The engine man: Interview with Shaun Addy
11-hour days six days a week are what it takes to be Design Engineer of the Year, as Paul Fanning discovers.
It is natural to expect that the winner of 'Design Engineer of the Year would be a highly dedicated and hardworking individual – indeed, it would almost seem a prerequisite of even being considered. However, when 2011 British Engineering Excellence Award winner Shaun Addy lets slip when arranging the interview that his working hours are 5am to 4pm, it's hard not to be impressed.
"It's a passion," he says. "I was always passionate about tuning cars from when I was helping my brother rebuild his Mini engine when I was about 10 or 11. In fact, even today when I run an engine I get excited - my palms start to sweat. When you get a feeling that you're on the ragged edge, it's not a cold thing for me. I've always had a sensitivity to mechanical things. I can hear things in an engine."
This passion has taken Addy through various positions at the cutting edge in automotive and engine design – Lotus, BMW, Perkins – to his current role with Cubewano. Here, he has developed the Cubewano rotary engine, distinguished by the fact that it can run on kerosene – the only such engine in the world with this ability and something previously believed to be impossible. The engine is designed for use in defence and aerospace applications, where a high power to weight and low vibration levels are demanded.
Addy explains: "One of the main applications for these is in UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles). Increasingly, the military is looking at just taking one single fuel into combat, which is why it has to run on kerosene. Equally, it has to have a high power-to-weight ratio and needs smooth power delivery, meaning it has low vibration. After all, a lot of these UAVs are used for taking pictures and, while there's some excellent anti-vibration systems out there, it's much simpler just to ensure it's not vibrating."
In 2009, the company obtained a $9 million order from the USA and is presently in the final stages of producing a prototype 1kW heavy fuel generator. The complete unit weighs 24lb (11kg). In the last year, he has refined the design of the engine's fuel injection system, reducing fuel consumption by 50%.
The system has received considerable interest both from the MoD and from US defence contractors, but there are applications possible far beyond the narrow field of UAVs, as Addy explains: "We're working on making the engine multi-fuel, so you can throw virtually anything into it. That would open up other markets. For instance in auxiliary power units and other forms of power generation. There are also possibilities in terms of developing a range extender for EVs. The companies that make EVs need a quiet engine to act as a range extender to ensure that the driver isn't even aware there has been a change of power generation. You simply couldn't do that with a small piston engine."
In terms of his ambitions for the company, Addy is aiming high. He says: "I want us to become the 'go-to- name for this technology. I'd like us to be able to sell our skills in the same way that a Ricardo or a Lotus Engineering does. So that, if someone wants a rotary engine made, they will come to us."
His commitment does mean he has trouble letting go of projects, as he readily admits. He says: "I probably don't make myself terribly popular in that I insist on involving myself at every stage even when things have been delegated. I can be a fairly hard judge of people's work. It can be hard to let go of things. I always feel a strong urge to do the work myself. Although I do enjoy delegating more now because I have people around me in whom I have confidence."
Some things will never change, however. He says: "I love to get my hands dirty and try things out on the test bed. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be enjoying my work. I'm never going to be hands off. If I were in my work, then I'd have to get a garden shed and work in there. At the moment, this is in many respects my garden shed."
So is there any chance of him ever reaching the stage where he can just relax? Apparently not. He says: "I like to think that I could eventually head off somewhere and have some more 'me time', but it wouldn't stop me building that garden shed. It would just be a question of where it was and how well-equipped it was."
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