Alan Banks, MSc Engineering Quality Improvement 2015
Commercial Vehicle Suspension Supervisor at Ford
- From the UK
- Graduated as a mature student with an MSc in Engineering Quality Improvement 2015
- Currently employed as a Commercial Vehicle Suspension Supervisor at Ford Motor Company
- Is a member of the International Advisory Board of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bradford
Tell us about the company you work for, your role and what it involves.
Ford Motor Company is a global supplier of vehicles and mobility solutions. In Britain, Ford has existed since 1903 and has been at the forefront of automotive technology. Ford has produced the most iconic vehicles in history.
My job involves the design and release of the Transit Custom and Transit 2T suspension system and components. I manage a team of 17 people and engineer vehicles into different regions globally including North America, China, Turkey as well as the traditional European markets.
Why did you decide to study for a masters in engineering as a mature student and why Bradford?
I came to the world of academia late in life. I left school in 1983, aged 16, and started working for Ford immediately. My school results didn’t really set the world on fire and part of my apprenticeship was to get my HNC in engineering. Throughout my career, we were always encouraged to get a degree and in 2002 I finally enrolled.
It was here that I learned a very important lesson. If I sit at the front and pay attention as well as ask lots of questions when I didn’t understand something, at the end of the process you actually LEARN something. I know this sounds silly but up until this point I’d always ‘done the least’ to get my results. But a few module results with marks that would get me a ‘First’ really focussed my mind and I studied incredibly hard. In 2005 I graduated top of my cohort with First Class Honours.
As I was by then, really focussed on learning, I enrolled immediately on to the Bradford MSc. In 2005 as a Ford employee, I had the chance to study for two Masters Engineering courses; one at Bradford and one a Loughborough. I felt that the Bradford MSc offered the best balance of real-world application and benefit to me as an engineer.
In fact, the Bradford MSc really opened my eyes to how we as engineers really influence engineering as a whole and how we improve the lives of people that have no comprehension that we even exist. What I mean by that is that when we have done our jobs properly, the world improves as if ‘magic happens’……Engineers are the unsung heroes of modern society. I strongly believe we are called engineers because ‘Super Hero’ isn’t an official job title.
Tell us about your experience of studying at the University - how has your degree helped you in a personal or professional capacity?
I really enjoyed studying at Bradford. Not only is the engineering faculty second to none but Bradford offers the best curries a person can want!
On a serious note, I owe the teaching staff at Bradford a large debt of gratitude. I should have graduated in 2008 with my MSc but the credit crunch and economic downturn in the automotive sector and commercial vehicles in particular ruined my MSc. I was stuck with no way of proving the theory, which formed the basis of my degree. The staff at Bradford were extremely understanding and forgiving in granting me continued time to allow me to finish – and finish in such a manner that the outcome was better than I can ever have hoped for.
Once I had graduated, I was able to get my Chartered status with the Institute of Engineering Technology and two years later was elected Fellow of the institute. Without the Bradford MSc, this would have been almost impossible.
You sit on the Industry Advisory Board for Mechanical Engineering at Bradford, what do you feel are the challenges and opportunities facing young engineers?
The challenges facing young engineers are the challenges that have always faced engineers. I don’t believe that these change over time. But in the automotive industry, the challenges now come from a different area. One of the things that I like to remind the IAB is that skills and degrees that were not considered core to the automotive industry should now be considered.
For instance, the move to electrification and autonomy will put a great deal more emphasis on electrical engineering and software. Where in the past, mechanical engineering was the forefront of the automotive industry, it is now moving to the fundamentals. Ride, handling, Steering, power delivery and quality used to be the unique selling points of cars and trucks. These are now being overtaken by connectivity, customer experience, and software.
From a mechanical side, the expectations from the engineer are the same except that weight and new materials will start to become important. I would encourage all engineers to start thinking about lightweight metallic and composite materials.
Autonomy will be another quantum leap in the mindset of engineers that will require focus. For just one example, passengers in an autonomous vehicle could sit facing in any direction. So where should the engineers place the airbags?
I’m lucky enough to guest lecture at Bradford and the last time I did this I showed a couple of slides on where the industry is heading. The questions at the end came thick and fast as you might imagine and it was great to see the passion from the Bradford students. But at the end of the Q&A, I told the class that I didn’t have any of the answers! And that was the point I was trying to make…..all of the questions they had don’t currently have answers. It will need their skills to find solutions when they enter the industry!
2018 is the Year of the Engineer, an effort to spread the word about what Engineering encompasses and the breadth of engineering opportunities available. What is it about engineering that surprises or excites you?
As I said, I think engineering is a field best appreciated by fellow engineers. If we do our jobs properly, then people are unaware of our existence. But what always delights me are the ingenious ways that engineers use to find solutions. I was at the Williams F1 facility recently where they showed me a way that they have reduced the energy used by supermarket fridges by 30% with the introduction of an aerofoil in front of the shelf. Who would ever have thought that F1 and fridge technology could be mentioned in the same sentence – but there it is. Superb innovation. And you wouldn’t even know it was there.
What are companies, such as Ford, looking for in engineering graduates?
Large companies are looking for engineers that can apply what they have learned and manage projects to deadlines under their own initiative. Now I know that sounds like a lame opening statement from a mediocre CV but large multi-national companies live by the calendar and their ability to project-manage efficiently. As an engineering graduate, we expect that your engineering capabilities are a given to an extent. We can mould you into what we need. However, managing projects is something that the IAB is keen to be stressed in the degree modules.
What advice would you give to students thinking about studying at Bradford and considering a career in mechanical or automotive engineering?
Bradford is a great university with great facilities and the staff at Bradford are just superb. Bradford is not a destination city unfortunately or greatly known for its engineering course. But specifically because of this, they are able to offer greater access to their facilities and lecturers which should be a major plus point for anyone who wants to study engineering. As a University, Bradford has climbed the league table year on year and I would recommend Bradford to anyone interested in Mechanical and Automotive engineering. Their links to industry are well established and strengthening through the IAB.
Published: May 2018