Composite futures

Posted on 7 May 2010 by The Manufacturer

Advanced manufacturing and developing technologies for composite materials have been identified by all three major political parties as well as industry trade bodies, as being a key focus for UK industry if the nation to compete globally.

A potential problem however, with creating an appropriately skilled workforce to enable this ambition lies in the fact that, unlike technology and manufacturing for the green economy, the terms “advanced manufacturing” and “composites” mean little to the lay person or, most importantly, to young people looking to make their career choices. The fact that there are a wealth of exciting and creative job opportunities available in this growing sector, with prestigious and profitable organisations, is not widely understood.

BAE Systems apprentice Kai Burkitt (21) was recently named winner of the Composites UK Trainee/Apprentice of the Year Award and in an interview with TM reporter, Jane Gray, he attempts to remedy the above situation by explaining why he finds composites such an exciting field to work in.

“I first came into contact with composites technology when, as part of my apprenticeship with BAE, I was placed with a department called Manufacturing Development Technologies. This was an exciting place to work as we were exploring cutting edge, future technology, new projects, ideas and concepts. I was able to learn about and get hands-on with developing new methods for manufacturing materials, such as a new resin fusion process.

I was involved in some great projects with the department like Terrasoar and Taranis which eventually led me onto the Demon project. Being involved in this last project was a reward for my first year apprenticeship achievements. I was one of just four apprentices that got chosen.

The project work was aimed at creating the technology to make a flapless flight aircraft. This aircraft would have better stealth capabilities and be light weight – an aircraft for a new modern era of flight. My responsibilities were in the manufacturing of the composite materials for the aircraft and I was also part of the final assembly team.

It was a challenging project to be involved in, for ten weeks I worked at Cranfield University and I had to put in a lot of hours, investigating sub-assembly processes and profiling the composite panels being used. What was really special though was that I felt I was an important part of a team that was making a new aircraft that no one had ever flown before and we were going to be the first ones to see it.”

Following the completion of his apprenticeship Kai has been offered a permanent job with BAE as Advanced Manufacturing Engineer and as he went on to talk about his ambitions it was clear that his is now a world of shining possibility.

“For the immediate future I really want to keep focusing on composites and building up my skills set around that. After that I think I would like to get more involved with research and development, to be involved in the testing of new materials. Five to ten years down the line I would aim to be in a team leader role. I want to be the one bringing the new ideas and inventions into the company.”

For budding entrpeneurs and creative minds then Kai’s message was clear; “It’s hard work but if you put the effort in you will reap the rewards and hit high goals. The manufacturing side is exciting and it is a big part of this country. You can be sure with a company like BAE that you will always be needed and always be making a difference with your work.”