Stephen Knowles – Technical Assistant
Tell us about your career journey to the 3M BIC
I started my career as an engineering apprentice where I achieved a HNC in Mechanical and Production Engineering. After completing my 4 years on the apprenticeship, I worked for a year in the drawing office at the same company, then decided I wanted something different, so I enrolled with CFMott Teacher Training College in Liverpool for a four-year BEd (Hons) to become a Design and Technology teacher (although we called it Craft, Design and Technology in the early days).
Over the next thirty years or so I taught DT and IT in Cambridge, Hull, Wakefield and finally Holmfirth where I decided to retire because life’s too short. After a year or so of idle indolence, I started looking for a part-time job, saw a role at 3M BIC and decided it was exactly what I was looking for. Exposure to a range of new technology has been a wonderful experience and shows that in your late 50’s you can still change direction and continue to learn new things.
Describe a typical day at work:
There isn’t really a typical day! I could be cleaning filters for the AM 400, moving office furniture, making door signs, laser etching leather for a student fashion show or making test parts for a turbo charging company.
I recently made a stainless-steel molecule using metal additive manufacture (AM) as a retirement gift for our former CEO Liz, the most challenging thing I have done at the 3M BIC so far. Despite the high technology of computer-controlled lasers melting very fine metal powder in a £1/2 million machine there was a surprising amount of work that had to be done by hand. Once the molecules had been cut off from the base using a metal band saw, all the individual supports had to be snipped off by hand, then any remaining metal removed with a Dremel and hand files. Finally, the wooden base had to be laser etched and the molecule attached to the base.
What keeps you motivated at work?
Helping to provide for my family, desire to do the best job I can, and not letting myself or other people down.
The most exciting thing about your job?
Continuous learning of new knowledge and techniques, being involved with some very interesting technologies and the problem-solving challenges every day throws up. There really aren’t two days alike.
The most challenging?
The most challenging part of the job has been the very steep learning curve for metal additive manufacture. Running the machines is ‘fairly’ straightforward but preparing parts to be built is a black art that I am still trying to master.
Time of the day you most creative or inspired?
Definitely mornings. I find that when I am not actively thinking about a solution to a problem, that is when I will most likely come up with a way around it.
Proudest career moment?
The proudest moment in my career was probably completing my degree, the first in our family to do so, as everything else in my life been as a result of this.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Measure twice, cut once.
What innovations should we look out for in your industry?
Affordable automatic post processing of metal AM parts! I also think we’ll see more 3D printed houses and buildings being built, as well as 3D printed body parts and pasta shapes!
Out of the office…?
I love to read (fiction), but also like read about technology. I also love cinema, music (“eclectic”, like everyone else), walking, a bit of cycling, bit of photography, cooking, 3D printing and I love a good art gallery. “Like to travel” sounds a bit grand but I do like going on holiday to different places