Graduate stories: How to dream big and keep winning
by David Westcough | Project Engineer, Rail Consulting
12 February 2019
David has just completed Atkin's two-year graduate scheme in transportation. From learning on the job, to working face-to-face with some of our most important clients, and now working on a future-forward project for the UK – David’s career is soaring. In this blog he tells us of his proudest accomplishment on our programme…
2017: Taking on a dream challenge
When I first heard about the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) Railway Challenge 2017, I knew I had to be involved. It’s not only an incredible competitive experience, but also a dream opportunity to push innovation. Energy storage and efficiency are the two biggest issues that face train manufacturers today. So the most exciting thing for me was that by tackling these during the competition, we had a real opportunity to make a difference to the rail industry.
Our challenge was to design and manufacture the most innovative, efficient AND quietest small-scale locomotive. This meant creating a 10 1⁄4” gauge miniature locomotive from scratch, and one that was better than 11 other company and university entries. As part of the competition we also had to produce a design report, innovation report and business case.
We soon had a team of nine fellow graduate engineers – and it was game on!
Leading our team of trailblazers
It soon became clear to all of us just how complex the locomotive’s mechanical and electrical systems had to be. And we knew that if we wanted to win, we needed full collaboration from each member of our multidisciplinary squad.
As team leader, I put on my project manager’s hat. I ensured that each of us understood what was required at all times and that we were continually working towards our common goal – building the best locomotive in the competition. To make this happen, I created project and approval plans and communicated these to everyone involved in delivery, checking and approval of the project.
Putting safety first
Taking part in the Railway Challenge allowed us to put our imaginations and resourcefulness to the test. It also gave us the hands-on experience of what it takes to make a locomotive from start to finish.
In reality, working with heavy components, machinery and electrical circuitry is hazardous. So I was extremely concerned about the safety of everyone working on and operating the locomotive. Treating it as I would a client project, I carried out a risk assessment and wrote a method statement for the entire project. I ensured that we stuck to all safety mitigations the whole time. I’m proud to say that no one on our team was injured.
United by integrity
With tight deadlines ever looming it’s natural to be tempted to cut corners and compromise. It was my responsibility to ensure that everything went through our company’s checking and approvals procedure. It helped that each of us was determined that our locomotive would be outstanding.
I motivated the team to carry out all changes suggested by our checking procedure, and to apply the thorough checks again each time. We would only move on to the next stage once our chief checker was content. I also took on full responsibility for putting our design report together and made sure it was high quality before submitting it. Our team won the design challenge’s best design report!
I can speak for the whole team when I say that innovating in this competition felt like we were contributing to something much bigger. One of the features we created for our locomotive was a battery health monitoring system which calculated the remaining battery life of the locomotive’s batteries. This new feature, has never been used before in the rail industry. By monitoring battery health in this way we can better schedule maintenance and really maximise the revenue-earning use of trains. It will make trains more reliable, reduce operator costs and carbon emissions and make our customers happier!
And the winners are…
As a result of all our hard work together, we arrived at the competition weekend excited that we had a solid entry. We ended up winning four out of the nine individual challenges – Reliability, Noise, Ride Comfort and Design. And with a top score of 1,087 out of a maximum of 1,500 we won the competition overall!
What it has meant to me professionally
One of the best things about the Railway Challenge has been taking what I learned into my work. The experience has convinced clients of my abilities and made them trust that I can deliver to a high standard. I’ve served a secondment with one of Britain’s major train operating companies, who have so valued my work that they asked the business for further support. This has directly meant great opportunities for my fellow graduates.
Future of Rail 2018 Competition
I didn’t realise how many doors the Railway Challenge would open for me. Since the 2017 competition, I have presented on my involvement in the Railway Challenge to audiences such as the London Underground Technical Society and IMechE, where as a result, I won the IMechE Future of Rail 2018 competition.
I also wrote guidance and handover documentations for the following year’s Railway Challenge team and attended the 2018 competition weekend to support our successors and offer guidance when needed. They were amazing and improved on our competition performance, winning five out of the nine individual challenges.
Being on the business’s graduate programme has inspired me to reach out to younger people who are hungry for the types of opportunities that I have had. I enjoy volunteering for the Young Rail Professionals, an organisation that promotes the rail industry as a great place to work and develops the next generation of railway talent.
Through them, I’ve organised several careers and networking events, which have enabled young professionals to develop and establish professional industry relationships that are enhancing their career opportunities.
As you probably have guessed, innovation really excites me. So I’m over the moon to be supporting hydrogen-fuelled vehicle development, which will be ground-breaking for the UK!
Inspired by David’s opportunities? Discover how you can start progressing an amazing career with us here.