18 Oct Shelagh Gill looks back on her career in precision engineering
Our Quality Manager, Shelagh Gill will soon be saying goodbye to the team and enjoying her retirement after nearly 50 years of dedicated service. Here, Shelagh shares some words of wisdom she’s passing on to our young apprentices as they start their journey on a career ladder in precision engineering.
Hard work and dedication
I left school without any qualifications at 16 and decided to join the local engineering company here in Welshpool, with no idea what to expect. The company changed hands over the years and was bought by precision engineering specialist Dawson Shanahan in 2009. We’ve seen a lot of incredible changes over the years, but hard work has always been something that has been a constant. There were only 11 of us back in the day and we had to do everything to keep the factory going. It was really hard work but we mucked in and we are proud of our achievement. As I look around now, we are nearly 100 strong and still growing. I still give my all at work each day and my advice to all the apprentices when they join is: ‘don’t be afraid of getting stuck in’. I’m a firm believer that you get out of a job what you put in.
Adapt and learn
I started out in engineering in 1973 and back then my role was to check the parts before they went out. Over time I worked my way up, learning on the job and eventually doing an apprenticeship in management. It wasn’t a traditional route for any woman at the time, so I have had to adapt and grow to become a specialist in quality and inspection as the industry has changed considerably over the years.
Roll with the changes and learn
Obviously, technology has had the greatest impact on change. The expectation of tighter tolerances and the broader processes we’ve introduced are also part of what’s made us successful. But there have also been more subtle changes including customers who now have an expectation of zero defects and with tens of thousands of components leaving the factory every week, I have had to learn how to cope with being available 24/7. For anyone starting out in engineering, my advice is ‘keep learning’! The work and customers will change and new technology will be introduced so be prepared to adapt and learn.
Attention to detail
This might seem like an obvious point, but as the Quality Manager for a precision engineering firm, the standards are extremely high. Incredibly, in the last 12 years, we have only had a total of 94 customer grumbles. Since I started in Quality, there have been significant changes to the standards we have worked to. From BS5750 in the 80s, ISO 9001 in the 90s, the automotive standards of TS16949 and latterly IATF 16949 of today there has always been a need to adopt and adapt our quality measurement processes. In addition, some of our customers also have their own specific requirements that we must adhere to. In the early days, the checking of work was very labour intensive with 20+ women checking to AQL levels for dimensional and visual faults and 100% checking when necessary. As manufacturing machines become more automated, they are also more accurate and reliable. So checks are carried out in line with the control plans developed by our engineers. My advice is that attention to detail might not be ‘sexy’ but it is what a company’s reputation is built on, so invest time and energy in it.
Embrace the change
When I first started here, the handheld measuring equipment was mainly mechanical but as the technology has progressed, we now use digital equipment which is easier for the operators to use and is more accurate. We still have some machines from the World War 2 era, and they are still effective at what they do, but they are the exception, not the rule these days. The measuring equipment has also moved on significantly with coordinate-measuring-machines, surface finish and profile gauges Etc. that enables us to check to a high level of accuracy and repeatability, and to also collect statistical process control data at the same time. I know that change can be tough but don’t be afraid to embrace it.
Learn from your mistakes
Everyone is trained in our quality requirements ensuring they are working to our work instructions and standard operating procedures. They are a very dedicated work force committed to ensuring that they produce a very high standard of work. Of course, we aim to supply our customers with zero defects and on the very rare occasion a customer raises a concern, we are able to look and learn. We gather a cross functional team to carry out an investigation and we use Ishikawa (Cause and Effect) to determine the root cause. Then we use the ‘5 why method’ to determine what the cause was and why it was not identified. This information is then used to complete an 8D problem solving process. This team-orientated approach to solving problems in the production process is key to not only resolving the issue but taking corrective action to prevent similar problems in the future. At the end of the day, mistakes will happen but the key is to be prepared to learn from them.
Engineering – encourage young women – Going back to the early years of my career, engineering was dominated by men. It’s incredible how much things have changed. However, there is still a long way to go, and we need to encourage more young women and children to consider a career in engineering and fill the skills void. We have a really great team and an apprentice programme we are proud of but more needs to be done to encourage girls to take up this interesting and rewarding career.
Take a look at our apprentice training programme and start your career in precision engineering today.