Q: Where did you study and what qualifications did you gain? A: I undertook a 4 year apprenticeship as a refrigeration mechanic / technician in Australia (what is called a’ service engineer ‘in the UK). This was a Certificate 3 in Engineering (Refrigeration and Air conditioning), I studied at Box Hill College of Technical and Further Education in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I worked for an industrial refrigeration company in Melbourne while I completed the apprenticeship (1 week per month at trade school for 3 of the years, the rest of the time on the job). I have worked for several industrial refrigeration companies in Australia since qualifying. I am a ‘Service Engineer’ member of IOR which has useful benefits such as access to technical information..
Q: What attracted her to the industry? A: I initially worked in the wine industry (I come from a wine growing region in rural Australia) and was studying wine making part-time. As part of my job, I arranged for maintenance on various production machinery in the winery, including the ammonia refrigeration plant. I became interested in how it worked – where ‘cold’ comes from – and looked in to how to become qualified and job prospects in the industry.
Also, the refrigeration technicians who used to turn up to service the plant had good 4-wheel drive work cars, seemed to be able to fix pretty much anything and were always heading off to other interesting places. I decided that it was industrial refrigeration that I wanted to focus on, and tried to get an apprenticeship (or at least an interview) with several companies, with absolutely no success whatsoever. I ended up getting an apprenticeship with the company who did the work on the cooling plant at the winery where I worked.
Q: What do you specialise in now? Or, what type of projects do you work on? A: I’ve done service and commissioning in Australia, since coming to Star I’ve worked mostly in service / maintenance, and on the district heat pump project at Drammen (the world’s largest zero carbon 90 0C district heat pump). I’ve spent a lot of time on this plant since 2011, and now carry out maintenance and respond to call outs at the site. I’ve also worked on several other heat pumps that Star installed in Norway and France.
Q: What do you know now about the industry which you wished you had known before? A: Probably, the unpredictable hours, the amount of time spent on the road as a service engineer and time spent living away– it’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’ve been to some incredibly interesting places through work and often enjoy the travel aspect of it.
Q: What excites/interests you about the industry and your part in it now? A: The potential for using ammonia for new applications, such as the district heating system in Drammen, Norway. It’s been a very challenging project for everyone who has been involved with it, but really rewarding to see the system now proven and working well, and the potential for using Neatpumps in other industries and locations. It has been great to see how the hard work of everyone involved – the design, manufacturing, installation, commissioning and maintenance teams- has paid off. Star recently received the Rittinger Award by the International Energy Agency for the breakthrough technology used in this project, which is very rewarding.
Q: What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the ACR industry? A: Nothing different to what I’d say to any men considering working in the industry. Hours can be unpredictable, the work can be physically challenging for some and it requires high concentration levels, and a large degree of resourcefulness - more often than not you work alone.
You need to be able to understand the customer’s requirements for their system, and be able to explain to them the implications of any breakdowns with the refrigeration plant – you need to be able to discuss your work with the customer and sometimes explain to them why things did not go as planned. You need to be able to adapt to working in different environments such as remote locations, very hot or cold environments, heights, confined spaces. So, you need to be reasonably fit, able to think logically and analytically, resourceful and not too precious about getting dirty, cold or claustrophobic. For that, it makes absolutely no difference being male or female.
All that said, you get to see how all sorts of things are made, and doing industrial refrigeration you can end up in very unusual places. I’ve seen how everything from chocolate to cling-film to gold gets processed. It’s good for not getting bored.
There’s no reason that women can’t work as service engineers, if that’s what they want to do. If you don’t expect any special treatment it’s likely that you can do fine in the industry, if it’s what you want to do.
I don’t like to be singled out for being female, as it does not affect how I do my job for better or worse, but I accept that, obviously, I’m in the minority gender-wise and a bit of an oddity. By nature, most people working in the industry think logically, so if someone’s a useful engineer they won’t be treated much differently over all.
Q: Where do you see your career developing? A: I’d like to continue to have involvement in use of new and green technology with industrial refrigeration, as well as more standard systems. I’d like to remain in a field-based technical role for the medium term, to keep developing my skills as an engineer and hopefully becoming more involved in the commissioning side of things.
Q: What are the challenges of this industry? A: The unpredictable hours and demands on engineers’ personal time are big problems for attracting and retaining engineers. Managing customers’ expectations, solving problems or fault-finding to tight schedules. Technical challenges aren’t a bad thing – they’re part for the course, and the job could very quickly become boring without them.
Q: What are the benefits of being in your role (e.g. travelling, variety, monetary?) A: Seeing where stuff comes from, working in a different place most days – although this also has its bad points – and constantly getting new problems to solve.
If you know of any female engineers in the ACR industry who you think should appear in the magazine, email the editor, Will Hawkins (email@example.com).