The Big Picture
Liam began a placement with Rolls Royce in July 2017. He worked as part of a team that develops numerical simulations of industrial processes.
“My responsibility was to produce a predictive model for inertia friction welding of anything from nickel alloys to steel… any sort of materials they use in the jet engines…”
The Learning Curve
Liam initially worked with a software package that used a finite element scheme to model plastic deformation. To use this software in an automated and efficient way, Liam expanded on his previous knowledge of Python by working with scripts in the Java, Jython and Fortran 95 programming languages.
“The source code was a black box… which led to me doing a lot of funky stuff with various programming languages, including one I’d never even heard of…”
Liam improved the performance of the numerical model by including thermal expansion and elastic effects. As part of this work, he consulted academic researchers and became an expert in the field of high-temperature deformation.
“I proposed a new modelling method… I was convinced it could have been done better… we ended up transitioning to a model that didn’t just consider the plastic effect of materials but also considered thermal expansion in the materials before the weld started and the elastic effect of the materials… I went incredibly deep into that process…”
The Physics Connection
Liam had developed a strong knowledge of mathematics and numerical simulations during his university studies. This knowledge was invaluable in helping him improve the computer model of inertia friction welding. More generally, he realised that, as a physicist in an environment dominated by engineers, he brought a new perspective.
“There was a difference in thought processes that really benefited the organisation… I’d be speaking to an engineer who’d have some problem, and I’d say, ‘Oh, it’s easy. You just do this’… but then I’d sometimes have problems that I wouldn’t know how to solve… and I’d be like, ‘I have no idea. Nothing at university has taught me this. Go to an engineer’… and they’d just go ‘Oh, do it like this’… that difference in approaches meant we could solve a wider range of issues…”
The Professional Skills Stuff
Liam presented his ideas to senior managers and to chief engineers in order to gain their backing for his vision of how the modelling could be improved. This experience improved his oral and written communication skills, and he learnt how to make a successful business case.
“I learnt to take a large amount of knowledge and research and condense it and use it in a practical way… I think pragmatism was a big thing… looking at a problem and saying that, realistically, we only care about X, Y and Z is something that was quite hard to learn…”
Rolls-Royce Holdings plc is a multinational engineering firm with over 50,000 employees based in more than 50 countries. The company specialises in the design and manufacture of power systems for sectors including aviation and shipping. Liam was based at their offices in Derby.
“Everyone was really open and friendly… my supervisor and the head of materials and process modelling was very open in saying, ‘If you’ve got an idea, push it’…”
The Final Word…
“I realised that what I was really interested in were the underlying models that were being used… I liked breaking them down even further… and trying to push them as far as I could…”
… And The Next Step
Since completing his MPhys degree in 2019, Liam has worked for the technology consultancy Waterstons. He helps businesses design strategies to protect their data.
“My job is to look at underlying processes and find risks and problems associated with them, and then try to help businesses make informed and pragmatic decisions on what they do next… having an analytical mindset is very useful… but one of the skills I learnt at Rolls Royce is also really useful, and that is having a pragmatic view of things as well…”