Industrial Placement at Edwards Ltd – Matthew Mellor
Industrial Experience 16th December 2022
Matt, a final-year student, has kindly taken the time to tell us more about his recent Industrial Placement at Edwards Ltd as part of his MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Experience degree. He gives us an insight into his degree choice, his time on his placement, and advice for other students looking to undertake an MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Experience degree.
Tell us a bit about you and your story
Hey, I’m Matt and I am currently in my fourth, and final, year of the MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Placement course. Coming from North Yorkshire, England, I enjoy listening to and playing music, bouldering and following Manchester United.
Who/what inspired you to get into Chemical Engineering?
Throughout my time at secondary school, maths and sciences were always my strongest subjects meaning I enjoyed the lessons and did well in exams. When it came to choosing my A-level subjects I knew I wanted to go down the sciences route, so I picked maths, chemistry, and physics. Again, I enjoyed exploring these subjects further and expanding my knowledge. When deciding on a degree I wanted something that would bring these three subjects together, whilst offering a new range of subjects to cover. Chemical engineering ticked these boxes as well as expanding on wider subjects such as the design and economics of a chemical plant, and how to create a more sustainable process.
Why did you choose Manchester to study at?
Manchester has always been important to me as I have family that live in and around the area who I regularly visit. Before coming to the University, I already knew Manchester was a vibrant and diverse city with many opportunities and things to do. However, my decision on Manchester was confirmed when I came for the open day. The university in general suited my needs as it was close to the city with a large student presence. As for the Chemical Engineering Department, the facilities were the best I had seen compared to other universities I had visited, and since then The Home of Engineering and Materials has been built which is a great addition to being an engineering student at Manchester. Along with the university, the city is very student friendly with a great nightlife and many different areas of the city to explore. My favourite area is the Northern Quarter where you can find amazing restaurants and shops.
Why did you choose to do the MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Experience?
The MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Experience that the University of Manchester was offering was unlike any other chemical engineering course available at the time. Being able to complete an MEng in 4 years whilst on placement was a great offer as I could gain experience in industry without having to take an extra year out. The first two years of the course consolidate the basics of chemical engineering with modules and a mini-design project. The third year in industry lets you experience a working environment, in which you complete several pieces of work that allow you to track your progress throughout the year. This then helps when writing a comprehensive report on the work you have completed in the form of a dissertation. In the fourth and final year, you then do the modules and the design project that you missed the previous year due to being on placement.
Where did you do your placement, what was your role and your main responsibilities/activities?
My industrial placement was with Edwards Ltd, Clevedon. Edwards Ltd Product Company Clevedon manufactures and provides abatement products to the semiconductor markets. An abatement product is something that removes or converts toxic and harmful process gases used and produced in semiconductor processes into less harmful gases. For example, the most common abatement system is the Atlas which comprises multiple abatement steps, such as an inward fired burned and a packed tower. I was a part of the Core Technology group, this team performs research and development on current and existing abatement products throughout the company.
As a placement student, I was integrated into existing projects as they can take over a year to complete, therefore, I joined a project that had already been established and testing on the product had begun. The product was a packed bed reactor using pellets comprising of simple salts that absorbed (reacted) with a specific process gas. The primary objectives were to understand and improve the existing pellets and try to predict their performance at given conditions. The secondary objective was to test third-party pellets to see if these performed better than the existing pellets. My main responsibilities in this project were to plan and set up a test on the product, which I then performed and collected appropriate data. This data was then analysed and could be compared to previous tests. I had to ensure the testing was performed safely as the gases being used were extremely hazardous. When trying to predict the performance of the pellets I used a gas-solid phase model, the Shrinking Core Model. Although this model was new to me, there were mathematical and engineering concepts involved within the model that I had already come across in various modules in my first two years which aided me in the work.
(See examples of the absorbent material Matt worked on below)
Along with technical work and activities, there were many transferable skills that I was able to gain and develop throughout the year. These skills included project management which allowed me to use and enhance communication and analytical skills that had been previously attained through university work. I was also able to work on presenting in front of a group which I had previously struggled with, but I am now confident to present and discuss my ideas in any situation.
What do you think are the benefits of undertaking a year out in industry?
The greatest benefit I gained due to an industrial placement was through gaining a greater appreciation of how chemical engineering fits into everyday life and how the modules taught at the University of Manchester set students up for any working environment. Working at Edwards gave me a deep insight into the semi-conductor division and how, without these devices, the modern world would not look the same. I went into the placement not fully knowing what to expect but when faced with my first challenge I was happy that I was already equipped with a foundation for the knowledge needed due to modules taught at the university. To fully complete tasks I was able to use the analytical thinking skills that the university had equipped me with throughout the course. I am sure that if I was in a different sector or workplace, I would have found this to be the same.
What is your main lesson/takeaway from your experience?
My biggest takeaway from the industrial placement was the soft skills I gained throughout the year, such as presenting and communication. Through presenting project updates and my ideas in team meetings, I am now more confident to speak up in group situations. This has also helped me to gain better communication skills through getting my opinions across to other members of my team whilst also receiving thoughts and improvements from them as well.
What university support, if any, did you use to help you get on to your placement?
During my second year, the careers team at the university were a great help when looking and applying for roles. The careers team share placement opportunities from a wide range of companies, some of which are only offered to a handful of universities. When applying for roles I arranged a one-to-one meeting with a member of the careers department. This was a great help as they suggested important improvements needed for my CV. Throughout my placement, I was constantly supported by the university, mainly through my personal academic advisor. The academic advisors are there to support you in the academic side of the year, including the skills portfolio and dissertation, but they are also there to support you within the job and any personal issues you may be facing. I created a great relationship with my advisor who was a huge help in completing the dissertation.
Any advice for new students wishing to undertake the MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Experience?
The biggest piece of advice I could give to new students is to take every opportunity possible. Throughout my placement, there were many opportunities to undertake training and visits to other sites around the country. These activities helped me gain new skills and gain a better understanding and appreciation for the company. A training session in a particular field, such as management training, may not be very applicable to a current placement student, however, later in a career, the training could be vital as you would have already gained an advantage in that area. Another piece of advice I would give is don’t stop trying to find a placement. It is very likely companies will turn you down when looking for a placement which will feel disheartening, however, keep on searching as there are many more companies out there!