Currently the Head of Welding Engineering at Altrad Babcock Ltd, EUR ING Neil F Bennett CEng MSc SenMWeldI achieved his MSc in Welding Engineering from Cranfield University and has also gained the TWI Welding Engineering Diploma from TWI Training Examination Services.
Neil gives us an insight into the technical day-to-day responsibilities of working in engineering as well as his journey of becoming professionally registered as a Chartered Engineer (CEng) with the Engineering Council and a Member of The Welding Institute.
When did you join The Welding Institute?
Originally, back in 1984/5 as an Associate Member. I have been a Senior Member for the last 11 years.
Please describe your current job role and responsibilities/a typical day in your role:
As Head of Welding Engineering, I have a small team of Senior Welding Engineers, a Senior Technician, a Welding Technologist and Welding Technicians/Instructors. We look after global Altrad operational welding governance, ensuring that it meets our accreditation to ISO 3834-2, and provide support on welding related issues.
Each day is usually different from the previous. We can be performing routine technical quality schedule reviews, contract technical reviews, consumable certification checks, or conducting/writing up PQRs/new WPSs. On the other hand, things can go right out of the window when emergent work lands during a plant outage, which may entail a complete rearrangement of the team’s workload distribution. Whilst we have new-build sites under construction, there are over a dozen currently in outage/TAR in the UK alone. We also operate in the Far East and Middle East where we are currently working offshore and on a new nuclear plant. The welding requirements are varied and that is what makes the role so interesting. We also must adapt to the time differences as well as the different work patterns to those in the UK.
Why did you choose a career in engineering?
I could say a lack of imagination! My dad was a manager at a major UK power station boiler OEM and worked through the heyday of that industry under nationalisation. The overall impression I got from his work was that it rewarded well, he seemed to like it and there were a few companies in my hometown of Derby supporting that industry, so I applied for an apprenticeship at a few of them. That was after I found out that my eyesight was not quite good enough to become a pilot!
I started off in power generation, followed by stints in railway, oil and gas, automotive, automation, aerospace, and then back into power generation, although Altrad Babcock operate in more than power generation these days.
What is one of your biggest career highlights or achievements that you’re most proud of?
There are a few, but one that is most prominent was the repair development of a couple of water tanks that each held 1.8m litres. The tanks were to be live at the time of repair, so the development had to be very thorough. Mock-ups were fabricated to simulate the repair scenario using various welding processes and methods of minimising the internal temperature to protect the rubber lining of the tanks. Ultimately, there was really no way of knowing that, if breached, the tanks would just gush or unzip and create a tsunami! The live repairs were monitored from inside using a remote vehicle (RV). Fortunately, the only thing that got wet was the RV!
Also, I can’t miss the opportunity to mention the first time I ran a robot cell at full speed that I had programmed – big boys’ toys those are!
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how did you overcome this?
The company I work for has always had a system of checking the levels of welding fume generated by our site activities, but the change in weld fume classification by the HSE in 2018 caused us to reconsider whether our processes were sufficiently robust to determine the exposure levels. One of my colleagues and I set about reviewing the factors affecting weld fume production, content and concentration, namely differing materials, welding processes and environments, to present a simple-as-possible system of analysing the exposure risk with each combination of factors. We had hardly had time to complete the real world testing of this revised system when we received an unannounced visit from an HSE inspector. We were pleased that the inspector went away happy having only made one minor comment.
Why did you initially join The Welding Institute?
The Welding Institute is recognised as a leading organisation in the field of welding, and so it made sense to become affiliated with others in the industries in which welding plays a major part. The range of seminars offered have been relevant to the industry sectors in which I have worked and cover interesting areas that are not part of those sectors.
Tell us a bit about the process of becoming a Member of The Welding Institute
Initially, I became an Associate Member when I took the TWI Welding Engineering diploma in the late 1980s. From then, as my experience increased, along with my responsibilities at work where I progressed from Technician to Welding Engineer, I became eligible to gain Member status. As my career had further progressed through to Senior Engineer in 2012, when I also gained my engineering chartership, Senior Member status was also granted to me. This step was undoubtedly assisted by attaining an MSc in Welding Engineering at Cranfield University and becoming Welding Services Manager (now Head of Welding Engineering) at Altrad Babcock.
When and why did you choose to become professionally registered?
The “when” part was just after I had gained my MSc. With the standing that CEng has within engineering, it made sense to have that association and to be recognised as having satisfied the requirements of that level. Chartership is a well-respected level of recognition of achievement within engineering which has brought me satisfaction from the work choices I have made to opportunities that have arisen in my career.
How has Professional Registration as CEng supported you in your career?
There is nothing exact that I can put my finger on, which may be because I have not changed company during this period of personal development. It will certainly not have harmed my internal standing as Technical Authority, Category Lead on operational site welding and RWC for ISO 3834-2.
What was the most difficult aspect of becoming registered as CEng and how did you overcome it?
Nothing springs to mind as being difficult. The professional review was enjoyable, despite my prior misgivings of what it may be like. This was partly due to the interviewers, who I will not embarrass here, but who will know who they were if they remember that far back! Thanks to them for making it an enjoyable couple of hours and the favourable outcome.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of becoming CEng?
The personal satisfaction of knowing you have reached that respected level within your profession.
What are your core involvements with The Welding Institute, what do they entail and why do you undertake them?
Currently, apart from attending seminars/webinars, my main interactions are at Branch level where I attend local evening meetings. Previously I have mentored a candidate successfully through to CEng achievement and would consider doing so again should the opportunity arise.
What are your engineering aspirations?
As department head, it must be to leave it in a better place than I inherited it. That will be hard because it had very capable tillermen prior to my tenure. Operating methods are different, mainly due to technological advances in communication, data management, and remote systems access and software applications. However, one constant is the need to provide concise, technically accurate and timely support for those at the coalface of our operations.
I am starting to get used to thinking about my fast approaching retirement and how to handle that. This year will be my 40th year in the welding industry across different sectors with a total of twenty-nine in power generation; some things have changed, others have not – site welding on power station outages, process plant turnarounds, etc. are still mainly carried out using manual processes.
There are other processes out there that could replace these in part and I would like the opportunity to take them further. Whether that comes to fruition remains largely in the hands of R&D purse-string holders. I am happy to keep in a technical role; the next logical step-up would probably be to director level, but I prefer to remain in the technicalities of engineering. I would also wish to remain sitting on the BSI (British Standards Institution) Committee. It is an interesting role, provoking passionate discussions and varied opinions that put different lights on the way weld and welder qualification standards are used and interpreted.
Would you recommend Membership with The Welding Institute and why?
Definitely. The benefits that this opens up are valuable along with the networking opportunities at seminars, etc. Branch events usually have interesting topics, which do not necessarily have to be within an individual’s immediate work sphere. Membership also provides a structure for personal and career development.
What advice would you give or what would you say to your younger self-beginning your career in engineering?
That it’s going to turn out alright! In saying that, I am not inferring that I had major misgivings or any lack of confidence in my early career. I left my first company, having progressed from Apprentice to Welding Engineer due to some excellent mentoring. I tried a few other industry sectors without a clear plan (thanks to redundancy) with the aims of not wanting to take a step backwards from an engineer level. The planning came a bit later in my career, which led to an MSc and step-ups from Welding Engineer to department head. I certainly did not imagine that I would achieve a chartership, which was not on my radar in my 20s – I was enjoying an outdoor, rugby playing lifestyle too much.
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