Robin Stafford Allen
I am very happy to have won the competition, but more importantly is that loads of you have thought about engineering and what engineers do.. and that is the important thing.
I started in a car company (Vauxhalls), Many years in MRI magnets with Oxford Magnets, and nearly 20 years at Culham.
I am a Mechanical Engineer. I was a manager (and a Director) but chose to down-size my job to the things I love doing – engineering.
CCFE (Culham Centre for Fusion Energy) which is a Government-owned laboratory.
I am someone who engineers and designs components for the first generation fusion reactor.
I am presently designing large vacuum vessels and a sort of shutter for closing the port to the vessel. The vessels have to withstand the pressure of the air (about ten tons on every square metre) and the shutter has to close off the duct in one second in the event of a problem. The duct is half a metre by one and a half metres.
I have to appreciate what will get very hot, and what will be extremely cold and design parts and work and are strong enough no matter what happens.
My Typical Day
Total variety from calculations and sketches to conference calls with my opposite number engineer in France (with occasional visits to France)
I have to sketch and think about how to make something that has never been made before, so lots of original thoughts are necessary. It helps to be a “natural” engineer who has spent his life working on cars, motorbikes, lawnmowers, washing machines, and computers as hobbies, and a lot of work experience with a car maker and then ten years engineering the containers (called cryostats) for MRI magnets for hospital scanner systems.
I usually have three or four “projects” going at once and it is up to me to make sure they all move along without me allowing one to be ignored until too late! This tends to be called Project Management.
Every day is different and I have to organise my own day generally. So my average day, if there is one, includes calculations using paper and pencil, or Excel, and discussing design details with the CAD draftsman around a computer terminal, time spent on a computer writing reports and minutes of meetings, and then time engineering the loads and strength of things. I then direct the draftsman who actually draws up the final devices and makes detailed modifications to my instructions. I then check his work and sign it off before it goes to our customer with the reports about how and why it will work.
What I'd do with the money
I hope to donate it to the CCFE Charitable Fund, should I be lucky enough to win.
The CCFE Fund is used to support science and other projects with local schools, and to support local community groups with grants for particular pieces of equipment.
So far this has included both primary and secondary schools with a strong emphasis on the science teaching and support.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Natural born engineer.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I used to follow Simon and Garfunkle, but now I am more likely to listen to Macy Gray or Tom Waits
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Recently had a day at the Silverstone Rally School driving Ford Escorts under instruction, which was AWESOME!
What did you want to be after you left school?
I knew from the age of 10 that I wanted to know all there was to know about the mechanics of cars, so an engineer…
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not often, but I did beaten with a cane the day before I left my preparatory school.
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
Seen one of my designs actually in use in a hospital scanner helping to care for patients.
Tell us a joke.
Just took the shell off my racing snail to see if it would make him faster. It didn’t work, it just made him more sluggish.
I used to work on the JET machine which is built at Culham and has been operating since 1984. The JET machine is quite big
as can be seen by the size of the man at the base.
There is a plasma heating system (in blue) beside the main part of the machine that heats the plasma in JET to ten times as hot as the centre of the sun.
This is an image of the heating system called a Neutral Beam Heating system which creates a beam of very high energy particles (works a bit like Captain Kirks Phasor, but is much much bigger, of course!)
Inside the machine is where fusion occurs, which is the same nuclear process as happens in the sun – hydrogen fusing to become helium
which releases a very great deal of heat. The picture shows the inside of the machine and part of it shows a ‘plasma’ which is the very hot gas (looks pink) superimposed over the right hand side of the picture. Usually the inside of the vessel is pumped out to be a very high quality vacuum inside the machine.
I work on the ITER machine design being built in France at Cadarache near Marseille. The machine is bigger than JET (again see a man in the base – rather “Where’s Wally?”)
and the heating equipment that I work on is shown in the following picture.
The very little chap at the right hand end gives an idea of just how enormous this device is.
Sometimes we have to design other equipment. Here is a crane which will be in the roof of the ITER assembly hall that can lift 1500 tons.
The multi-wheeled truck can take the very large components from the port of Marseille to the ITER site. It can carry 900 tons at walking pace, which is just as well as the driver has to walk along side it!
The roads were widened and strengthened and this shows an artist impression of what the truck will look like moving one of the heavy loads.