Cambridge graduate James Helliwell shares his experience of being a Design Engineer at McLaren Applied, and has some advice for aspiring engineers.
“When I first started here, I thought it’s company that is going places and the people are great to work with. Two years in and I can say both of these things are still true”. So says James Helliwell, who grew up a short distance away from the iconic McLaren Technology Centre.
After successfully completing an eight-week placement as part of his mechanical engineering degree at the University of Cambridge, he was offered a full-time role as a Design Engineer at McLaren Applied.
Interest in engineering and McLaren Applied
James knew he was destined for a career in engineering from a young age. “On a basic level I’ve always been interested in how things work and how they are put together, and this persisted with me through my studies,” he says.
“I made it my aim to try and remain relatively broad in my areas of work, so that I could have exposure to as many things as possible early in my career. Being a Design Engineer at McLaren Applied has allowed me to specialise to some extent within the mechanical engineering discipline in which I’m passionate about, while still getting involved with a broad range of activities. It’s always challenging and exciting!”
McLaren Applied exists to pursue a relentless quest to improve lives and businesses by applying disruptive thinking to solve important challenges
We take insights from the racetrack and apply them to improve performance across a range of sectors from healthcare and transport to consumer brands and even financial products that use our cutting edge capabilities.
The opportunity to work with a wide range of clients in a variety of sectors is attracting some of the most talented engineers, designers and developers in the world to the company.
And it also means that no two days are the same.
James explains: “For me the variety is key, as I feel like each day I’m learning and doing something new. I also really enjoy the exposure to a wide variety of innovative companies. The quality of employees within the company is very high, meaning you feel like you can approach pretty much any challenge with experts in that field supporting you.
“As a result, it’s difficult to define a typical day because the job is so varied, but it might involve meeting a potential new client in the morning, followed by an internal debriefing to discuss actions and next steps. Then on to some detailed design work in computer-aided design (CAD) or finite element analysis (FEA), and coordinating any ongoing manufacturing or testing programmes.”
Two years after securing a full time position at McLaren Applied, James feels he made the correct decision and is thriving in the high-performance environment. “The culture within McLaren Applied is great – there is an expectation to deliver in all the work you do to the highest quality, but, given the calibre of the people around you, this always feels achievable. Additionally, there is always an interesting new project or an internal research piece starting up somewhere, so it feels like a vibrant and dynamic place to be a part of.”
James’ responsibilities have accumulated and he has had the opportunity to work on high-profile projects including a project with McLaren’s long-term partners GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). “My responsibilities include everything in the client engagement cycle, from initial meetings to discuss our capabilities, to scoping out projects with the client, then onto internal work, ranging from initial brainstorming and concept generation through to detailed design and manufacturing programmes, and developing and delivering final content back to the client.
“The project with GSK involved the development of a custom motion sensing and a data logging system within a standard inhaler canister, a challenge given the small dimensions involved. The prototype devices, christened ‘Smartcans’, were delivered on schedule and have been a breakthrough in automated testing of inhaler canisters. The Smartcan also seeds the possibility for many future applications, such as ensuring patients prepare their inhalers correctly before use, which is vital when delivering a rescue drug that patients rely on to relieve their asthma attacks.”
Opportunities to volunteer & inspire others
In addition to his role as a Design Engineer, James has volunteered to be a McLaren STEM Ambassador and Coordinator for the McLaren Applied arm, which involves organising events to encourage more people to take up a career with a science, engineering, or mathematical bent, something McLaren is very keen to encourage.
James works closely with around 30 McLaren STEM Ambassadors at McLaren Applied. He explains why this is an important area for the company. “Our STEM commitments helps to raise the perception of science, technology, engineering and maths in young people and is crucial in ensuring the country trains the next generation of young scientists and engineers. McLaren is involved with a large number of local and national events, ranging from talks at local schools to hosting events like the McLaren Manufacturing Challenge at our campus and attending huge national events like the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham.”
Advice to aspiring Engineers
James also offers advice to anybody who has a strong interest in engineering and is hoping to join the company, saying: “Look at the vacancies on the McLaren Applied careers webpage – we’re currently recruiting for a number of roles. On a personal level, getting exposure to a wide variety of technologies, industries and processes is very relevant for anyone considering working at Applied. Generally, if you have a strong analytical mind and are inquisitive, you will fit in here.
“I would describe working at McLaren Applied as exciting, innovative and varied, so if you’re passionate about engineering, are committed and want to add value to this growing company, apply now.”