Mechanical Engineering: A Variety of Placements

Engineering Graduate Tom Helfer tells us about his experiences

Tom Helfer

Although I am halfway through my second year of mechanical engineering, this is my first blog post (ever). It means that I can quickly summarise my first year and how I got here:

After gaining a MEng in mechanical and electrical engineering, I joined Centrica in 2013 on the Mechanical Engineering graduate scheme. I had previously enjoyed a summer placement in 2012, and was slightly surprised (and flattered) to discover that I had been asked to join the exact same team a year later!

Why did I join Centrica? Well, currently the energy industry is having to adapt very rapidly to the oft-quoted “energy trilemma” of affordability, climate change and security of supply. This provides lots of scope for new and interesting engineering and as Centrica is involved throughout the energy chain it is well positioned to help solve these challenges. I wanted to experience engineering within Renewables as well as the Oil & Gas sector; there are not many companies which can offer this diversity. Being an accredited graduate programme was also important. Of course there are many other advantages, but I will leave you to read some of our other posts to find out about those.

My first 6 months were spent sourcing LiDAR technology for Centrica’s wind farms from the Head Office in Windsor. LiDAR systems use lazers and the Doppler Effect to very accurately measure wind velocity at a remote position. If you mount a LiDAR system on top of a wind turbine, you can therefore very accurately understand the profile of the incoming wind, which has various uses. I unexpectedly became a LiDAR expert within the company during this time (based on there being few others who had even heard of LiDAR) which goes to show that graduates are genuinely expected to add value to the company, and how working in such a new industry can be very rewarding.

My second half of the year was spent seconded to Siemens’ Offshore Wind Head Office which was an incredible opportunity. Whereas Centrica own and operate wind farms, Siemens design, install and commission wind turbines. This secondment therefore showed very different sides of engineering. As well as all the interesting technical projects I worked on, a highlight was being on the “wrong” side of the desk (representing Siemens) in meetings with the manager of my Centrica manager’s manager!

What do I do now? I am currently with 160 other people on a metal platform 50m above the East Irish Sea. Here no-one wears suits and most people prefer to work on paper rather than use the computer. I cannot walk outside without bright red overalls and we all get three weeks off for every two weeks of work. I am, if you have not guessed already, working on a gas rig and these are only a tiny selection of the differences between my first and second year placements.

So, although this may not have helped you understand my day-to-day job yet, I hope you have an appreciation for the variety of placements that engineering graduates can have, and why Centrica is a great place to start your career as an Engineer. “Engineering: Living above the Sea” can wait until next time…