A winning personality: Interview with BEEAs winner Michael Aldridge
A refusal to compromise his ambitions or settle for anything less than what he wants has paid off for BEEAs winner Michael Aldridge, as Paul Fanning discovers.
When asked what advice he would offer to other young engineers, Michael Aldridge says: "Don't settle for a job that isn't what you want." To some, this may seem strange advice to offer in a market where jobs are not easy to come by. However, given that it comes from the joint winner of the 2012 Young Design Engineer of the Year at the British Engineering Excellence Awards, it is fair to say that it has something going for it.
To be fair, Aldridge has certainly practised what he preaches. Upon leaving Strathclyde University with a Masters in Product Design Engineering in 2008, he initially found a job with a furniture design company. However, on finding that this did not meet his ambitions, he spent a year in Australia, during which he worked in an architect's office on a project designing a hospital. On returning to the UK he was, as he puts it: "determined to slog it out and wait for that job I really, really wanted".
This determination led him to apply for an internship with leading Glasgow-based design consultancy 4c Design. This was a brave move not only because there was no guarantee of a job at the end of the internship, but also because competition for it was incredibly fierce, with over 200 people having applied.
The move paid off handsomely, however. Not only did Aldridge get the internship, but at the end of it was offered a job with the consultancy. He was helped in this, he believes, by the fact that a major project was just beginning at 4c at that time to design a new casing for a lifeboat. He says: "Although I was new to the company, I was able to contribute and add value from very early on. That project was completed pretty much as I finished my internship. It was a success and everyone was on a high and then they took me into a meeting room and offered me a full-time job, which I was ecstatic about."
To say the least, Aldridge went on to grasp this opportunity with both hands. And certainly there is no danger of monotony becoming a problem at 4c. He says: "I'm the sort of person who really needs to work on a little bit of everything in order to push myself…What I love about 4c is the diversity of the work. We're literally working on everything from toothbrushes and board games all the way through to power stations!"
Aldridge has since been involved with a range of projects as well as the new perspective on liferaft design. These have included the complete design of an electric bike – which involves a patent application; and a machine which can bottle vaccine solutions under sterile conditions.
The electric bicycle is a design of which Aldridge is particularly fond. He says: "There are a lot of electric bikes out there and, while they have certain advantages, they also have disadvantages. The client had a unique combination of motors and gearboxes and it was our job to make that into a reality. To make the design work effectively, we had to effectively create a custom gearbox, which is now in its final stages of being patented. That makes it my first patent, which I'm very proud of."
The bike was only brought to prototype stage, but Aldridge hopes reasonably soon to see the finished product on the street and in shops. This last ambition is something that is very close to his heart, as he puts it: "I'd really like to push more towards consumer goods like the electric bike. I really like to see people using my products."
The importance of finding the balance between aesthetics and function is another reason Aldridge enjoys working at 4c. He says: "We are able to occupy that space between the engineers and the industrial designers because we can speak both languages – aesthetics and function. There's no point making the best device in the world if a human can't use it or won't purchase it. Equally, if something doesn't work it doesn't matter how aesthetically pleasing it is."
In terms of advising those who would wish to follow in his footsteps, Aldridge makes it clear that persistence and focus are key, saying: "It's important to focus on what you enjoy because what
you enjoy will tend to be what you're best at. There's no point being a square peg in a round hole. So it's important to focus on what you really enjoy and then you have to actively pursue it."
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