Between each placement, trainees gather in the US or the UK to complement their on-the-job training with an intensive week of product innovation workshops, networking and commercial and technical training.
“It’s turbo-charged learning,” says mechanical engineer Lauren Won. “You get exactly what you need to put your placement work in context and prepare for the next big leap. It’s a lot of fun too.”
Well, I’m an engineer so I believe that if you get the right components in place, you can do anything. In my first transition week, we looked closely at successful innovation strategies by some of the world’s leading companies, breaking them down into 10 different areas. Creativity is essential but it’s not the only thing: discipline, communication and good process are also critical.
We split into teams to explore the subject further. My group looked at how Tesla had developed one of the best electric car offerings in the US by combining complementary products and services—a marketleading battery, an extensive charging network and regular updates for both engine and software. Product systems and a high level of service also give Meggitt the edge so it was a very useful comparison.
In my first transition week, we worked on a new nozzle for aircraft fire extinguishers—fire protection is a core capability here. Today the most widely used suppressing agent is called Halon. It has a very low boiling point so you can release it from a simple cylindrical pipe without any kind of nozzle and it chokes flames very quickly. But it also damages the ozone layer. Finding a ‘green’ replacement is a big challenge for the aviation industry
The fluid blends being considered are much denser and have to be distributed using a nozzle. We were challenged with creating a 3D-print design with the right curvature to create a spray profile that can put out a fire, ideally with less fluid.
By the end of the week, we had printed up our design and the results looked promising. The engineers working on the project full time are now investigating further.
On the graduate programme, we get to work at every level of the business, from factory floor to board room so we probably see more than a lot of people. Plus we’re new so we get to ask the most basic questions. Why is that done like that? What’s that for? Once you’ve been around for a while, you’re more likely to accept things as they are.
So Tony Wood, Meggitt’s Chief Operating Officer, asked us to feedback on our experience in a range of areas including technology, operations, customer focus and culture. I was on the technology and operations team. We started two months before the transition week and had a weekly meeting online to discuss what we’d found and how we’d present it.
Having to gather that information and make recommendations—even if they’re not always the best ideas!—is a great way to learn about change management. How do you balance R&D with the daily focus on getting product out the door, for example? How do you sell in the need for change and get people on your side?
Tony’s feedback on our presentations made much more sense because we’d already had a go at tackling the problems ourselves. Chris Allen, President of Meggitt Sensing Systems, and Chief Technology Officer Keith Jackson were also there so you’re getting the view from the very top but in a very discursive, interactive way.
The transition weeks are a perfect partner to our work on placements which is often very specialised. On my first one, for example, we explored the principles of Lean design by redesigning a simple fire door latch assembly. Which components can you remove? How can you redesign what’s left to simplify manufacture?
Those are the essentials no matter how complex the product.
We also had a day of training with the group head of programme and project management. Between my second and third placements, we had a fascinating day on jet engines with Phil Walsh. He spent 30 years at Rolls-Royce before coming to Meggitt so he really knows what he’s talking about.
I’d been working on redesigning a valve in my second placement but it was only when I got the big picture that I could see exactly where it actually sat in one of its applications—in a piccolo tube in the engine’s ice protection system.
We finished up that week with a session on finance for engineers. We might be skilful mathematicians but not many of us have financial experience! It’s a critical discipline for any top engineer though. They’ve boiled the learning right down into a custom package that’s perfect for what we need.
It’s turbo-charged learning … and it’s a lot of fun too.
It’s a misunderstood word, I think, but for me it’s one of the best things about these weeks. Most of the company’s senior technical leadership come through at some point, as well as other experts from around the business.
There’s a big investment in this programme so they’re all genuinely interested in how you’re doing professionally and what you’re like as a person, too. We’re the future of the business, after all, and creating a legacy is something they really care about.
Just as important, though, is the chance to get together with the other trainees and compare notes. Everyone here is smart but we all have different ways of thinking, different passions, different experiences. So in almost any conversation you have, you’ll get some new insights and perspectives.
That’s fascinating in itself but it’s also hugely bonding. You build strong relationships you can call on during your placements and, judging by the calibre of the people here, for the rest of your career, too.