My interest in engineering probably started when I couldn’t figure out why my train set wasn’t working.

I have a passion for technology (and quite like the odd sci-fi movie) so a degree in Electronic Engineering seemed the logical choice.

rich_blog1_0My course at the University of Surrey is a three-year BEng programme with the addition of a foundation year, plus a year in industry. The course teaches the maths, physics, and underlying engineering principles behind the components we use in electronic circuits, as well as giving us the opportunity to put the theory into practice with lab work and group projects.

The industrial placement year is optional on my course but I decided to apply for a number of reasons: partly because I had spent three years studying and fancied a break (and a wage); partly because I wanted to learn some ‘real life’ skills. But I had also realised how difficult the job market is at the moment – with a lot of friends not getting the jobs they had worked so hard for at University.

A lucky break

I feel I was very lucky to get a placement in the test and measurement department at Bytronic. Working in a small company means I get heavily involved, and receive the same treatment as any other member of the team.

My colleagues have been very helpful (and patient) in teaching me about machine vision. With no previous experience in this field, most of the work is new, interesting, and sometimes daunting.

Examples of work I have been involved with include:rich_contraption_0

  • Programming Cognex In-Sight cameras to identify faulty products. This has helped me learn about getting the correct lighting/lensing to produce a workable image, and how the vision tools can be used.
  • Use of line-scan camera to image the surface of railway track. This system is part of a wider project called PM’n’IDEA started by UNIFE. The project aim is to provide the rail industry with non-contact methods of assessing the integrity of railway lines. It has enabled me to meet with engineers from other companies across Europe, and hear about their projects and the obstacles they have had to overcome.
  • Installing systems on-site and setting up trials. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your work producing meaningful results for a customer. I have had the opportunity to see projects through from start to finish, and watch them working in a customer’s factory.

The placement has given me confidence in my ability as an engineer which I would not receive from studying alone. It has also given me fresh motivation for completing my degree.

In my last year at University I am required to undertake a final year project which can be a project of my choice providing I can get an academic to support it. I have decided to create a webcam-based vision system to identify and sort objects of different colours and shapes. This will also tie in with the ‘computer vision and pattern recognition’ module I will be taking.

Had I not undertaken this placement year I would not have chosen this project idea and module choice, and with a job offer from Bytronic for when I finish my degree, it has affected my future for the better.

Richard Allwood