International Women in Engineering Day: Ford engineers share their stories

6 min read

In recent months, Ford Dagenham has pivoted its operations to produce vitally needed PPE and ventilator parts to meet unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This marks a major departure for the shopfloor staff, who usually produce engines for Ford's range of vehicles. To mark International Women in Engineering Day 2020, we hear from a number of engineers about their experiences of the past few months.

Name Alison Cox

Job Title Supervisor, Powertrain Material Flow and Packaging Engineering

How has your day to day work changed since starting to support the ventilator project?

Purely coincidentally the start of the work on ventilator project coincided with my first day in my current job role so I am not sure yet what a “normal” day would properly be! However, despite the “baptism of fire” one of the main things to contrast has been product size. The complexity of individual parts being received for the ventilator is around about the same as an engine (180) However, rather than blocks, pistons, fuel rails and wiring harnesses that we are used to seeing in Powertrain. Instead, we have tiny screws, O-rings and Process Control Boards. For the PCB’s, we must also be mindful of a new set of handling criteria due to avoiding electrostatic discharge – this means you cannot even touch one of these without being tethered to a bench with an anti-static wristband.

2. What is the biggest challenge you have overcome during your time working on this project?

The speed to launch of the project has been phenomenal –Where on an engine launch, we would have around 2 years to get the product tested and the site and systems ready to hit job #1: The team have converted what was an empty factory into a fully facilitated ventilator component Manufacturing Plant in a matter of weeks!

On top of acquiring and installing all the equipment we have had to all had to gain knowledge of both the product and the processes to manufacture it as we have started to build the units.

However, as the person responsible for looking after the incoming material the biggest concern I have is making sure we don’t run out of parts with which to build – quite a difficult thing to do when initially you don’t even recognise what a number of them actually are or do in the ventilator so many a conversation about shortages of “the black plastic widget”, “The rainbow connector” and “the brass bullet thingy”!

Additionally, these parts are not tracked using the usual Ford, Inventory Management, IT tools so it was even necessary to design and create our own stock tracker system so that we can monitor how much of each component on site

3. When and why did you first decide to become an engineer?

My first thoughts of becoming an Engineer were probably in my early teenage years – being born in 1967, Computer Studies “O”- levels had just been introduced as I chose my options at the age of 14 and enjoying this “new world” of computers and having always been reasonably good at Mathematics and Physics this led into me electing to do a Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering

4. What do you enjoy most about your career?

The most important thing to me, in both personal and professional life, is the opportunity to learn new things and face new challenges. I have been very fortunate in my career to have had the opportunity to follow an eclectic group of jobs under the Engine Engineering / Manufacturing “umbrella”. Having been hired into the FMC as a Controls Engineer, I have been able to move around in job role and have through my years worked in Engine Assembly Process, Engine test, Product Development, Engine Evaluation, Material Handing, Environmental Engineering, Quality and New Programmes

Whilst it could very easily be argued that I cannot hold down a job it is also true that I have had the chance to understand, first hand, many of the areas required to run a total Manufacturing Facility and have had the pleasure of starting several new jobs without ever having to leave the company.

5. Do you have an engineering hero?

Ironically, as a person with a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and a Masters in Controls and Software my hero should probably be Thomas Edison or Charles Babbage – However I love “elegant simplicity” so would pick Trevor Baylis not only a great Engineer and problem solver but also due to the work he did in encouraging others to invent and his support of people getting their ideas off the drawing board and into the market

6. What struggles do you feel that female engineers face in their careers today, if any?

I think female or male the struggle is pretty much the same: In the UK we have seen a growth in some areas of Engineering typically with regards to Software, Environmental and Aeronautics However, for those looking to carry out an Engineering role within a Manufacturing arena many of the traditional Industries (Automotive, Steel, Petrochemical) have significantly reduced or in some cases totally disappeared which can make it very difficult for a new graduate to get that first job to allow experience to be gained.

7. What is the one piece of advice you would give to a young woman who is considering engineering as a career?

Whatever career you pursue do it because you think you will love doing it.

Choose to go into a career that will make you want to get up in the morning and look forward to the day ahead and one that, at the end of the day, you can look back with a sense of satisfaction knowing that you have either learned something new or that you have had the chance to use the skills and knowledge you had already gained to make something better for yourself or others.

Engineering is unlikely to be the best paid job in the market and will not carry the kudos of some of the other professions - However without us ideas will never be turned into reality and that delivers a sense of satisfaction and pride of accomplishment that is, genuinely, hard to beat.

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Name Buki Okoro

Job Title Manufacturing Engineer

1. How has your day to day work changed since starting to support the ventilator project?

The change has been enormous, new industry, new manufacturing facility, new product, new process, new regulatory body (Medical devices), new ways of working and a host more. The manufacturing delivery life cycle has been compressed from years to weeks – it’s been exciting, demanding, challenging and fulfilling all at the same time.

2. What is the biggest challenge you have overcome during your time working on this project?

Challenges – Hmm, we have had a few of those on this unique project and we are still working through them.

One that is very close to my heart at this point is the Device History Record (Challenge is still ongoing)– Some background, with every vent box assembled in the ford facility, there is a form that needs to be filled which is called the device history record. It basically gives you a record of all the tests that have been done on the unit, by who, when and the results of each test. On this form we also record traceability information of a few critical parts assembled in the vent box. It is a 14 page document and has to be filled and signed by a minimum of 18 people at different stages in the vent box test process.… Am sure you can imagine what could go wrong with trying to get 18 people to fill a piece of paper accurately whilst conducting the various tests, ensuring your writing is legible at all times , ensuring the piece of paper is kept with the vent box at all times and ensuring we ship the vent box with the right pieces of paper. (Yes, the process is all paper-based which isn’t a norm for FMC)

3. When and why did you first decide to become an engineer?

Initially it was a love of maths plus good career prospects, and then the general wonderment of how engineering was so much a part of everyday life. I was generally intrigued by the fact that as and Engineer I could make anything in the world (From fancy structures and buildings to aeroplanes and cars and then chocolate) What else could a little girl want?

4. What do you enjoy most about your career?

Variety - The diversity of the work that I do ensures that no day is like any other. It’s always evolving and constantly keeps me engaged

5. What struggles do you feel that female engineers face in their careers today, if any?

This is a difficult on I believe as human beings we all face different challenges at different points and times in our careers.. Have I had a challenge that I could say was basically because I'm female? The answer is no (this isn’t a general statement – it's very personal). However, I might have very different views in 5 years from now…

Being a female engineer in a male dominated environment has definitely given me a level of recognition that I would not have had if I was male. But gender is just one part of who I am. The different experiences, backgrounds and points of view is what makes engineering richer…

6. What is the one piece of advice you would give to a young woman who is considering engineering as a career?

Take the time to explore as much possible. You have a unique opportunity to try out different disciplines, activities, and classes to discover what interests you. Don’t be held back by stereotypes, if you are passionate about it and you believe you can do it, go for it. By knowing what excites you, you will be able to forge your own career path.