In 2015, over 144,000 young people from 67 different countries will compete in the international final of the WorldSkills competition, held in Brazil. We begin to follow the progress of mechanical engineering design competitors as they gear up for the second round of qualifying heats.
In the Birmingham finals last November three out of ten mechanical engineering design competitors were picked to compete for a place in the UK national squad.
Meanwhile 170 regional winners across all disciplines have just started training for a second national selection competition that takes place in June. The winners of that competition will embark on another training programme that will run until May 2015 – where one person from each discipline will be selected for the WorldSkills UK team in Brazil.
The first stage of training entails working with a team who helped prep the GB Olympic athletes and covers such techniques as psychological preparation, dealing with stress, and completing various team-building exercises. This is necessary because even in the qualifying heats the pressure is incredibly intense.
“In terms of specific work we identify a training plan with the competitors and collaborate with their employers to make sure that they’re fully supported,” says Matt Bell, WorldSkills mechanical engineering expert for the UK design team, who also runs all the national competitions via AutoDesk, software providers and sponsors.
“Our four main areas are around engineering design,” Bell explains. “The first involves blueprints and creating assemblies, the second focuses on sheet metal and fabrication, the third is design related and the fourth is on reverse engineering components. Alongside that the competitors are given responsibility to do their own work which helps us identify the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor.”
Second time lucky?
One of this year’s competitors who hopes to get to the final UK squad is Andrew Beel, draughtsman at Pacson Valves, based in Dundee. Beel competed in the 2013 nationals last year but didn’t quite make the UK team so decided to go through again.
“The four sections of the mechanical design competition are divided into days typically around six hours long,” Beel explains. “On the first day you get a 15 minute brief and then you have to start. You’re given a set of blueprints, say for an engine, from which you have to create your parts and your assemblies.
“You have to look at everything and see how it all fits together and then produce drawings, exploded views, and rendered drawings and video animations to display the function of the item you’ve created. It’s quite complex given that some of the assemblies could contain up to 200 components.”
On the second day the competitors will be looking at something completely different. For example, they may have to design a roofing system, or sheet metal structure – which would also require welding. The design challenge on day three requires competitors to redesign an item to do another function – meet the design brief and produce all the documentation ready for manufacturers – in six hours.
“The final day is a four-hour test based on a scenario,” says Beel. “For example, you have to manufacture something in a workshop but all you have is the item and no detail drawings. So you have two hours to look at it and work out the reverse engineering. Then the item gets taken away from you and you spend the final two hours finishing the manufacturers drawings ready to hand to a machinist.”
“You have to work out a plan of attack,” explains Beel. “There are different marks allocated for rendered drawings and for animations – so in addition to the actual project, you also have to work out which to spend more time on.”
Judges and assessors for the competitions and training are coordinated by Matt Bell and comprise lecturers from FE colleges around the country, past WorldSkills winners and industry experts. Around six people are part of the assessment team on a daily basis.
And it’s not just in competition that competitors are assessed.
“When we’re away from the competition we try to make sure that competitors’ are being assessed at the same level in their place of work,” says Bell. “We’ve met with Andrew’s drawing office recently to see that he’s getting continual feedback on a daily basis – which supports the training we’re putting in place.”
Skills to support your career
When Beel entered into the World Skills’ first heat he was still studying computer aided draughting and design at New College, Lanarkshire. He graduated in May 2013 and started working for Pacson Valves in July 2013.
“Pacson had struggled to find anybody in its area with the required skills for the job it was advertising,” Bell says. “So the company expanded its search to include the Glasgow area and found Andrew, who because of his experience in the World Skills competition went in with skills equivalent to someone who’d done about 10 years on the job.”
In the first week of his job Beel was already making changes to the workflow, for example, completely redesigning Pacson’s template programme, which has made a huge difference to the company – and their annual expenditure.
“Because of the competitions my CV kind of stood out so my employer didn’t have to teach me anything,” beams Beel. “I enjoy the WorldSkills because I am the sort of person who likes to push himself and you get to do that with all aspects – speed, accuracy and so on. At the end I can see in what areas I need to improve.”
We will catch up with Beel and his fellow competitors later in the year to see how they fared in June’s UK national squad selection.