Dr Jill Miscandlon, a senior manufacturing engineer at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland’s (NMIS) Digital Factory looks back on her pathway into leading projects within the aerospace sector and how her background in mathematics has shaped her career.
When I think back to my younger self, I would no doubt be surprised to learn that I would eventually lead engineering projects within the aerospace industry. I was always interested in mathematics, but didn’t see the crossover to engineering. I studied Applied Mathematics at the University of Strathclyde, before gaining my PhD in the field. It wasn’t until I met with the then technical director at the University’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) - now a specialist centre within the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) Group - that I realised my experience within mathematics could be a huge benefit to my role as an engineer.
I was lucky that when I started at the AFRC, there were only 25 people working at the centre, which gave me the chance to make my way around each of the teams, asking as many questions as possible. I was open and honest about my lack of knowledge in manufacturing, which meant that I quickly learnt about a variety of topics. My first year saw me undertaking a series of diverse projects, from exploring different manufacturing processes, to testing and material analysis, until I grew into my role as a research engineer. From here, I developed further into the specialised area of flow forming and I dedicated myself to this for the next six years.
The AFRC was then part of a consortium which won funding to be a partner in the £28 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded Future Electrical Machines Manufacturing (FEMM) Hub. The hub is the first of its kind to bring together leading research in electrical machines and manufacturing to put the UK at the forefront of an electrification revolution.
Together, with the Universities of Sheffield and Newcastle, the idea is to bring together a combination of expertise to consider the entire manufacturing process from design through to final prototype and testing, and sustainable end of life practices. No one person can be an expert in everything, so it is about admitting what you don’t know and working together to find effective solutions to complex, multidisciplinary problems.
Over the last couple of years, net zero targets have become the key topic of conversation – this has of course been felt by most sectors, but for aerospace in particular, pressure has mounted around flight emissions. Sustainability used to be a niche focus area but it’s now an industry-shared problem. We have ambitious net zero targets to reach across the UK and, to get there, it’s crucial we work together. I think that this is understood within the aerospace industry and there has been a real movement to address sustainability issues in recent years. Companies are looking at a multidisciplinary approach and we are seeing more collaboration across the sector.
Looking back, entering the world of engineering and manufacturing without a directly associated degree has made me the researcher that I am today. I have never been afraid to say when I am not an expert in a certain area and it has allowed me to learn a great deal from those who are.
As we continue our race to net zero, it is not going to be one solution for everything – it has to be all areas coming together to solve this one, fundamental issue. I would encourage anyone within the sector to look at opportunities for collaboration; don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, ask for help in topics that are new to you, and share your own expertise with people who could greatly benefit from it. It is always great to learn something new and without that continued learning, we won’t be able to make the changes we need to reach net zero targets.