Homes, hotels or hospitals need heating and lighting, offices need electricity and the internet, swimming pools need to be kept at a pleasant temperature and much more!
Mechanical engineers also need to think about how to slow the effects of climate change by using less energy where we live and work.
Angela helped bring London's King's Cross railway station - one of the UK's busiest stations - up to date and make it a pleasant place to work or wait for a train. She tells us all about this challenge and why she finds a job in engineering really addictive!
Name: Angela Malynn
Job: Mechanical engineer at Arup
A+ Levels: Physics, chemistry, maths
University: MSc, Building Services Engineering: London South Bank University. MEng, Mechanical Engineering: Queen Mary, University of London
How do mechanical engineers make a difference to the world?
Mechanical engineers help find solutions to global problems and work on a huge variety of projects. One example is climate change, which is a massive issue, and we’re trying to use less energy every day. We might look at power generation, energy infrastructure or energy use and efficiency in buildings.
It all helps to reduce the amount of carbon that we’re emitting and will ultimately slow the effects of climate change. We also need to design buildings so we can adapt to the climate and how it’s changing, whether it gets hotter or colder, so we can keep building occupants in a comfortable environment.
What do you do?
As a building services engineer I help make various different types of buildings come to life. You need services inside them so people have the correct environment, such as the right ventilation and fresh air so they can do their job well and be comfortable. We provide the designs for these and also for systems that deliver electricity, communications and IT.
What does Arup - your company - do?
Arup helps deliver everything in the built environment, which means our cities and the country’s travel infrastructure. We help with the engineering for energy, buildings and health and safety management. We don’t just have engineers; we also have town planners who work with local councils to make sure new projects happen.
It’s been a great place for me to work. I’ve worked on projects in London and engineers can travel to work on projects in different countries so I’ve now got friends all over the world.
You worked on the London King’s Cross railway station redevelopment. Can you tell us about that project?
I worked on this for about four years of my engineering career and it opened this year (2012). St Pancras station is next door and was recently developed for international train connections with Europe so King’s Cross needed to be able to cope with the extra people. King’s Cross is an important part of the London travel infrastructure: it has one of the largest numbers of people coming in from national connections around the country, it has direct links to the underground and connects much of the London bus service too.
King’s Cross is a Grade I listed building (a really historically or architecturally important building that has special protections and needs special permission to work on. – Ed) and we needed to create a comfortable atmosphere for Network Rail staff and the travelling public.
What did you do on this project?
I led a team designing the mechanical heating, cooling and ventilation systems behind the scenes that keep the building running for staff, shops and the public. It used to be heated by open fire places and cooled down by opening windows (it was built in Victorian times - Ed).
It was quite strange working on site with nobody but construction workers and then seeing all these people wandering through the space when it opened. I was watching everyone’s reaction as they walked in - they all had their cameras out and it felt like we’d delivered something that was changing London.
I grew up in London and I felt like I was giving something back by working on King’s Cross. Having seen the project through from design to opening I saw the full transformation.
What changes would the public notice after the King’s Cross redevelopment?
The most noticeable thing is the big, new naturally ventilated roof structure. We haven’t put any mechanical systems in there to keep the occupants comfortable but we carried out computational programmes to show how the temperature in that space would vary throughout the year so we can keep people warm and dry when they’re waiting for their trains. The electrical engineers have tried to minimise the amount of lighting used and we get a lot of daylight through the roof structure.
What personal qualities are needed to be engineer?
Problem solving is a key skill to have. You need to be able to think on your feet, adapt to changing situations and make decisions when presented with facts.
Communication skills are really important for an engineer. We have to work with a lot of other engineers and architects, as well as the client to meet their brief. We need to explain what we’re doing so that clients can understand without specialist engineering knowledge.
If you’re working on buildings you need to be able to understand the user too. It’s great if you’ve used the type of building that you’re designing before. For example, I sit in an office every day and I know that I don’t like to have a draft over me.
I worked on a London hotel swimming pool and we had to make sure we could maintain a higher temperature than normal so people in swimming costumes would be comfortable. You also have to keep a lot of moisture in the air because that makes people feel warmer. Up in the gym there were different requirements: we were trying to keep cooler temperatures and have a lot of air flowing through the space because people will be very warm when they’re working out. Fresh air also keeps the smells at bay!
Can you describe an average day in the office?
I like to come in early, check my emails, see what’s come in and plan what I’m going to be doing for the day. I might be doing design calculations or working on drawings. Then I could have a meeting with other engineers on the project, talk to the client or visit the architects. Requests or changes can happen at the last minute and sometimes you need to juggle your priorities. No two days are the same!
What first interested you in engineering?
I first became interested in engineering because I knew somebody who was an engineer on Concorde. I was able to go to the hanger at Heathrow and sit in the cockpit. I’ve always been fascinated by aircraft, how they can stay up in the sky and I’ve always liked cars.
I had planned to be a doctor but I changed my mind after spending two weeks on work experience with an engineering company during my A-levels and enjoyed problem solving, modelling things by hand and using computer tools to test science in real life. I would advise anyone interested in engineering to find work experience or holiday placements and try different types of engineering to see if you like it.
What did you study at school?
I was always good at maths and science so chose physics, chemistry and maths at A-level.
And then at university?
You have to do a lot of maths throughout your degree because it’s the backbone to solving problems in engineering and I enjoyed the “mechanics” side of maths because it can be used in a real-life environment. I chose mechanical engineering as I didn’t know what to do in a career and it would keep my options open for when I finished my degree.
What is your favourite part of your job?
In consulting engineering the best thing is working with a team of people every day. It’s a bit like group projects at school - you have to work with a variety of people and respond to different requests, personalities and requirements to deliver a final product.
Engineering is a bit of a bug and you get hooked - you get dragged into problems and you want to find the answer. Once you finish and deliver something the achievement is wonderful.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I enjoy reading, getting out and about, exploring London, catching up with friends and family and promoting engineering.