My Year in the “Nat Vent” Industry

Engineering Intern James Wilshaw talks about his experiences of the Year in Industry scheme, as he approaches the end of his 12 month industrial placement. Breathing Buildings are strong supporters of YINI, we work closely with the Engineering Development Trust, EDT, and take great pride in helping to develop the next generation of world-leading engineers.

When I applied to work at Breathing Buildings, I sort of had an idea of what experience I’d be getting. Possibly some fluid dynamics, some programing, some research, some electronic design. While I have gained experience in all of these areas, my experiences have been far broader and richer than my expectations. Turns out, the real world is far less narrowly focused than Mr Gove’s A-Level machine would have you to believe, who knew? Looking back at the past 10 months I’ve had a broad and varied view of a rapidly growing company, projects from proposal to commissioning and from design to delivery. I’ve been involved with several major projects. For example: collecting and analysing data from the Costa Coffee Eco Pod; verifying, issue reporting and documentation for our new controller; small bits and bobs of design for iterations of the NVHR.

Some of the most unexpected things that I’ve learnt about, I hadn’t even considered before joining Breathing Buildings. How to manage an ever shifting and changing workload, for example. When small companies have to adapt to demand you have to manage various workflows accordingly and it’s a skill that I’ve been developing rather rapidly. Some weeks I actively had to look for jobs to do (now I’ve got a list), others I’ve been snowed under with a pile of stuff landing on my desk for ASAP, preferably yesterday. Juggling this with maybe having to go to site or the factory at the drop of a hat can become quite entertaining.

Some of the most interesting work this year has come from the Costa Eco Pod as an incredibly well sealed building it’s been challenging our strategy to the limit. The empty space with no heating load actually increases temperature overnight. This means we are working within very fine margins all the time. Balancing the requirement to cool the space with the requirement not to cause a cold draught. I’ve been analysing data and really trying to maximise our once understandably conservative draught mitigation strategy. This has meant delving a little into applied mathematics and control theory to ensure that we don’t cause any huge oscillations in our outputs and also to improve the filtering on our inputs to try and ensure we spot cold spikes whilst still removing any undesirable noise which due to a variety of factors is rather inevitable. Rather akin to how slight deviations in the input to a meteorological model can affect the outcome hugely. This work presented me with the opportunity to join my colleagues Owen and Nick going to the CIBSE Technical Symposium at Herriot-Watt University where Owen was presenting a paper on the Eco-Pod.

This year has been challenging, engaging and exhausting in equal measure. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, even if there were a few experiences I’d rather not repeat: like a 245VAC electric shock and all the frankly awful puns about how energised I looked afterwards. I’d like to thank all those at YINI for making it possible and providing ongoing support through the year and all the guys at Breathing Buildings for having me, putting up with me and making it such an enriching experience.