Monday Memories – Back in the Real World #7: Back to the Beginning

The project at Scunthorpe was to install a new bloom casting facility and was expected to last 18-20 months. Most of the new machinery was to be installed below ground level, so the first task was the creation of a large hole lined with thick concrete walls. This began with the driving of sheet piles around the perimeter of the hole. With these in place to support the surrounding soil, excavation of the hole commenced. At a depth of 3 metres and with 7 still to go, the sheet piles began to cave in. Work was halted and a specialist in soil mechanics from Sheffield University was engaged to identify the problem and propose a solution.

It turned out that the site had been excavated many years previously to recover iron ore, then filled in with spoil. This in-fill was unstable, a situation not helped in the least by the presence of an underground spring. The solution proposed was the casting of a reinforced concrete ring beam to hold the tops of the sheet piles in place. Moreover, because of the length of the pit, this beam would itself need to be supported by cross beams, also cast in-situ in reinforced concrete. Whilst the ring beam could be incorporated into the final walls of the pit, the cross beams would have to be removed so as to maintain the open access required for an overhead crane servicing the machinery. This, of course, significantly extended the time required to construct the pit which necessitated considerable juggling of later operations to bring the project back on track.

As well as detailed planning and monitoring of daily progress, I was put in charge of collating perceived hazards as part of the site safety regime. This allowed for anyone on the site to fill in a simple form identifying potential hazards, from something as simple as some object protruding from the ground that might cause someone to trip, to poorly constructed scaffolds. These reports were discussed at the daily progress meetings and it was my job to ensure that any recommended remedial action was implemented.

As the project progressed from the Civil Engineering stage to the mechanical, I was in more familiar territory, dealing with the installation of pipework and machinery.

Early in 1997 I attended a recruitment day for a company then called British Aerospace who were recruiting Engineers for their aircraft design and manufacturing facility at Brough, a short drive from our new home. This was followed by a day of interviews and factory tours, after which I was offered a job as a Project Planner/Engineer, subject to security clearance.

Weeks passed with no news. I enquired about the delay and was told that they were still awaiting security clearance for me. Eventually I got the call in the middle of June. The Scunthorpe project was almost complete and the Project Manager was happy to let me go with a week’s notice. I began my new job on the last Monday in June – the same day that the company received the signed contract from the government of a Commonwealth country for the supply of fast jet training aircraft. A fact that made me question the veracity of the reason I was given for delaying my appointment!

Image shows two fighter jets flying in tandem over a coast - probably North Wales.
Hawk T2 Fast Jet Trainer. Image credits: Creator:Cpl Paul Oldfield RAF
Credit:Crown Copyright
Copyright:Crown Copyright

Negotiation of the contract, like all such projects, had taken several years. A central part of the contract mandated that it be operated using Earned Value Management, monitored and audit representatives of the client government. (If you follow the link you will need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the reference).

I was one of a team of individuals who would be responsible for implementing EVM. First we had to demonstrate that our system was properly established and robust enough to satisfy the client’s rigourous testing. This was the first milestone on the contract, which triggered the first payment, and was supposed to be reached in November. Our systems failed the test. We were granted an extension to improve our systems. It was hard going but we made it.

As well as being an essential requirement for that first contract, being approved users of EVM opened the door to other markets. Contracts for several other governments followed, culminating in one for the RAF, keeping the company – which, along the way, changed its name to BAE Systems – and me busy until retirement in 2006.

I had begun my career as an Apprentice Engineer in a small company making parts for aircraft. After many years during which I had been involved with the Engineering of facilities for the manufacture of everything from Biscuits to textiles and from pharmaceuticals to steel slabs, I was back where I began, dealing with aircraft design and manufacture.

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