Monday, 22 April 2013

Staff profile: Wendy Birtwistle

Wendy Birtwistle is a technician in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and in this blog she talks about her career at the University, learning new skills and being a gadget lover with access to 3D printers and a flight simulator.
"I have always enjoyed working in the Faculty of Engineering... no two days are ever the same."
At school I was good at Maths and Physics, although my main interests were more creative. I enjoyed designing a variety of things from hats and jumpers to Lego and furniture. I was always happier working with my hands, which led me to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University.

I started work as an Electronics Technician in Mechanical Engineering on a 3 year contract, fully expecting to move on to a new challenge at the end. The University is a great place to work, and the Engineering Faculty in particular because of the diversity of the jobs. There are always new skills to learn and new projects to get involved in.

About ten years ago, the Mechanical Engineering Department bought a Flight Simulator and I was asked to get involved. This was a complete change of direction for me, but one which I relished. Instead of working with electronic equipment, I spent more time with the students, which I found I really enjoyed. I administrated the Flight Training Module of the Aerospace Engineering degree course and organised lab sessions for the undergraduates.

In 2011, I had another change of career. I became involved in the Additive Manufacturing / 3D printing research group. I have really enjoyed learning a whole new set of skills. We currently have several machines that create 3D models using a variety of techniques. We build parts for a wide range of customers from printing a guitar for one of our students, teeth for the Dentistry Department to a prop for a CBBC programme. We are also investigating new materials that can be used in these machines.

As a gadget lover, I am particularly keen on the variety of equipment that I get to use. It starts with analytical equipment to assess the qualities of the materials we want to use. Once built, we clean and finish the parts, followed by a full range of test equipment to gather data. Analysing this data, will then further our research.

Occasionally we are given the opportunity to participate in wider University activities. For the last few years I have volunteered to help out at graduation ceremonies. It is fun to mix with people from around the University and especially to celebrate with the students you have worked with. We can also get involved in Outreach activities. For example we are about to take delivery of a desktop 3D printer which will largely be used to help introduce people to these technologies.

I have always enjoyed working in the Engineering Faculty due to the variety of projects to get involved in, ensuring that no two days are ever the same.

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