Mark McGrady - Technical and Quality Engineer - DuPont Teijin Films
Issued: Thu, 06 Aug 2020 00:00:00 BST
Tell us a fun fact about yourself
I am a fully qualified football referee, mainly covering grassroots and local amateur league fixtures. I’d love to aspire to higher levels, but probably need to put a bit more effort into training!
Tell us about your career journey so far
After completing my degree and PhD in Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde, I held a short-term research position there before becoming a Teaching Fellow in the Physical Chemistry laboratories. I loved the job, as I’ve always been interested in teaching, but unfortunately, I was covering for someone on Maternity Leave so when they returned, I had to relinquish the role.
From there, and owing to the recession, I ended up in a temporary position as a Laboratory Technician on a defueling Nuclear Power Plant. My role was fairly straightforward – conducting chemical analysis such as pH and total suspended solids (TSS) on environmental samples. As the role was temporary, I was always on the look out for something else and towards the end of my time there, I was lucky to come across my current company, DuPont Teijin Films, looking for someone to join the New Product Development Team.
I spent just shy of 8 years in the team, helping to develop new polyester films for use in various markets, including solar cells and printing labels. I also became one of the site leaders for chemical safety assessments and I am a Radiological Protection Supervisor, helping to maintain records of our radioactive sources on-site.
As of April 2019, I moved across the road (literally) to our on-site polymer production plant, where I am a Technical and Quality Engineer. This dual role means that I assist the technical manager in the development of new grades of polyester film, from creating new recipes to predicting its behaviour when filmed; and also act as the Quality leader for the plant, where I am responsible for 3 laboratories and ~20 separate pieces of equipment.
What was your favourite subject in school and why?
It would have to be Chemistry. I enjoyed Maths, Physics and Chemistry equally going into my final year at high school, but my final year chemistry teacher was what sold me on it. He had such a passion for the subject and made what felt like some complicated concepts seem quite straightforward. I also liked the hands-on aspect (compared to Maths), running experiments and watching for an output.
What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?
Chemistry primarily. However, a good grounding in Maths is useful, and ideally some understanding of some basic engineering concepts is good. Finally, English is a very essential component – there is no point being able to do everything if you can’t communicate to people from a variety of backgrounds what it all means.
What is a normal day in your role like?
I get into the office and check my emails first thing – it gives me an idea of any issues there are on the plant or, more importantly, the lab which either require my input or which I could help provide assistance with. From there – it’s no 2 days the same. I spend a lot of time at my computer, writing up documents, analysis reports, crunching data, etc. However, I also get a chance at times to conduct what I affectionately refer to as bucket chemistry – large scale production (i.e. >3 tonnes) of slurries which can be used to produce new properties in polymer. I also sometimes have to get my hands dirty and conduct some basic repairs of laboratory equipment.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love that my job is so diverse – in addition to the dual role that I officially have, and as mentioned above, I also work in chemical safety on the site and radiological protection. The company are also very good at developing their workforce, so I have been fortunate to attend many training courses on a variety of subjects.
Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
This is from my film line days, but ties into my quality role. Find a roll of black bin bags in your house and separate one. If you can, hold it up in front of your face at the sun or another high intensity light source. Depending on the manufacturer, you may see a zebra-stripe like pattern on the surface of the bags. These are die lines, caused by small deposits of polymer hardening during extrusion and altering the flow of the molten material. It doesn’t sound like much of a defect, particularly on bin liners, and the test is fairly rudimental, but some customers would be very upset to see their film like this and would complain. In addition, I also remember seeing a true crime series once where the pattern of such die lines allowed prosecutors to compare bin bags at a scene with those of the suspect, and ultimately helped to prosecute him – such patterns are random and, therefore, unique.
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