Production Engineer Gemma Smith has never been shy of hard work and after entering the engineering industry as a Higher Apprentice, at just 22 she now commands a vital role within the business managing the design work for the stainless-steel production facility. Gemma takes us through her fast-paced day and what it means to be venturing into an exciting and dynamic career.
“Last year I finished my 5-year Higher Apprenticeship with Alpha which resulted in me achieving my degree in manufacturing and production engineering from Derby University. My degree was so relevant to my role today and I get a real buzz from applying the skills of my apprenticeship to my everyday work. My job is very versatile and each day I’m faced with a new set of challenges – a day in design and production is never dull. This is a pretty realistic insight into my world at Alpha for any students considering a Higher Apprenticeship.
8:00AM – my day always starts with a meeting with my manager Darran Cassar, we agree the priorities for the day and process plan the workflow. We look at the immediate priorities but we also review upcoming work so we can manage-out any foreseen challenges.
9:00AM – this is where the fun starts and I get really stuck into my tasks. We have such a vast range of products going through production at any one time but overseeing the design element of this process is just one element of my role. The other side of my role is designing fixtures and JIGS for the parts to be manufactured as well as making prototypes. I am responsible for following through the steps in order to process the task that has been handed to me – this is pretty exhilarating. In layman’s terms I’m responsible for programming the lasers or punches to manufacture whatever has been designed and I follow it through the production process which may be folding, welding, finishing – or any combination. I spend a fair bit of my morning on the shopfloor with my colleagues, I really enjoy that environment and it allows me to see first-hand jobs from the previous day or as is sometimes the case, deal with urgent requests from customers.
10:00AM – Between 10am and lunchtime I deal with a really broad number of things, it’s that variety I love. But to give you a flavour, a big part of my responsibility is creating and reviewing prototypes. The prototype stage is crucial because it’s where design flaws are found and corrected and we begin the process of designing tooling and manufacturing fixtures. I also have a lot of contact with our clients, so I’ll make my calls on specific projects and move things along from a design perspective. I use CAD and CAM to design and visualise projects and I love the creativity in my role.
12.00PM – I spend a good amount of time each day working with colleagues in other departments. This can be on anything from identifying new systems and processes to driving quality, improving the efficiency of a specific process or evaluating cost efficiency measures. I always try and take a lunch break around 1pm and I try and step away from my desk. It might be that I sit in the canteen with colleagues or I’ll just catch up with my Instagram or LinkedIn.
2.00PM – I’ve recently taken a lead role in the stainless-steel department for Alpha, this part of my job entails being the lead design engineer for the entire section so I’ll head back to the shopfloor. My responsibilities are to ensure that the drawings we hand over to production colleagues contain all the correct information. It’s a big responsibility but one that I relish. I also review the models supplied by the customer and part of my role is to suggest design enhancements that bring improved value to the final manufactured product.
3.00PM – to the end of the day – the last part of my day is finalising the priority tasks or switching my attention to the creation of drawings which I can convert into a programme for laser or punch machining. This is a really important task because it’s the beginning of the production process and other follow-on processes rely on accuracy at this stage. As I leave work and drive home (I’ve just bought my first house which is exciting), I use this time to reflect on my work output and think about the priorities for the following day. My job is full-on so I use the evenings to really relax, that said, most evenings at the moment I’m stripping skirting boards and painting walls, usually with thoughts of Alpha buzzing round in my head.