"I enjoy visiting suppliers to see the things you have written down on paper being produced into real working components."
Dave Horton: Suspension & Dynamics Engineer for Bogies, Bombardier
At school David chose to do A-levels in Maths, Physics, Biology and Music. He wanted to keep open the option of Engineering by choosing the right A-levels but for a short while David thought about becoming a professional musician. However, he rightly concluded that Engineering would pay better!
David already had a keen interest in the railway and admired great railway Engineers of the past such as Oliver Bullied, Sir Nigel Gresley and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was also inspired by the status which Britain as a nation used to hold as a leader in innovation, Engineering and manufacturing. Coupled with this was the experience he gained over his teenage years, working for a manufacturer of miniature railway equipment. Here he was given lots of opportunity to help design, build and operate mechanical equipment, and learn about business. In addition to this, in Year 11 he spent a week with a manufacturer of hydraulic lifts, which was a bit like a ‘mini-apprenticeship’, where he got the chance to practice hands-on skills such as marking out, drilling, cutting, filing and fitting.
David read Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College. The course offered good practical training including a workshop course during the first and second years. He was also able to get involved in the restoration and maintenance of a veteran car of 1902 vintage, for which he manufactured some new parts, furthering his practical experience.
In September 2007 David graduated and joined Bombardier on their 2-year graduate scheme. ‘I was attracted to Bombardier as the only integrated train designing and manufacturing firm still operating in the UK.’ He gained experience in different areas of the company, spending time in various disciplines such as Structural Design, Project Engineering, Overhaul and Vehicle Dynamics. After his time on the scheme David slotted into the role he now holds as a Suspension & Dynamics Engineer for bogies. David has already had the chance to go to other Bombardier sites such as Siegen and Hennigsdorf in Germany. In future he hopes to get the opportunity to visit India and China.
As a Suspension & Dynamics Engineer, David has to ensure that the train is safe against derailment, stays within its gauge and has the correct ride comfort. This requires David to check that the coil springs, rubber springs, anti-roll bars and all the other suspension components of a bogie are tuned to the right parameters and involves the use of some sophisticated software packages. The parameters for different trains vary considerably based on the differing characteristics between rail networks. David often has to complete 4 or 5 different tasks in a day and occasionally steps out onto the track to run tests. ‘I enjoy visiting suppliers to see the things you have written down on paper being produced into real working components.’ David’s greatest challenge is designing components when he has been given very few design criteria. ‘It is often difficult to define the inputs to a design, so the skill is in being able to make assumptions and estimates in which you can have confidence.’
David believes that he still has an awful lot to learn in his current role and can see himself staying in this position for another 5 years. ‘To become an expert in anything takes time and I want to stay here long enough to see a few projects through from start to finish.’ In the case of a bogie, each project lasts around two years from concept design to first build. In the future David would like to move into a project engineering role and possibly manage the design of a whole bogie. He is also open to the possibility of moving into the operational side of the railway.
David believes that the greatest challenge faced by Engineers aiming to improve the railway industry is a lack of policy and guidance from the government. ‘During the 70s and 80s British Rail had a good research and engineering team who viewed the railway as a system. Privatisation marked the end of that philosophy, at least from a commercial point of view, and the government’s technical leadership is nothing like as coherent or literate as British Rail’s once was. Britain’s railway used to be a world leader in innovation. Somehow that has been lost, and we can only regain it by investing in skills, R&D, and by having a clear vision of what is required of the UK railway network.’
David’s advice for those who want to become successful Engineers would be to take the view that work experience is as important as academic study. During his degree, David found work experience with Chiltern Railways, Interfleet Technology and Serco Group in the summer months. ‘Companies won’t necessarily advertise so show some initiative and write to them. Moreover any opportunity you get to go out on the shop floor, take it. Once you put theory into practice you learn a lot more.’
When asked about the attributes a person needs to succeed in the railway industry, David suggests that you need to be a good communicator, be able to think logically, to show great attention to detail, and to question everything! ‘Don’t be afraid of the hurdles which lie ahead. A lot of young people dismiss Engineering because they believe it is above them; too complicated, but this shouldn’t act as a barrier. Have confidence in your own abilities. Nobody expects you to be a genius!’