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Finding a career with CSA Catapult

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 24 Jul 2020

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We spoke to Barry Nel, a Senior Power Engineer at CSA Catapult’s innovation centre in South Wales. His passion for engineering came from his dad and experimenting with tools from a young age and passionate engineers are exactly what Catapult are looking for!

Barry started working for CSA Catapult in September 2018. He shared what his typical day looks like and why you should consider the company as an employer!

“I was looking to move to South Wales from Bedford and the Catapult listing popped up a number of times during my job search. The job tied in very nicely with the part-time research I had been studying for my master’s degree regarding the reliability aspects of silicon carbide MOSFETs. It looked like a nice mix between application and research-based work across a variety of sectors, so I applied!”

How has your experience been so far and what do you like most about your role?

“It has been a fast-paced couple of years, that’s for sure. The staff count has nearly tripled in the time that I have been with the company. Honestly, I have loved it all, even when things were incredibly busy. There are always problems to solve and I love that part of my job. The problems we face are not purely technical, so there is a lot of scope to learn about yourself and your team while working through the challenges.

I really love the sheer variety of the projects that we work on, not just in power electronics but also across RF, Photonics and Advanced Packaging. There are not many places where you get exposure to these different sectors in one place.”

As a senior Power Engineer, what does your job entail?

“My primary role is as technical lead across five collaborative research and development (CR&D) projects which are funded by Innovate UK. This mainly involves understanding and managing the work that we have committed to do for the project, alongside the work of the project partners, to make sure we are all heading in the right direction.

Apart from CR&D projects, I also work on the commercial side of the business to provide technical support to the business development team, generate cost estimates for quotes and deliver parts of the commercial work directly. This can take varying forms depending on the type of work coming in, so it could be anything from designing test rigs for reliability testing of power modules to co-authoring market intelligence reports for specific power electronics markets.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

“Each day can be different, depending on where we are in any given project. The CR&D projects run in quarters, so there is always a flurry of activity towards the end of a quarter to make sure we have all of the facts and figures ready in time for them to be reviewed by the project monitoring officer.

I usually have one or two project calls each day to touch base with the project partners and to update the project plans. The nature of research work is that it’s very hard to predict what issue might turn into a major hurdle, so I’ve found it useful to keep a finger on the pulse.

I try to keep things moving as smoothly as possible for the team and to keep their work uninterrupted wherever possible, so I take on a lot of the little annoying jobs that could be a burden to them. The team knows I can be reached whenever they need me, whether for advice, to help solve a particularly tough problem or just to talk.

The rest of my time is then focussed on the interesting technical work for the CR&D and commercial projects. I try to keep the time-slicing to a minimum and focus on one project at a time. This is much easier so say than it is to do, since everyone else’s problem seems more interesting than the one in front of me.”

What projects are you currently working on?

“Without going into technical specifics due to the confidentiality side of things, I’m directly responsible for 6 projects (5 CR&D, 1 commercial) which are pushing for ultra-high-power density systems for the Automotive and Aerospace sectors. This is being achieved through a mixture of different semiconductor technologies, thermal management approaches and novel materials for passive components.

We are working with some of the biggest names in the industry to help them solve the challenges associated with the next generation of electric vehicles or more-electric aircraft. We are also working with a number of smaller companies who have some really impressive technology and want to demonstrate where they can bring benefits to different sectors.”

Are there any interesting projects planned for the future?

“Definitely! We’re currently starting a new recruitment drive to prepare for projects which are about to start and for projects which we are currently writing proposals for. We’ve got about 15 projects of various sizes on the go at the moment, I manage a 3rd of them. This number is only going to grow so we need people with various skill sets to cover the work we have planned. I think there’s something for everyone at Catapult.  

We’re planning to expand more into the energy sector to complement the work that we are doing in Automotive. There’s a real need for smart grids in order to manage the upcoming demand that EV’s will place on existing infrastructure. There’s also the ever present need to reduce our CO2 emissions, which is something we are working towards and will be focussing more on in the near future.”

Why work for CSA Catapult?

“There aren’t many companies in the UK with as much to offer as this one. I think it walks an interesting line between academic research and industry. We’ve got a number of staff who are from an academic background and enjoy applying their research to innovative projects. Likewise, we have staff who have spent decades in industry and lend their considerable experience to the projects and help ensure that potential issues don’t get overlooked. They also act as mentors to the more junior members of staff.

The company is also very supportive of anyone’s desires to better themselves. They support development by actively encouraging professional registration to become a Chartered Engineer for example and will cover your yearly membership fees.

On top of it all, every engineer is allowed to use a portion of their hours to investigate anything they think might be relevant to the work being carried out by the company. This has generated some fascinating ideas which can be applied to current and future projects.

If you prefer something more concrete, then the salary, holiday allowance and pension is definitely on par with the best in the industry. I find the flexible working side of things to be very useful, since I can be in the office very early and then leave before rush-hour.”

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“Good question, it makes me feel like I’m at my job interview again. There’s supposed to be a clever answer isn’t there?

I think I’ll still be here; due to the way it’s growing. I can’t see myself ever getting bored here. Or maybe I’ll end up being head-hunted by one of the companies I worked with on project. Either way, as long as I can keep solving interesting problems each day, then I’ll be happy.”

If you want to know more about us and the work we do, just get in touch. You can find Barry Nel on LinkedIn and he’d be happy to answer any questions! You can also click here to see what current vacancies we have on offer on E&TJ.