Simon works for a large manufacturer of frozen food .
What's the main function of your job?
I work in the engineering team, carrying out routine maintenance and dealing with breakdowns. The production lines here run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. A breakdown can hold up the entire line of production, and that can cost the company a great deal of money.
What happens if the line breaks down?
An operator will tell us if there's a problem on the line and we go straight to the job to assess what's wrong and either repair or replace the faulty part. On some equipment we can plug a laptop computer into a unit called a 'programmable logic controller' and get a read-out on the screen of all the electronic switches in the equipment, which makes it easier to find the fault. We also use working drawings, electrical measurement equipment, such as oscilloscopes, and hand tools like wrenches and screwdrivers.
More often though, we carry out routine maintenance to prevent breakdowns. A typical job could be overhauling a fryer. That can involve stripping out the bearings, cleaning them up, and lubricating all the chain drives, pumps, motors and hydraulic packs. After each job, we fill out a work card to show the job has been done.
How important is hygiene in the work place?
Because we work with food products, hygiene is really important. We wear white trousers and overalls, hairnets and white shoes. If we move to do a job in another part of the factory we change into clean kit, so there's no chance of cross-contamination. Whenever we do a job, we have to be careful to clean up the work area. We use electric and pneumatic drills and have to contain all the tiny metal fragments to make sure none end up in the food.
What do you do if you're not certain about a task?
I work in a team of engineers so there's always someone to ask if I'm not sure about something. Now I'm nearing the end of my training, I can do most jobs without supervision - it's really satisfying when you solve a problem using the skills you've learned.
Are you enjoying the training?
Yes, I'm doing a Modern Apprenticeship in engineering. That involves working for NVQ Level 3 in Maintenance Engineering and an HNC in Mechatronics at the same time. My training started with a two-week induction in the factory, then I went to a training centre in Norwich full time for a year, where I was exposed to a range of things, including electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics and welding machinery. After that, I came back to work in the factory to get lots of hands-on experience and attend college on a day-release basis for the theory.
Why did you choose technician, rather than graduate entry?
I had intended to do a degree and I did the first year of A-levels in chemistry, physics and biology, but halfway through I decided I wanted something more practical. The technician entry route is fairly common in maintenance engineering; it takes longer to qualify, but ultimately I can still achieve professional engineering status, so I don't feel I'm missing out.
What's for the future?
I intend to go on to do a degree in engineering and achieve incorporated engineer (IEng) status. As a professional engineer, there are opportunities to work on projects such as designing better ways of automating the production process, and that really appeals to me.