After just over two years at Cranfield University it’s time for me to follow ventures anew, however I would like to share my experience during my time.  After spending eight years working as a design engineer for a company which sold an industrial product to Oil and Gas Inspection companies, I was looking for a change and specifically something that aided a humanitarian cause. Fortunately, I spotted the Research Fellow in Mechanical Engineering Design post to work effectively as a design engineer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored Nano Membrane Toilet project within Centre for Competitive Creative Design (C4D). Although the post wasn’t quite what I was looking for, I was willing to compromise due to the noble intent of the work and to be part of a highly prestigious institution, especially relevant to my field of expertise.

Coming from an Engineering background, I had to appreciate working within an environment where many of my colleagues perceived the field of Design from varied perspectives both technical and non-technical. It helped that I joined at the same time as my colleague, Pedro (Dr. Talaia), to work on the Nano Membrane Toilet project (pictured above is a render produced of Nano Membrane Toilet in Outhouse) who came from a similar expertise background to me and despite possessing distinctly different personas, adapting was made profoundly easier because we had each other to bounce off. Working with other design fields has enhanced my understanding and ability particularly when it comes to aesthetics and visuals. I am a far superior designer now being able to create organic and irregular forms and aesthetically pleasing renders which I would never had the chance to develop if I had stayed within an industrial environment.

Visit to South Africa

During my first year at Cranfield, working on the Gates Foundation project I had an amazing opportunity to visit South Africa to collaborate with our partners. I went with my fellow colleague and researcher, Jan Hennigs, and we successfully installed a prototype test setup which was a key milestone in the project. We also performed a reconnaissance activity to identify potential field test locations where we were introduced to community members who are prospective beneficiaries from the delivery of the project.  Aside from the positive productive outcome of the trip, I managed to spend some extracurricular time experiencing the area which was incredible and due to my heritage, it had a real resonant impact on me. I was lucky enough to explore the Drakensberg Mountains and see ancient Bushman cave paintings as well as travelling to Hluhluwe–iMfolozi and St Lucia for Safari.

Jan with Toilet Installation in South Africa
Jan with Toilet Installation in South Africa
Bushman Cave Paintings from Trip
Bushman Cave Paintings from Trip

Breakthrough Innovation Hub Expansion

A prevalent mantra within the design community in recent times is “fail fast, fail often”.  It’s the notion that if we are able to evaluate rapidly and frequently and shed our inhibitions and relinquish the stigma of failure that we are able to optimise to a desired solution. In a technically complex and risky project such as the Gate Foundation project, having access to excellent rapid prototyping facilities enables us to enact exactly this type of approach. Since my time at Cranfield started in 2017, the Breakthrough Innovation Hub within C4D has exponentially grown in terms of fabrication capabilities which have been used to create a wide range of components. I have to commend my colleagues Pedro Talaia, Connor Hart and Kostas Konstantinos for having this vision, being at the centre of this expansion and providing me with the support to generate embodied parts that have been key to the progression of various projects.  One thing I will miss for sure is having access to such a wide range of 3D printers and the laser cutter as well as the impending arrival of traditional of the CNC machines.

3D Print of Combustor Concept
3D Print of Combustor Concept

Lecturing

An aspect of my role that I have particularly enjoyed is lecturing. I have primarily led the module for ‘Design, Technology and Prototyping’ on the Design Thinking MDes course as well as sessions for other schools such as: Water, Manufacturing and Management to teach the design method. I’ve also been fortunate to deliver a module on Disruptive Innovation at Muscat University in Oman. Prior to my visit I had no expectations due to work capacity leading up to the trip but it was an excellent experience where the hospitality was very gracious, in a beautiful location steeped in history and culture with delicious food!

I am of the belief that it’s very important to impart knowledge into the next generation and that this is a foundational function of Higher Educational Institutions. I have found lecturing and teaching so gratifying. I have found it really interesting being exposed to such a wide array of minds and personalities and impressed with our students’ abilities to come up with some really outstanding ideas and concepts. I genuinely hope that I have been able to help facilitate future designers and engineers in pursuing a fulfilling career trajectory.

Design Thinking Students Storyboarding in Design, Technology and Prototyping Module
Design Thinking Students Storyboarding in Design, Technology and Prototyping Module

Socially Conscience Projects

In addition to the Gates Foundation project, I have had the privilege to work for several honourable causes whilst at Cranfield.  I am currently involved in a project which is aiming to reduce the amount of single use plastic school children consume and I have also been a part of charitable project in conjunction with People In Need. Infant children in rural developing communities are likely to be exposed to animal faecal matter due to playing in external environments for extended periods of time. Due to this, microbial organisms can enter the digestive system and cause stunted growth. I generated conceptual play shelters which could be affordable, locally manufactured and assimilated to the cultural contexts of the communities.

CAD concepts of babyWASH shelters
CAD concepts of babyWASH shelters
CAD concepts of babyWASH shelters
CAD concepts of babyWASH shelters
CAD concepts of babyWASH shelters
CAD concepts of babyWASH shelters

After just over two years at Cranfield I have concluded that my career trajectory lies away from research and more towards applied practice. However, I have had the fortune to work on some fantastic projects, travel to some fascinating destinations and meet some wonderful people. I have forged some great relationships along the way, such as my fellow colleague Sam Sebastiampillai, whom will be a part of my life post C4D for many years to come. I hope one day in the future to cross paths with Cranfield University or indeed return further down the line as a visiting professor. Regardless of what the future may hold I wish all my colleagues good luck and good fortune for the future.

Sam & I in the office
Sam & I in the office
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