Interview with an Apprentice

We interviewed Tom, a CNC Apprentice in our Stonehill Engineering division, as he reflects on what he has learnt during his apprenticeship and his plans for the future. He didn’t consider an apprenticeship initially as most people he knew were focused on university. Instead he went to sixth form but found all the coursework hard to manage as he prefers the practical side of learning.

We interviewed Tom, a CNC Apprentice in our Stonehill Engineering division, as he reflects on what he has learnt during his apprenticeship and his plans for the future:

Why did you want to be an apprentice?
I didn’t consider an apprenticeship initially as most people I knew were focused on university. I went to sixth form but found all the coursework hard to manage – I prefer the practical side of learning. I made the difficult decision to drop out and took the first job I was offered at a coffee shop chain. This was great for increasing my confidence with talking to customers, but I wanted a plan for the future and my family suggested I consider an apprenticeship.

Why did you choose a Machining apprenticeship?
Before I applied, I looked on the company website and researched the role of a CNC machine operator. I watched lots of videos and thought it sounded really interesting. The fact it was a 4-year apprenticeship was also reassuring – if it takes 4 years to become qualified then it must be a big deal!

I wasn’t sure about working in a factory but as part of my interview I was given a tour and looked around all the machines, which were impressive. I was taken through the different stages involved in creating precision parts. I was also shown the computer programming area which was really interesting. I’d thought about being a design engineer when I was younger, so it was fascinating to see how all the different parts of the process fit together.

When did you join Stonehill Engineering?
I started as a CNC apprentice in June 2018 a few months before my college course began in September. This enabled me to get ahead with some of the practical aspects of my course. When I started college, I was one of the few who had some experience using the machines.

What qualification are you studying for?
I completed my Level 2 in Machining and am about to finish my Level 3 qualification at Cambridge Regional College (CRC). I have an Assessor who I communicate with regularly. There are so many different units you have to complete as part of your course, they make sure you are up to date and know what you need to do next. I don’t need to go into college now but at the start I went in 2 days a week, this decreased to 1 day as I progressed.

How did you find learning something completely different?
At Stonehill Engineering you are not put straight onto a machine, it’s expensive equipment and you are in control of whether it goes right or wrong, so you need to build up your confidence. I spent the first few weeks shadowing different people while they explained what they were doing. There’s a lot to learn and initially I thought: “There is no way I’m going to be able to do this!”, but over time you start to remember.

One of the ways that helped me to learn was when they broke down the whole process one task at a time. I was asked to take ownership of a small part of this process. Every time I did that task, they would watch to make sure it was correct and give me feedback. If I asked a question that had previously been answered I was challenged to figure out the solution myself.

Everyone in the team has varying levels of experience. One person had just finished his own apprenticeship and understood what I needed to learn and was keen to help. Other team members have years of experience and it’s great to have access to that knowledge when you need to ask more obscure questions!

What is a typical day like?
Very busy! We have a lot of work coming in that we need to make sure we complete on time. You must be efficient and always stay one step ahead, so as a process completes you have everything ready to start the next one.

Currently I operate the 5-axis machines creating complex parts. The term 5-axis refers to the number of directions the cutting tool can move and means you can approach the part in all directions. I get involved in making all different types of precision parts for both internal and external customers. We produce a lot of items for crash test dummies and pedestrian legforms used in automotive safety testing. Recently we’ve been working on parts for a British-built motorcycle.

What new skills have you developed?
At first, I was taught how to use the 3-axis machine and once I felt confident I showed enthusiasm and put myself forwards to help with the 5-axis. As you improve you are moved onto the next step, as long as that’s what you feel comfortable with.

Apart from machinery skills, I’m also much better at communication now. You can’t afford not to be vocal if you see something that hasn’t been done correctly. If you make a mistake yourself, you need to be up front about it as there can be a knock-on effect for customer deadlines if it’s not sorted out straight away. It’s better to speak up and then show you can do better next time.

What do you enjoy most about being an apprentice?
I enjoy many aspects. I like how practical and hands on it is and I like the hours as my weekends are kept free. Although your work is monitored there is a lot of independence and you are not micro-managed – as long as you meet your daily targets you can go at your own pace.

Has anything surprised you about your apprenticeship?
Being a CNC Apprentice offers fantastic career progression. It’s a job where there is always a path in front of you and always more you can do. I thought I would have to finish my apprenticeship before I was trained on the 5 axis machines, but if you are keen and they think you are ready, then you are given the opportunity.

With an apprenticeship you earn straight away. You might not start on the highest salary, but you see incremental increases as you progress and by the time I finish my course I will be earning an amount that I didn’t think would be available to me at this age, without going to university.

How has Encocam supported you?
It feels like the company takes responsibility for your apprenticeship, providing most of your learning in the workplace rather than relying on the college. They are very relaxed about the time you take to attend lessons, for example if you need to go in for an extra day. During the coronavirus pandemic the practical side at college was really restricted. When they asked us to come in for catch-up sessions the company had no issue with this, it was never questioned.

It’s a good environment for an apprentice to work in as everything is done by the book with no short cuts. When you are first learning you are instructed to take your time and ask questions to make sure you get it right. We have a good team and our team leader puts your interests first and is motivated to help people who he sees are trying to succeed.

What future plans and ambitions do you have?
I want to keep pushing forwards and I would like to do my level 4 qualification, which involves more offline programming. I feel like I now have a career with options available to me for progression and skills that are of value to my company, something I didn’t think I had when I decided to leave sixth form.

What advice would you pass onto someone who is thinking of becoming an apprentice?
Remember university is not the only option for finding a career. As an apprentice you don’t need to have the same qualifications as someone who goes to university, you just need to show the right characteristics – that you want to work there, are willing to learn and will put in the effort.

Research the title of the apprenticeship you are interested in and what comes out of it at the end as you might be surprised about where it could lead.

Also, don’t focus on waiting until September when college starts to do an apprenticeship, join when you can and start getting experience straight away.

Is there anything else you would like to highlight?
Don’t ever feel like you are not the type of person who would fit into a factory environment. It’s the right balance of professional but also relaxed. There are all different types of people working here and everyone is very accepting. I have been made to feel really welcome.

If you would like to find out more about the variety of apprenticeships available at Encocam, please contact us.

As a manufacturing company with a passion for developing innovative engineering solutions, Encocam offers apprenticeships in many different areas providing our apprentices with the chance to learn through experience, while gaining the qualifications required to succeed in their chosen profession.

We are pleased to announce that we are now extending our apprenticeship scheme to add an additional seven apprentices to the team. These are available in:

Apprenticeships are not just for the young – anyone over the age of 16 and not in full-time education can apply.

Our apprenticeships offer a great opportunity to earn an income, whilst undergoing training and developing new skills. They provide real life work experience, allowing you to take a more practical approach to learning. All our apprentices are mentored by a senior member of the team, they are there to offer support and to use their knowledge, skills and connections to help you develop in your new role. Apprentices are important to our future and many employees stay with the company after they have completed their studies.

Encocam works with a number of educational providers to support our apprenticeship schemes – there is a wide range of courses on offer at intermediate, advanced and higher level, lasting between 1 and 5 years depending on the type and level of training. Our apprentices attend college regularly and tutors visit the workplace to assess their work.

We are also a member of the Apprenticeships Ambassador Network for the East of England, supporting an initiative to promote businesses to be more actively involved in an apprenticeship scheme.

Our business thrives on the energy and ideas of our employees. If you are interested in starting an apprenticeship with Encocam, contact us.

Encocam is pleased to announce their membership of the Cambridge Network, an organisation that brings people together – from business and academia – to meet and share ideas, encouraging collaboration and partnership for shared success.

As an organisation with eight different brands, Encocam has manufacturing and product development experience in a variety of areas including: aluminium honeycomb, energy absorption, automotive safety testing solutions, composite panels, motorcycles, road safety products and other wide-ranging engineering services. Cambridge Network will enable the company to promote their broad range of products and services.

In addition, the network will increase the visibility of job opportunities available at Encocam through the online portal and virtual recruitment fairs. The company employs over 230 people from 26 different countries and it is thanks to this diverse talent that it has been able to grow and develop through the years. Encocam operates a successful apprenticeship scheme, providing real-life work experience in areas such as Engineering, IT, Business Administration and Motorcycle Maintenance.

Cambridge Network works across sectors and has a broad membership comprising of start-ups, SMEs, global corporations, universities and institutes engaged with the Cambridge ecosystem.

We are looking forward to joining Cambridge Network and being introduced to the wide range of innovative, high technology companies located in the Cambridgeshire region, as well as taking advantage of the free educational webinars and peer group opportunities available. Encocam’s mission is to inspire people, enterprise and innovation to flourish and we feel our membership of Cambridge Network will support this goal.

Helen Dighton, Head of Sales and Marketing

The quality inspection room at Encocam has recently been expanded by fifty percent to enable the addition of two new machines, increasing inspection efficiency and capacity for precision engineered parts.

Our precision engineering division, Stonehill Engineering, inspects every job to ensure it meets strict quality control measures before it leaves the factory. Precision engineered parts are measured at the beginning, middle and end of each batch, to ensure consistent quality. A dedicated Quality Control team with four Quality Inspectors is responsible for the process of checking dimensions and other part characteristics against the corresponding drawings and specifications. Quality procedures are computerised at each stage to ensure compliance with customer needs and quality standards.

A new Profile Projector magnifies the specimen part and displays its profile on the projection screen, which includes a grid allowing highly accurate dimension and angle measurements to be taken.

A Height Gauge is used to measure height or step dimensions as well as diameters, as well as centre to centre distance of bores or grooves and the size of grooves.

These two new machines complement the range of existing inspection equipment, which includes a 3-axis QCT gantry-type coordinate measuring machine (CMM), Faro arm, roughness gauge, hardness tester and a wide range of precision mechanical instruments and gauges, as well as calibrated granite tables. The machinery is well-maintained and constantly checked by qualified engineers to ensure full performance.

Items regularly inspected include parts for motorcycles and specialist test equipment for the automotive industry. It is imperative that consistent quality of these parts is achieved as they are placed under considerable stress during testing and in the field.

Encocam meets the ISO 9001:2015 quality management system requirements. This framework helps to control processes in order for consistent levels of quality and performance to be achieved.

For further information on our quality testing procedures and precision engineered parts, please contact us.

I believe that the biggest challenge with being an engineer is not changing, fixing or improving things, it’s changing mentalities.

Patricia, Encocam

Engineering plays an essential role in a wide range of industries, including Aerospace, Agriculture, Pharmaceuticals, Construction, Automotive and Defence. The engineering field has been largely dominated by men, but there is growing recognition of the contribution made by women, both past and present. ‘International Women in Engineering Day’, which takes place on 23 June 2021, is an awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available in this exciting industry.

Historically, women’s contributions to engineering were frequently overlooked. Hedy Lamarr* was a famous Austrian-born actor who appeared in some of the biggest Hollywood films of the 1940s. She is less-well-known for working with composer George Anthell to invent a method for torpedo command signals to jump from one channel to another, known as Frequency Hopping. This prevented enemies from controlling and rerouting torpedoes and causing damage to friendly vessels. The Navy did not use the technology at the time, and the patent expired before the method came into common use, meaning neither Hedy nor George received a penny for their invention. These principles are now used in WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS technologies – shaping how we communicate today! In recognition of their work, they were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Read the stories of more women whose discoveries and inventions have changed the world on the Institute of Mechanical Engineers website.

To celebrate the contribution that Encocam’s women engineers make to the business, we spoke to Chemical Engineer, Patricia, about her career and experiences:

How long have you been in Engineering?

I completed my degree in Chemical Engineering in 2008, and my Master’s in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering in 2010 – I started working as a Technical Engineer in Sales providing technical information for customers.

I moved to England in 2012 and after a brief time away from the field (during which I learnt English) I moved into a more sales-focused role for a company that sold printing heads. While I was there, I developed an interest in the inks that we produced and moved into R&D chemical formulation.

For me though, development work can be repetitive, and I find the hands-on elements of engineering much more interesting. I decided I wanted to return to the engineering side and in June 2019 I joined Encocam where I have been ever since.

Why did you choose Engineering as an area of study?

That is kind of a long story. All the local children where I lived were sons and daughters of coal miners and the mothers were housewives – I remember the only thing I was expected to do was to have good scores at school, so I did not really have much of a plan at the time. When my Dad retired, my family and I moved from a small village in northern Spain to a big city in Portugal. Suddenly, at school everyone had a plan! – whether it was University or a good job etc. I had to choose a field (in secondary education in Portugal year 9 students choose a branch of education to study for the next few years) and I thought “I’m good at chemistry” and I was always good with numbers (at least better than I was at literacy) – I decided to go into the scientific side.

Before University, I told my Dad I wanted to be a photographer working for National Geographic. He reminded me that I had studied in Science and Technology and suggested I should continue that path. He also said, “You can always do photography when you retire!”, so that is the route I took. I still do photography in my spare time, and I would like to further that and maybe study it in the future.

What role model did you have that inspired you to pursue an Engineering career?

I have engineers in my family – my uncles are engineers, so I think there was some influence from them; but I was the first female to get a degree in engineering in my family and the only one at all to have a degree in my generation.

While I was studying engineering there were other women in my field, but the subject area was quite broad and there weren’t so many women specifically in chemical engineering. Many went into other areas like pharmaceutical or chemical sciences. I found that I was good at chemistry and took naturally to it, so I continued with it.

How would you describe what you do to a complete stranger?

My general role involves making sure people are safe in their working environment by taking care of the chemicals they work with and also ensuring we use the best methods available. My aim is to improve things, making them easier and more comprehensive, this could be the chemistry itself or the processes of working.

I am involved in various areas within Encocam’s manufacturing processes, for example, acid tanks and core processing in the etch bay. Recently I have been working in collaboration with the moulding team investigating raw material – for this, there is a lot of breaking things down to basics, and a lot of trial and error. I love it!

What challenges have you experienced in your career and what did you do to overcome them?

Being an engineer is a challenge and that is the appeal of it!

The idea is to constantly propose solutions to presented issues in the field and ensure that they are followed – from those solutions we find new ones and so on. We have to ask ourselves what to do, how we do it and why, then build from there.

One of my biggest frustrations is hearing people say, “It works, why change it?”. The first car worked, so why did we change that? The automotive industry grew and developed, and here we are with autonomous driving! If we think about it, a competitor’s technology also works, so what can we do to make ours better? In my opinion it is the desire to continuously improve and develop our methods, while at the same time retaining the capacity to keep them simple. This has to come from the inside out in every single thing we do. It is a simple concept but difficult to interiorise.

I believe that the biggest challenge with being an engineer is not changing, fixing, or improving things, it is changing mentalities. This is why we focus on subtly changing processes that can be followed up.

How has Encocam encouraged or supported you in your role?

Within Encocam I feel that I can give an opinion and it is listened to because people understand that I have done my research and have a basis for the methods or solutions I am suggesting. I feel trusted and empowered in my role and people really encourage me in what I do. I work with an excellent team.

What would you do to encourage more women and girls to pursue a career in Engineering?

Engineering can seem scary to girls due to the masculine image of the area of work. We should promote the fact that “Engineering” is a broad term for many different areas including chemical engineering, process improvement, quality control, these are only some of the many areas and things we do.
I think there needs to be a change in mentality for everyone. We need to keep minds open for children to be able to explore careers that might not have been available before. I think the government could encourage this from a young age and the message should be that there are no limits no matter your gender.

If you would like more information on inspiring and supporting women in engineering, visit the Women’s Engineering Society website. Encourage your daughters, nieces, and sisters’ creativity so they can be the next great women in engineering!

Encocam is an award-winning manufacturing and engineering company serving a wide range of sectors including the rail, automotive and construction industries. We proudly employ over 230 people from 26 different countries and believe strength lies in our differences, not similarities. The ability to value and celebrate these differences is key to working for our company. If you would like to join our team, please check our open vacancies and apprenticeships.

*Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedy_Lamarr. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/thank-world-war-ii-era-film-star-your-wi-fi-180971584/

Protective desk screens provide a robust solution to safeguard employees, separating workspaces and helping to intercept the respiratory droplets thought to transmit the Covid-19 virus, while still allowing visual contact to be maintained.

At our factory in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire we manufacture desk screens following the same principles as our aluminium composite panels. They are lightweight but strong and can be supplied to exact dimensions required. Screens appear almost invisible allowing light to diffuse through easily and maintaining the appearance of an open office environment, supporting good communication whilst providing a safe barrier between employees.

The screens have been installed throughout Encocam’s facilities, as well as in the offices of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce.

Like many businesses across the country, the Chamber needed to take steps to ensure their office was Covid-secure. After seeing the protective desk screens in use at Encocam, they decided to incorporate them into their own workplace to provide a safer office environment for their employees.

The screens are manufactured from 4mm thick clear polycarbonate, which is highly durable and shatterproof. They include smooth machined edges and are easy to wipe clean. Etched strips along the edges ensure the screens are visible, while still being optically clear to keep office spaces bright and sociable.

Staff feel much happier and safer with the screens in place as they add an extra layer of protection and the polycarbonate material used still allows the office to seem open, whereas a different material would have felt confined. We would definitely recommend the screens

Sadie Parr, Communications Co-ordinator at the Chamber

Suitable for a variety of environments including offices, canteens and receptions, screens provide employees with confidence that measures have been put in place to make it safer for them to return to work where this is possible.

Standard sizes are available, however, as the manufacturer we have the capability to make custom panels and can manufacture them to any size required meaning they will fit almost all desks and tabletops.

The screens are easy to install, arriving flat packed and requiring no specialist tools or skills. They are self-supporting and do not need mounts or fixings, although extra support is provided by polycarbonate feet which sit on the tabletop and are included with the screens.

There is also the option to include a company logo etched onto the surface of the screen at the time of production, or text such as safety reminders and team or department names.

If you would like to find out more, please visit the website for our BCP division, which manufactures the protective desk screens.

Dr Mike Ashmead, Founder of Encocam, talks to the CBI about how we have been motivating employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full article on the CBI website.

What challenges were you trying to address?

With the virus spreading and social distancing measures being announced by government, we found we were juggling a complex range of issues. These included maintaining production in a safe way so that we could continue to support customers with their supply chain, understanding customer needs and requirements – who was open and accepting deliveries and what support they needed, understanding the impact on the business’ cash flow and how we manage that and look to the long term – we need to have a business when this is over, supporting our team and their complex health and wellbeing needs, including meeting the requirements for social distancing throughout the whole business and managing employee concerns, both physical and mental, in a really challenging time.

What goals or outcomes did Encocam want to achieve?

We set about coordinating a business response, with three key goals in mind:

What was your solution?

Like many businesses, our overall solution contained three major workstreams:

Protecting our employees’ wellbeing – We promoted hand washing, good hygiene and creating physical space around the business. We moved as many as possible to work from home to minimise unnecessary travel, contact and also give those with specific health concerns assurance. We made sure that those with underlying health conditions could self-isolate at home – if they could work then we supported that too. We put measures in place to ensure social distancing in the workplace – from production through to the offices and the canteens.

Embracing new ways of working – We have introduced software to support better communication while people are working remotely, from video conferencing to ‘chat’ systems to make keeping in touch easy.

Maintaining the business for the long-term – We have applied for a grant to help us pay for an investment to increase efficiency in our production systems. We have also furloughed some staff – we have decided to pay full pay to those being furloughed so that they are not financially disadvantaged.

How did you roll out your approach?

Employees really are at the heart of the business – and at the start of the pandemic, it was clear to see that many members of staff had very real anxieties – some financial, some about childcare arrangements, some about safety. Our approach to that was always to open up individual conversations – to understand what employees’ concerns were and have discussions about how we could work together to resolve them. In addition to that human approach, we also implemented a communications plan to support our response.

Our communications plan was divided into two broad areas:

Communicating with and supporting employees

Communicating with customers 

What have the results been?

We’ve had positive feedback from employees who have appreciated our personal approach – helping us build trust and strengthen our relationships. Employees have appreciated where we were quick to take action, they are engaged and we’ve had some great suggestions for future products.  

We are pleased to announce that we will be continuing our sponsorship of Oxford Brookes Racing (OBR) in 2020, making it the third year in a row. 

OBR use Corex, a division of Encocam, aluminium honeycomb in the chassis of their Formula Student car. This honeycomb is often used in automotive and motorsport vehicles because of its incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio and application in high-stiffness composite sandwich panels.

Oxford Brookes Racing participate in Formula Student, a series of international 5-day competitions which see student-led teams from universities compete against each other in various events.

Oxford Brookes University specialises in Motorsport and their team has been the top UK team more times than any other university. However, this year is a little different as after a long and successful history of combustion entries, the team will be making the move to electric for the 2020 season. There is a risk as it can be more costly and difficult to integrate the various complex systems across the car, but it may just be a risk worth taking when they compete in Formula Student in July this year.

Joe Jones from OBR said: “Our aim is to develop a platform to not only take on the top Formula Student teams in the world, but to also serve as a test bed of innovation for electric vehicles and controls software”.

All cars produced by the universities must follow a set of rules and regulations in order to pass each round. These rounds include static events, in which the cars are put through scrutineering, as well as dynamic events, in which the cars’ performance are pitted against each other. The teams are scored on being the fastest and best designed car whether it be electric or fuel.

Formula Student is a great way for students of these universities to learn the skills needed to pursue a career in engineering, paving the way for future students to learn the trade.

We are looking forward to this season and wish Oxford Brookes Racing the best of luck.

To learn more about how our products are used in the automotive industry, please click here.

The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Awards 2019 hosted a very entertaining evening on Friday 1st November 2019, to celebrate the strength and diversity of the businesses in the Huntingdonshire region. The awards have been well supported for over 20 years and this year, yet again,  there was a high calibre of entries from a diverse collection of firms and organisations.

Innovation Award finalist
Supporting Young People Finalist

Encocam was nominated for three awards: The Innovation Award (Brute Motorcycle, Herald Motor Co.); Supporting Young People and Business Person of the Year (Mike Ashmead).

Business person of the Year
The Hunts Post Business Awards 2019 Winners

There was intense competition in each category but we were thrilled  that Mike Ashmead was awarded the Winner of Business Person of the Year, and we were finalists for the Innovation Award and Supporting Young People.

It was very enjoyable evening, well done to all the winners and finalists!

Dr Mike Ashmead OBE: We are proud to announce that Dr Mike Ashmead, Founder and Chairman of Encocam Ltd, was awarded the status of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list announced on Saturday 8th June 2019. His investiture was held on Friday 25th October at Windsor Castle, when he was presented with his award by HRH Queen Elizabeth II. (Shown in the main photo, credit: Jonathan Brady/PA).

The OBE was specifically awarded in recognition for services to Exports and Innovation in engineering.

Dr Mike Asmead OBE

Mike started the Huntingdon-based business in 1988; today Encocam Ltd employs over 200 people. He had an ambition to produce his own aluminium honeycomb and has developed a business with expertise in the design and manufacture of composite panels and energy absorbers. The company, which has developed market-leading products, began exporting in 1990. It is now one of the region’s largest exporters with offices in the UK, Spain, Holland, Germany, US and Japan, exporting over 80% of its total production. Dr Mike Ashmead, Founder and Chairman of Encocam, said:

When I started the company in 1988, I did not anticipate just how much it would develop over the years. Through the hard work and dedication of many people we have grown and continue to do so.

Dr Mike Ashmead

Dr Mike Ashmead has a BSc and PhD in Chemical Engineering from Aston University and has worked in the Engineering industry as a Chemical Engineer and a Process Development Engineer. Since the company began it has innovated and grown to eight divisions working in seven industries, ranging from energy absorbers and safety test products for the automotive sector, through to composite and decorative panels, motorbikes and racing products, all inspired by the engineering challenges set by our customers.

In 2018 Encocam celebrated 30 years of innovation and success; events were held across the business with employees, customers, suppliers and partners, to acknowledge this milestone. In 2017 the Automotive safety division of the company was also awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade, another great accolade which acknowledged the company’s progress.