A passion for design

Name: Joe Palmer
Job title: design and development engineer
Qualifications: MEng CEng
Employer: AMRC with Boeing, part of the university of Sheffield
University: Imperial College London
Twitter: @j5palmer
Website: http://j-palmer.me.uk/

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Following two years working as a design engineer for Triumph Motorcycles, I decided to move to Sheffield to work as a Design and Development Engineer for the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

The AMRC takes on projects from industrial partners such as Boeing, Rolls Royce and BAE systems to name a few. These projects might be the design of new components, or to investigate how to improve existing components, i.e. how to manufacture them more quickly using less material or at less cost.

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Having discovered a passion for engineering design while working at Triumph Motorcycles, I wanted to start working on projects with shorter time frames, and be able to see the results of my efforts more quickly. To design something as complicated as a motorbike took myself and a team of 40 designers nearly three years to complete, in contrast projects at the AMRC average around 6 months in length. I feel very fortunate to work at the AMRC as I get to work on some really varied engineering design projects, from aerospace, automotive and energy, to researching how to generate power using kites!

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Many people think that all engineers spend time fixing machinery and replacing components, and while this is true for some, there are many types of engineer for whom this couldn't be further from the truth. As a design engineer my job is to design how physical components look, how they are made, from what materials and to ensure these components fit together and function correctly. Ultimately everything you own from smartphones and tablets to washing machines and cars have been designed by a design engineer.

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During a normal day I will split my time between designing new components using computer aided design (CAD) software, building prototypes of new assemblies and analysing the performance of existing components. The process of designing components with CAD software takes a long time and requires a lot of attention to detail. Once a design is complete, it's essential to build a prototype in order to test its function. During this past week I have made a prototype of a new product which involved me designing all of the new components in CAD software. I then printed some components using a 3D printer and manufactured the required sheet metal parts using a laser metal cutter. I then assembled the prototype together using standard components such as nuts and bolts. I’m due to begin testing this new prototype very soon. This is probably the favourite part of my job, taking something from an idea sketched out on a piece of paper to a real physical prototype that I have made.

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Sometimes I will also be asked to look at an existing component, such as a bracket or engine component and determine if there is a more optimal design. For this I make use of computational analysis software to simulate all of the loads on a component and predict how it will perform, I then see if changes I make to the design can improve its performance. Once I have completed the analysis I write a report summarising my findings for the customer. Writing technical reports such as these requires a combination of many different skills; I have to interpret analysis results using Maths, summarise complex scientific and engineering principles in a straightforward way and ensure the entire report is written in a high standard of English.

Outside of work I often design my own components and products. Most recently I have completed designs for a sanitary water tap for Oxfam. The tap was designed to be very small, easily assembled and encourage children to wash their hands. The intention is that this tap will be deployed during humanitarian emergencies in order to improve hand sanitisation.

As a design engineer I’ve learn just how much hard work and effort goes into designing even the simplest components, and my appreciation for good engineering design has massively increased since starting my career. Great engineering design is what I strive for in both my career and my personal projects and there’s no better feeling than seeing something you have designed being used in the real world.