was a huge part of the reason that I’ve landed on my feet, both on a graduate scheme and in my preferred role in the industry which I knew I wanted to join (namely wind energy). Not only did the summer placement give me a chance to make contacts and learn skills that I use on a daily basis in my current role, but it also gave me a chance to show off my abilities and land my preferred graduate position. I’ve been able to really hit the floor running and take on exciting longer-term projects from day 1 on the graduate scheme, because I know what I’m doing and my team know that I know…
I’ve been asked what advice I would give to anyone starting on the summer placement – I think that the main point would be to start day 1 with an opportunistic mind-set. I think that a significant reason for my enjoyment of the scheme, and involvement on such great projects, was the fact that I was willing to take in as much as I could from any and all sources (including both people and reading materials) and then seek out opportunities for projects using my new-found knowledge. 10 weeks went by in a flash for me, and there was definitely no time to hang around waiting for people to gift me work in the first weeks!