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Dornan Group – How I got here with Neill O’Connor

Kantor Energy, a subsidiary of the Dornan Engineering Group, is a specialist ‘Design and Build’ engineering company focussing on the sustainable and distributed power sectors. Kantor takes projects from the very early stages of design right through to construction. Dornan Engineering, Kantor’s parent company, is an international mechanical, electrical & instrumentation services company, with 1400 employees across 7 offices throughout Europe. The strength, expertise and experience of the Dornan organisation has allowed Kantor to establish itself as a leading player in the UK distributed power market.

We spoke to Neill O’Connor about his experiences with the company. He has been the Design Manager for Kantor Energy since joining the organisation in 2015, with full responsibility for all aspects of design across Kantor’s two largest projects – Holbrook Renewable Energy Centre, Sheffield (commissioned 2017), and Baddesley Energy from Waste (EFW) Plant, Atherstone (currently commissioning).

When did your passion for engineering start?

“At school, I was one of those students who didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go with my career. What I did know was that I particularly enjoyed the technical subjects I had studied: Physics, Chemistry, Technical Drawing, Applied Maths etc. It was largely for this reason that I chose to study Engineering – it seemed to offer a continuation and expansion on those interests.

It was when my university course began to look into the real-world applications of engineering principles like thermodynamics and fluid mechanics, that I established a genuine passion for engineering. For me, learning how thermodynamic principles could be applied to renewable and sustainable energy systems was a particularly significant moment. From that point forward, I felt a strong impulse towards those fields, and ultimately that’s what led me to where I am today.”

What does it mean to be a Design Manager at Dornan?

“As Design Manager, I lead Kantor’s team of multi-disciplinary engineers. Currently, we are in the final stages of Kantor’s largest project yet, Baddesley EFW. When commissioned, this will convert 100,000 tonnes each year of ‘Refuse Derived Fuel’ (RDF), comprising 50% biomass material, into electricity to supply to the national grid.

My team has been wholly focussed on this project for the past 2 years, with our responsibilities covering all aspects of the design from civil and structural engineering to HV and LV electrical design and mechanical/process engineering. Working with specialist sub-contractors and consultant designers, myself and my team have taken the project from concept design stage through detailed design and on through construction, wherein we are currently supporting the construction and commissioning teams in the project execution.”

Why Dornan Engineering Ltd?

“The key factor that drew me to Kantor/Dornan was the opportunity to lead an exciting and ambitious young team of engineers in delivering a unique and innovative project at Holbrook Renewable Energy Centre. The project involved ‘Organic Rankine Cycle’ (ORC) technology, one of the first such projects in the UK. I was particularly excited to be involved in such an innovative project, and it was clear that further exciting prospects lay ahead for Kantor Energy.”

Dornan has a great reputation with its innovative culture and depth of experience, there are plenty of reasons to choose this company. Neill decided to move to UK in 2015 and hasn’t looked back.

There have of course been significant challenges, as there would be for any engineer working in the power generation sector, and these have led to some difficult moments, but these have been vastly outweighed by the positives, and it’s very clear to me that the experience I have gained has made every challenge worthwhile.”

What is a typical day for Neill O’Connor?

“Due to the current situation we see ourselves living with, myself and most of my team are currently working at home. I typically start the day by reviewing emails; replying to any that can be addressed quickly and making plans to reply to the others as/when necessary.

I would usually then begin the daily round of Zoom or Teams calls – as Design Manager it’s very important to keep in contact with my own team, as well as the other team leaders, sub-contractors and clients.

From here I will go through my own to-do list. This involves a range of activities from reviewing and approving documentation and drawings produced by my team to producing/checking design calculations, to drafting reports for senior management. In between all of this, I always try to get out in the fresh air for a run or a walk in the middle of the day. It’s impossible to overstate how much this can improve productivity and your enjoyment of the working day.”

Does Dornan have any interesting projects planned for the future?

“While my focus currently remains on Kantor’s distributed power projects, the wider Dornan Group is continuing to grow and expand throughout Europe, in particular within the pharmaceutical and datacentre sectors. Dornan has become one of the leading M&E services companies in the UK and Europe in both of these sectors.”

Engineers joining Kantor or Dornan in the coming years will have exciting opportunities across multiple sectors, disciplines and regions.

What makes Dornan stand out as an employer?

“What has impressed me most about Dornan as an employer, is the strong emphasis on improving standards, improving knowledge and innovating. In particular, the projects Kantor has taken on have been unique and challenging, and many companies would not have had the vision, ambition or flexibility to execute such projects.”

Dornan’s focus is on developing its engineers, up to and including professional registration. This focus on continuing professional development, combined with the opportunities offered by a diverse and exciting range of projects, offer any engineer excellent potential for growth and advancement.

Do you have any advice for engineers looking to work at Dornan?

“The single biggest piece of advice I always try to give young or aspiring engineers is to be honest. It sounds simple, but one of the most important things you can do as an engineer is to be honest with yourself, in terms of recognising your own strengths (and building on them) and identifying your own weaknesses (and working to address them). Equally importantly, be honest with your team and your managers – I don’t know a single engineer, myself included, who doesn’t make mistakes on a daily basis, and the sooner you become comfortable ‘owning’ those mistakes, the sooner you’ll be able to address them and eventually, minimise them.”

If you want to find out more about the work they do, click here to be directed to their recruitment page to see if they have a role for you!

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