Laura Walker is a Controls Engineer at Daikin Applied UK, a company that designs, manufactures and sells heating, ventilation and air conditioning products, systems, parts and services for commercial buildings. She designs and manages all Air Handling Units (AHU) that require an integrated control systems within the company. She uses a variety of engineering skills and software to ensure that the space each AHU is supplying will be provided with the desired air conditions.
“…The moment I became part of an apprenticeship programme it gave the equations I was learning a meaning and reason – they weren’t theoretical anymore…”
No dolls for me. Give me Real Robots please!
From a very young age I have always had a thirst for knowledge and been interested in how things work. I wasn’t one for dolls – I was a girl who had K’Nex and a subscription to Real Robots (where you got to build and programme your own robot).
I did reasonably well in my GCSEs and decided to continue on to A-levels, which I found monotonous and only just scraped through. However, I managed to get grades which were good enough to begin a foundation degree in electrical and electronic engineering.
I have also watched my dad progress successfully through his engineering career. I always aspired to be like him -to be as good as him, if not better. I was also the only woman on my college and university courses, as well as the apprenticeship programme. This always made me feel like I had to prove myself, to show that gender doesn’t factor into someone’s capabilities or as Michelle Obama said: “…there is NO limit to what we, as women can accomplish…”
I find myself to be very hands-on person and I wanted the opportunity to really get stuck into something. A year into my degree I applied and got offered an apprenticeship at Daikin Applied UK and I went on to take a gap year on my foundation degree.
At Daikin Applied, I started doing Performing Engineering Operations (PEOs) four days a week alongside a day in the drawing office. Throughout the year I was learning completely new things, thriving at college and work, and to top it off I was also nominated for the Pride of Northumberland Apprentice of the Year Award, where I was a runner up.
I then began to work four days a week in the drawing office assisting the factory and returned to my foundation degree to complete a Bachelor’s degree with honours in electrical and electronic engineering.
To Rome and Milan, via Newcastle
Life as an apprentice engineer continued to progress – I was asked to assist in developing a new controls department after visiting the Daikin Applied factories in Rome and Milan. We brought in standardisation and a system for quoting, ordering and processing all controls projects. This allowed me to design an automated spreadsheet to assist us in costing projects and saving us a lot of time throughout this process.
The completion of my apprenticeship was brought forward to early 2014, as I was asked to work in Italy for six months shadowing our software programming engineers, which would allow me to support the UK team locally.
This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done! I was someone who had always lived in the same town so moving away with no one around was not easy. I lived in a community where no one spoke English in a rather industrial area. I did make the most of this experience and I grew in confidence though.
Now, seven years since I began my apprenticeship, I look after all of the controls projects coming through Daikin Applied UK and all non-standard quotations, whilst being a representative to work with the universities within our area, designing scenarios and projects for their degree work. I’ve bought my own house and drive my dream sports car. I couldn’t ask for much more.
Finding meaning and reason to theoretical concepts through my apprenticeship
Learning about theoretical problems and solutions when in school / college began to get boring and monotonous and I found it hard to stay focussed and grasp the concepts of what I was attempting to achieve. The moment I became part of an apprenticeship programme it gave the equations I was learning a meaning and reason – they weren’t theoretical anymore. Looking for things that would impact an end design or could be implemented to increase cost savings, felt like it actually mattered.
I feel as though I was learning more through my apprenticeship then I ever had before. Working in the industry alongside my college work only increased the knowledge and experience I was gaining. I had an all-round understanding of the business which made me a perfect candidate for a Controls Engineer in Daikin upon completion.
What my role involves
No two days are the same… Some days I could be away meeting suppliers, or with customers testing / demonstrating an Air Handling Unit (AHU) with controls on. The majority of days I will spend designing controls systems and non-standard requests that will allow us to quote customers. Typically, I have a few controls quotations to do a day along with a few non-standard quotations.
I also prepare packages that assist our electricians when fitting out controls on the AHUs and modify spreadsheets for our sales team to keep them up to date. Usually this is accompanied by varies meetings, phone calls and emails.
Stand out projects that make me most proud
I take pride in all of my work but there are a couple of projects that stand out to me.
I recently took over the controls projects as my supervisor moved up to be a manager of more departments and this came around the same time as I was quoting for controls on a large project (approx. £350k worth of controls). This was the first large job I had looked after from start to finish and it went very smoothly due to my management of the project, it made me proud to know that I was capable of doing it.
Daikin Applied (UK) Ltd works alongside Newcastle University and last year we volunteered to develop a project for a group of the 3rd years of a mechanical engineering degree, I was asked to run this project as the “Company Supervisor”. The end product they developed was better than we could have ever hoped and they all received a 1st for this portion of their degree.
Working collectively to reduce environmental impact
At Daikin Applied we recognise that environmental conversation is a top priority and we are committed to developing products with less environmental impact. We strive to reduce the environmental impact of our products at all stages of the life cycle, including green procurement of materials and parts, along with best practice manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of equipment.
This cannot be achieved on our own and the cooperation of all employees as well as the support of our suppliers is imperative.
Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day
I am currently a member of the Women’s Engineering Society so I will be joining in the International Women in Engineering Day events in my area to raise awareness for others. I’ve also been participating in an online scheme aimed at getting more young people interested in engineering – I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here! It’s a knock out competition so I do hope to make it right through to the end!
In the UK only 9% of the engineering workforce is female and even fewer women work as technicians in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning field, with just 1.2% of the workforce being female in 2014, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It’s important to show girls that they can be engineers – we need more women in our industry. In a global survey, 85% corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that: “A diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation.”
I plan to continuingly challenge myself within my current role to prove I am deserving of a more senior position. In five years’ time, I hope to be a manager – I believe I’d be good at organising colleagues and motivating them to challenge themselves and be the best they can be.
K’Nex image credit: By User:EurleifJB at fr.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons