AESSEAL is a specialist in the design and manufacture of mechanical seals and support systems. Its seals are used in pumps and rotating equipment to prevent liquids and gases from escaping into the environment.
The notice board at AESSEAL’s headquarters in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England is full of thank you letters from students who have visited the company to experience engineering in action. Among the photographs of young enthusiasts is a picture of Tom Lockwood. Taken on as an apprentice at 16, he was leading a business unit with a turnover of £4.2 million and managing several members of staff by the age of 21.
Just two days after gaining his Higher National Certificate (HNC), Lockwood was appointed Head of Division, Bearing Protection. “AESSEAL is second in this market and last year our division sold 26,000 seals; that’s 40 percent of the company’s total number of sales by volume,” says Lockwood. “Our seals prevent any contamination coming into contact with bearings. One of the things that makes them special is that they rotate with the shaft they are fitted to, whereas other types of seals stay still and get worn as the shaft moves.”
Lockwood feels at-home with his responsibilities, because as he gained knowledge at college, he was able to apply it immediately within the company. “Once I was here I was able to learn and study at the same time as I moved around the business in both design and assembly. In my third year I was allowed to use the machines myself and that really enabled me to see how design feeds into manufacture, for example, what aspects of design might cause difficulties for the machinist.”
It was a school trip to AESSEAL that kickstarted Lockwood’s impressive achievements. “That visit allowed me to see what engineering is all about and prompted me to write and ask for an apprenticeship,” he notes. AESSEAL has taken a strategic and long-term approach to finding and developing its future engineers. It initially engages with students at secondary school and continues through college and its apprenticeship scheme. Solid Edge® software from Siemens Digital Industries Software is used extensively across AESSEAL. Solid Edge, which is supported at AESSEAL by Siemens Digital Industries Software partner OnePLM, is a complete hybrid 2D/3D CAD system that uses synchronous technology. Moreover, giving students access to the same advanced engineering software is a key part of the company’s academic engagement strategy.
Chris Newton, a senior designer at AESSEAL who manages the company’s engagement with local schools, describes the program: “In partnership with Siemens Digital Industries Software, we provide Solid Edge to a number of schools in our region; we also provide training for teachers, helping them give their students a greater understanding of engineering in the 21st century.”
A recent expansion of the company’s educational program, which has been in operation since 2004, included the development of an onsite interactive education room. “We wanted to do more than just give students a tour of the factory,” says Chris Parkin, an apprentice at AESSEAL. “We’ve created a range of ‘activity stations’ where, for example, we may lay out all the components of one of our seal assemblies next to a finished product and encourage the students to figure out how the individual components go together. We’ve also created a wind tunnel to support other school activities, such as car and aerospace related projects.”
The company is still equipping this dedicated room. For example, it has ordered a cutaway model of a big engine. “We want a close relationship with schools and want their feedback to help us develop this facility,” says Newton. “It is particularly pleasing that we have primary schools lining up to visit and teachers willing to create supporting materials.”
Lockwood first became aware of AESSEAL at school as part of the company’s “Get the Edge” initiative that saw him and his classmates using Solid Edge as part of the curriculum. The use of industry-leading software combined with proactive engagement by AESSEAL proved to be very effective in developing Lockwood’s interest in engineering and his career aspirations with the company.
A few years later when Lockwood began his training at the company, he reported to Newton. Lockwood points out, “Engineering brings together science and math, yet these subjects may not seem very practical when they are taught as part of the school curriculum. By supplying Solid Edge CAD software from Siemens Digital Industries Software and training teachers, we give students the chance to explore the links between subjects and develop practical skills. The schools we work with are very enthusiastic. At one school I visited, the whole timetable was changed to accommodate a day of training on Solid Edge.”
Chris Rea, AESSEAL’s founder and managing director, has established a “culture of possibility” at the company. Rea is behind the educational initiatives: “I am delighted that AESSEAL is working with the Siemens Digital Industries Software Academic Program to encourage young people to consider design, engineering and manufacturing as a credible career. We know that there is an engineering skills shortage and that it is good to encourage people to acquire these skills.”
The company’s commitment to learning and development within the local community is an intrinsic part of its culture. Rea explains, “We in AESSEAL believe that corporate social responsibility is just common sense as, after all, we are only putting something back into communities that have provided us with the people who have delivered our success.”
For those who like to measure return on investment, the benefits of AESSEAL’s approach can be described in terms of talent acquisition, quality and innovation.
AESSEAL has a successful record of developing a pipeline of capable engineers. When Lockwood was promoted to head of Bearing Protection, he was following in the steps of two former apprentices who had occupied the same position and, subsequently, moved up into more senior roles. It is clear that for AESSEAL, engagement with schools and young people is a fundamental aspect of business. Not surprisingly, the company recently took on 10 apprentices and has become an organization where young people aspire to work.
This approach makes perfect sense to Rea: “Any business that has a vision for the future understands that it is essential to plan to have the right people, so that business goals can be achieved.”
For AESSEAL, the right people are the ones who go all the way to assist customers, even when the going gets tough. “The only reason people will come to us or come back to us is customer service,” says Stuart Welsh, head of IT (information technology) at AESSEAL. “Because that is the key concern for our customers, it forms the mission statement of the company.”
In fact, clarity of purpose is one of the obvious benefits of home-grown talent. The responsibility that AESSEAL entrusts with Lockwood is reflected in his total commitment to outstanding customer service. He cites one situation that demanded tremendous diplomacy on top of thorough engineering knowledge: “I had to focus on communicating, being honest and giving support. I knew that it was my job to do whatever was required to help the customer overcome a serious technical problem and I knew that I had the backing of our managing director.”
According to Welch, it is important that the company values curiosity and rewards commitment. “As employees, we see that the company is open to suggestions and improvements,” he says. “This engenders a sense of job security, makes us feel part of something bigger and promotes motivation.”
For AESSEAL, engaging with schools and young people is not a cost, but rather a benefit. Rea emphasizes, “This business passionately believes in the pursuit of excellence, which means that there is always an opportunity to improve and do things better. Surely there can be no better way to achieve that than through the development of people, so they can deliver their full potential.”
AESSEAL and other forward-thinking companies around the world are working with Siemens Digital Industries Software and its solutions, continuing to develop industry engagements with schools. Training on the use of Solid Edge is helping students, and potential AESSEAL employees gain industry-leading, real-world software experience, and discover the exciting and rewarding careers offered by 21st-century engineering.