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Reflecting on 10 Weeks of Teaching a Class of Primary School Children About Engineering

Over the past few months, we have been following two SL Controls engineers as they delivered a STEAM educational initiative to a 5th class in Strandhill National School. The 10-week programme was devised by STEAM, an organisation that aims to inspire children about science, technology, engineering, the arts, and maths.

STEAM partners with companies like SL Controls to deliver the programme. The SL Controls engineers who took part were Fiona Chung and Philip Nicholson. At the end of the 10-week programme, we asked Fiona to reflect on her experience, starting with explaining what happened in the last lesson.

Fiona said: “I was sad the programme was finishing up, but the last day was really fantastic. The kids created and presented projects, and we were so proud of them. They were all cheering for each other, and they were enthusiastic about the projects they created. Each one of them got to present their own bit as well.”

The children had a choice of five challenges for the final project:

  • Drop an egg from height without it breaking
  • Create a paper table to hold as much weight as possible
  • Make a spaghetti bridge that could hold weight
  • Make a catapult out of rubber bands and lollipop sticks
  • Create a Play-Do robot circuit

Enthusiasm

Fiona said: “The children only had two hours to complete their project, so they did really well. When we gave them the choices, there was a clamouring to do the egg project. The team that did it tried a parachute at first but realised it wasn’t working as the egg was too heavy. They then made a contraption using a box with straws sticking out and cotton wool inside. The straws took most of the impact, so the contraption worked.

“That’s just one example, though – all the projects were excellent. The kids blew me away every time I was there as they are so smart and very creative. They come up with their own ideas and solutions, even though the materials are very limited. They would ask me questions, and they had loads of ideas that they weren’t afraid to try out. They were also competitive, but within the teams, they worked very well together.

“The children enjoyed the programme and got a lot out of it. I received good feedback from the school and from parents as well.”

Bringing the Magic Back

Fiona went on to explain what she got from the experience: “For me, I found the experience to be very rewarding. It brought the joy of engineering back. Sometimes in day-to-day engineering work, you lose sight of the magic of engineering principles. This experience brought that magic back for me, and I would definitely welcome the opportunity to do it again.”

Philip Nicholson said the enthusiasm from the children was infectious: “This experience has shown me just how much we could achieve by offering children in primary schools more opportunities to learn about engineering. They loved each of the topics and the final project, and they learned along the way.

“What was also rewarding for me was seeing them think outside the box to solve problems and overcome challenges. The whole experience was rewarding, in fact, and I would recommend it to anyone.”

Shauna Ryan, Director of People and Culture at SL Controls, and Deirdre Loughlin, Quality & Marketing Executive, both attended the final lesson to watch the children present their projects.

Deirdre said: “I thought it was brilliant and the projects were brilliant. Each child had a chance to speak, and they spoke so well to describe their projects. The kids were buzzing.”

Shauna said: “What struck me was the fact the children were so confident and respectful. They showed great teamwork too. Even when one of them was struggling with the presentation, the boy next to him jumped in to help, not take over, but help.

“It was also obvious they had really engaged with the programme and had built a relationship with Philip and Fiona.

“It was great to see that Fiona and Philip got so much out of the experience as well.

“Developing an interest in engineering at all ages is something we are passionate about here at SL Controls, so we will absolutely be looking to get involved in similar initiatives again.”

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Meet the Team – Niall Malone

What do you do at SL Controls?

The easiest way to put it is if something is broken on a production line at a client facility, I try to fix it.

Most of the jobs we work on come from customers who are not happy with their current production processes, they want something improved on the line, or there is a new regulation that has to be met. Our job is to design the solution, code it, implement it, and make sure it works.

I am a Systems Engineer at SL Controls based in our office in Florida in the USA. I work with control systems on manufacturing lines in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors, which means I make sure they run as they are expected to run.

Describe your job without using the words engineer or engineering.

My job rolls into a lot of different areas. Some of the team at SL Controls are project-based, so they stick with a very defined project. I’m different as I am based at a client’s manufacturing facility as an extra resource within SL Controls’ area of expertise. I’m there from the time the line hits the ground in the installation and commissioning phases to when they are producing product on the line in scale-up manufacturing mode. I make sure the client I’m tasked to gets the support they need.

What made you want to build your career in engineering?

I originally studied to become a teacher, but after three years I decided teaching wasn’t for me. When I came out of college, I was looking at various options – I was teaching technical subjects at the time. I love figuring things out and thought if I can do that without being in a classroom environment, it would be ideal for me. I came out of it all with a Bachelors in technology.

I knew engineering was what I wanted to do with my career, so I went to my lecturer about doing a masters. I didn’t have the grades to get in, but I pleaded my case and promised to do the work.

On the Masters course, I met Shane Loughlin (SL Controls Co-Founder and Chief Digital Architect). Shane piqued my interest in equipment systems integration, and everything clicked. He took me under his wing, and I ended up with a job at SL Controls.

What is it about engineering that gives you the most satisfaction or that you are proudest of?

The biggest thing for me is solving problems and overcoming challenges. I could get a call that a production line is down. I then start to figure out the issue, going through a step-by-step process to identify the cause and find a solution. So, seeing something that isn’t working, finding the problem, and making it work. I was even like that when I was a kid working on Meccano sets.

It then goes further, too, because when I get deep into code, I often realise there are things that you could do to make the line and equipment work better. I get great satisfaction at that level of the process too.

What was your first day working at SL Controls like?

I had a funny first day at SL Controls compared to a normal first day starting a new job. It was the day a government minister came for the official opening of our office in Limerick. Even with all that happening, the first thing that struck me was it wasn’t your average office. The team in there – you could tell from the start that things were a bit different. There was no competitiveness. It was all about getting the job done and being supportive. Everyone has your back, and everyone is open to sharing knowledge.

I was taken under the wing by a senior colleague at the time who was teaching me the fundamentals of the company and what we do and helping me develop my soft skills.

So, the whole experience was a bit of an eye opener. I learned quickly that you can have a small company working environment, but you can still get the job done for major global customers in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors.

Is there anything about SL Controls that makes it stand out from working at other companies?

As well as the above, there have been two occasions where I have approached the company about a move to a new position. One I didn’t take, but then I approached about Jacksonville and made that move. Now I am in the US office in the new position.

Both times I approached the company about a new position, they were very receptive about what I wanted to do with my career. I think that’s different from other companies.

It’s always important to get a balance between what the company needs and what you want to achieve. But SL Controls is very receptive to your individual needs.

What advice would you give to people interested in joining SL Controls?

If you are thinking about applying to SL Controls but have questions, my advice is to meet someone from the company. You can hit them up on LinkedIn to have a discussion, and you might even get a referral.

I also have advice for anyone moving to the US office of SL Controls from Ireland. It is exciting for someone Irish coming over here. When you are doing a good job and you get settled, you will find there are lots of opportunities over here socially. In Florida, particularly, you’ll get invited to barbecues every other weekend. So, my advice is to get health insurance that covers sun cream, especially if you are a redhead like me. And join a gym, as you can balloon very quickly over here!

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Striving for Gender Equality on International Women in Engineering Day 2022

Today is International Women in Engineering Day, an annual event to celebrate women working in the field of engineering. It is also an opportunity to encourage more women to consider engineering as a career, as well as encouraging all stakeholders in the industry to do more to achieve gender equality. After all, engineering remains a heavily male-dominated sector, so there is work still to do.

To mark International Women in Engineering Day 2022, we thought we would highlight the experiences and viewpoints of some of our female engineers and employees, the initiatives we have been involved in to encourage the next generation of women to consider engineering as a career, and our commitment to promoting gender equality in the industry.

The Views of Some of the Women on Our Team

Isabel Batista, Validation Engineer

Isabel is originally from Portugal and moved to Ireland to become a Validation Engineer at SL Controls. Here’s what Isabel has to say about working as an engineer:

“We need to think about the project and the problem we need to solve, and we have to study to find a solution. That is the best thing about being an engineer – the strong industry demand for learning. We don’t stand still.”

Read more about Isabel’s views on engineering.

Fiona Chung, Validation Engineer

Fiona Chung knew from a young age that she didn’t want to follow the career paths traditionally laid out for women. She wanted to pursue her passion, and now she is a successful engineer on the SL Controls team. Here’s an example of how Fiona views engineering:

“…engineering to me is full of puzzles and there’s so much satisfaction when you finally get that click. The click of ‘Oh. I understand it, that’s how it works, I’ve solved a puzzle!’ That ‘ah-ha’ feeling is very addictive.”

Read more about what Fiona thinks about working as an engineer.

Shauna Ryan, HR Manager

Shauna Ryan isn’t an engineer, but she is responsible for recruitment at SL Controls. As a result, Shauna has a valuable and unique perspective on the challenges of achieving gender equality in an engineering workforce, as well as the opportunities that exist in the sector for women.

Learn more about Shauna’s experience working in HR for an engineering company.

Commitment to Gender Equality

Gender equality, diversity, and inclusion are core parts of our company strategy and the culture we strive to nurture. We have published a number of articles on these topics recently, including the following:

Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Engineers

SL Controls has been involved in an initiative over the past number of months to teach a class of primary school children about the principles of engineering and get them excited and interested in the topic through practical exercises.

Two engineers from the SL Controls team volunteered to teach the children – Fiona Chung and Philip Nicholson. Here are their thoughts after the first lesson, as well as their reflections further into the initiative.

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Supporting Pride Month 2022 at SL Controls

Diversity and inclusion are central to everything we do at SL Controls, whether it is race, socio-economic background, religion, age, gender, or sexual orientation. Therefore, we fully support Pride Month here in Ireland and around the world.

Shauna Ryan, SL Controls HR Manager said: “We do a lot of work around diversity and inclusion at SL Controls, and we are committed as a company to continuous improvement in this area. This includes not only ensuring our team reflects society, but that we also play our part in encouraging groups that are underrepresented in our industry to consider our field of engineering as a career choice.

“In many respects, it is astonishing that our society needs an annual event like Pride Month, but the fact remains there is more that all of us can do, including in the workplace. At SL Controls, we are fully committed to further nurturing our positive and open company culture in a workplace where diversity and inclusion are the norm.”

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Meet the Team – Isabel Batista

What do you do at SL Controls?

I am a Validation Engineer. I work alongside the software engineers at SL Controls on many different client software implementations and solutions.

As a Validation Engineer, I provide quality assurance and technical expertise. My role is to make sure the implementations and solutions that we develop at SL Controls are compliant with pharma industry-specific regulations.

In practical terms, I work on a team that provides documentation for the software engineers then we verify what they do.

Describe your job without using the words engineer or engineering.

My job is to create and review documents as part of the quality assurance process. The objective is to ensure software installations meet all regulations that apply to the pharmaceutical industry and our client’s requirements.

As a daily tool, I use a specific paperless program provided by the client as a portal for the creation and review of project documents, such as DDS (drug delivery system), FS (functional specification), and RTM (requirements traceability matrix).

What made you want to build your career in engineering?

I started as an architect but within six months in my first role, I found the job didn’t involve any physical interaction with products or services. I understood immediately that this was not what I wanted to do. So, I decided to return to college and start over with a post-graduate degree in mechanical engineering.

As an engineer, we can see things happen. We start with drawings before quickly moving on to manufacturing or building. In architecture, similar processes take a long time. The fact that engineering happens faster suits my personality more, so it was the biggest thing I wanted to change.

I was in Portugal at the time and when a job opportunity came up to work as a Validation Engineer in a manufacturing company, I immediately decide to go for it. Validation engineering is an area where I get to increase my knowledge on a daily basis, and I’m always looking for new solutions.

What is it about engineering that gives you the most satisfaction or that you are proudest of?

Clients with manufacturing sites are always looking to improve their production outcomes. They are looking for equipment upgrades and they are even replacing equipment for new and more capable models.

This means I need to improve all the time. At SL Controls, we continually look to increase our skillset so we can answer this demand for technological advancement.

We need to think about the project and the problem we need to solve, and we have to study to find a solution. That is the best thing about being an engineer – the strong industry demand for learning. We don’t stand still.

What was your first day working at SL Controls like?

My first day was during the pandemic, so I started working for SL Controls from my home country, Portugal. On the first day, I spoke with Norma and Shauna. Both were really friendly and welcoming, and they helped make our life easier moving to a new country. They still help with this.

We moved to Ireland in the middle of August 2021 and settled in Limerick. I wanted a new experience and I got this by moving to a new country. Ireland is a growth country and a good country to live in with really friendly people. It is a beautiful country too.

Is there anything about SL Controls that makes it stand out from working at other companies?

Sure. All the people are very warm and ready to support any professional questions I may have. The company looks after its people too. This is the opposite of what I experienced in my last job where we were treated like numbers. In SL Controls, people take care of each other. We are not just numbers.

What advice would you give to people interested in joining SL Controls?

My direct experience is moving from another country to work in Ireland for SL Controls, and it was a positive experience. So, I would tell people to apply as the company will give you a really good start in Ireland. And like I said previously, we are not just numbers doing a shift in SL Controls. We are treated like people.

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SL Controls Celebrates National Diversity and Inclusion Day 2022

Diversity and inclusion have never been more important in business, so we are proud to support IBEC’s National Diversity and Inclusion Day 2022.

At SL Controls, diversity and inclusion aren’t just for the 14th of June, however, as they are a central priority for our company and the growth strategy we are pursuing.

Norma Mulligan, HR Generalist at SL Controls, said: “Our employees come from a diverse range of backgrounds. For example, while we are an Irish company, there are multiple nationalities on our team.

“We celebrate and support this diversity as often as we can, including using the popular Inclusion Calendar from CIPD. This calendar highlights important dates each month as well as themes on the topic of inclusion.

“We try to do something each month based on the calendar. The Chinese New Year is an example, where we provided staff with information on the annual celebration as well as details on how to greet colleagues and others in Mandarin and Cantonese.

“These types of activities and initiatives are not directly related to the day-to-day services that we provide to customers, but they are important as we want to be as inclusive, welcoming, and supportive as possible to people from all backgrounds.”

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at SL Controls

Other diversity and inclusion initiatives that have taken place at SL Controls so far in 2022 include:

  • International Women’s Day – celebrating International Women’s Day in March and encouraging employees to show support for this year’s International Women’s Day theme, “break the bias”. As part of this, we updated the company’s Teams background to an International Women’s Day background, and we ran a colouring-in competition, where the children of employees coloured in pictures of powerful and inspirational women.
  • SL Controls Women’s Group – one of our female engineers set up a women’s group that meets up each month to provide a space for women to connect in what is a male-dominated sector. The group is only in its early stages, but there is strong enthusiasm and support for it so far.
  • Sustainable Development Goals – we published our Sustainable Development Goals at SL Controls earlier this year. One of the five goals is gender equality. Speaking at the time our Sustainable Development Goals were announced, SL Controls CEO Keith Moran said: “This is an area that all of us here at SL Controls are very passionate about. It is also important that a company like SL Controls steps up to the plate, especially in the sector we are in – engineering.”
  • Ramadan – ahead of Ramadan earlier this year, we published an informational article that was distributed to all staff. We also offered support for any SL Controls employees observing Ramadan.
  • Pride – our activities in June centre on the fact it is Pride month. Again, we have published an internal article covering the history of Pride and creating awareness. We have also updated the background we use in Teams, and we changed our logos on all social media channels with Pride colours to show our support for Pride month.
  • Women in Engineering Day – later this month, we will mark Women in Engineering day, celebrating the female engineers who work for SL Controls and further committing the company to continue the effort to encourage more women into the industry.

The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion

Shauna Ryan, HR Manager at SL Controls, said: “The senior management at SL Controls support diversity and inclusion on two fronts. First and foremost, it is the right thing to do. We want everyone on our team, regardless of background, gender, beliefs, nationality, race, age, or sexual orientation to achieve their full potential.

“Diversity and inclusion are also important to our business. SL Controls is a people business, where the collective knowledge of our staff enables the delivery of transformational and cutting-edge solutions to our clients. So, we need the best people to come and work for us at SL Controls, whoever they are and wherever they come from.

“Take gender equality, one of our Sustainable Development Goals, as an example. The engineering sector is heavily male-dominated, but we have managed to grow our female headcount in the past year, and we are fully committed to achieving a more gender-balanced workforce.

“At SL Controls, we wholeheartedly support IBEC’s National Diversity and Inclusion Day. We are on a journey ourselves with diversity and inclusion, and we would encourage all employers to do the same.”

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SL Controls Turns 20!

It’s our anniversary this month at SL Controls, and this year we turn 20! It’s a significant milestone that we celebrated recently across our various office locations.

Staff in the Maynooth office celebrating SL Controls 20th anniversary

Staff in the Sligo office celebrating SL Controls 20th anniversary

Staff in the Limerick office celebrating SL Controls 20th anniversary

Staff in the Galway office celebrating SL Controls 20th anniversary

Images: celebrating our 20-year anniversary at SL Control’s Irish offices – Maynooth, Sligo, Limerick, and Galway (playing Tekken!)

 

SL Controls was launched in Sligo in 2002 to “provide international consultancy, design and simulation services for industrial automation equipment and control systems worldwide”. Within our first years of operation, we provided advanced manufacturing solutions to companies in a range of industries, including what was at the time the largest pharmaceutical start-up in Europe.

SL Controls former company website and logo

Image: Former company logo and website

 

By 2007, we had grown from two employees to a team of over 20 that included automation engineers, validation engineers, commissioning engineers, and IT specialists. We also opened a new, 6,000 square foot facility in 2007 in Collooney, County Sligo.

In terms of customers and projects, we had established an international footprint by 2007, having completed projects in Ireland as well as in the US, UK, and Singapore.

We opened our Galway office in 2011 followed by offices in Dublin, Limerick, and, most recently, Florida in the United States.

Today, we have headcount of over 120 people who deliver systems integration and smart manufacturing solutions to manufacturers in the pharmaceuticals, medical device, and technology industries.

About SL Controls

 

Two Decades of Innovation

SL Controls CEO and Co-Founder, Keith Moran, said: “It’s amazing to see how we have grown as a company, and it’s a real testament to our team. Our focus from the earliest days was to help manufacturers move into the new digitalised era.

“One of our great strengths as a team has been our ability to pace our innovations with the requirements of the markets we serve, particularly in the life sciences sector. We have also been able to successfully and quickly react to changing market realities, whether that is the introduction of new technologies, responding to changing requirements of regulators, or dealing with the business realities of maintaining operations throughout the most difficult days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Along the way, we have also built fantastic relationships with customers, partners, officials in organisations like Enterprise Ireland, and others. I am thankful for those relationships and all the support we have had on our journey.

“Most importantly, I’d like to highlight the contribution of all SL Controls employees, both past and present, who have brought us to where we are on our journey today. Our unique selling point as a company is the knowledge and expertise we bring to projects. The commitment to quality, continuous development, and innovation of our team have been central to our achievements to date.”

Enhancing Skills Across Ireland and Beyond

Continuously improving skills in the industry has been another primary focus of the company. SL Controls Co-Founder and Chief Digital Architect, Shane Loughlin, identified a significant skills deficit, in Ireland and beyond, during his PhD research into the high-tech equipment procurement processes required for Industry 4.0.

In 2016, Shane, supported by SL Controls, founded the ESE Academy as a separate company to formulate an industry-led response. The objective of the ESE Academy is to address Industry 4.0 skills shortages, under the brand of E-Cubers, with a focus on equipment engineering excellence.

Since then, Shane has worked closely with the University of Limerick, SOLAS, and IT Sligo (now ATU) to define the skills required for digital transformation. This extensive work culminated in 2022 with the establishment and launch of an NFQ Level 9 national occupation of Equipment Systems Engineer.

Shane said: “The first cohort of Equipment Systems Engineers from SL Controls, Boston Scientific, and Ballina Beverages (Coca Cola) are expected to qualify in 2023. Their research as Equipment Systems Engineers is primarily focussed on implementing digital technologies at the equipment layer to facilitate digital transformation and the creation of new and improved digital business models.

“Our ESE researchers will present their work annually at the eEXPO. The 2022 eEXPO will be held in The CONFIRM Smart Manufacturing Centre in Limerick and it will be broadcast online to enable the sharing of key learnings across the global community.

“Proactively working with global partners such as ISPE, GAMP, OMAC, and PLC Open will enable us to diffuse and disseminate the best working practices and standards required to support key initiatives in the global life sciences industry, such as personalised medicine and supply chain transformation.

“Together we will continue enhancing people’s everyday lives.”

And What Does that Future Hold?

Last year, another significant milestone occurred on the SL Controls’ journey – our acquisition by Danish company NNIT.

Keith said: “This acquisition puts SL Controls in a strong position for the future. We have already seen the benefits of becoming part of the NNIT Group of companies. SL Controls has a skills and knowledge base that complement those in the rest of the group, and the partnership has helped us expand into new areas.

“So, I am excited about what we will achieve over the next 20 years.”

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Meet the Team – Declan Costello, SL Controls Project Manager

What do you do at SL Controls?

I’m now a Project Manager working with local and international clients to ensure the smooth rollout of projects across sites in Europe and the US.

This means having to reign in the different parties involved in the project, hosting multi-functional calls, and managing the different areas of expertise. Rightly, all stakeholders in the project want to fight for their corner, but everybody needs to get their job done to complete the project.

The reality is you can’t complete every process in a project immediately. I need to manage that and ensure everyone involved understands the process flow. For example, we can’t test a product until we have every facility installed, tested, and signed off – there is a flow to the process.

Describe your job without using the words engineer or engineering.

My job is to achieve project success, so I am involved in every stage of the process. This starts at the initial project scoping stage right to the final closeout of the handover meeting to the customer.

I assist in managing the communication process and I give technical input to everyone involved to ensure all requirements are met and we achieve the initial scope of the project.

What made you want to build your career in engineering?

I am from a farming background, so from an early age, I was always working on some sort of breakdown on a machine or piece of equipment.

I attended Dundalk & Athlone RTC before my degree where I then got into high volume inkjet manufacturing. This role involved the maintenance of highly technical equipment in a fast-moving and rapidly developing industry. It required me to work on the latest technology and deliver manufacturing solutions across the world.

I am still involved in providing technical input to projects as part of my Project Management role.

What is it about engineering that gives you the most satisfaction or that you are proudest of?

Engineering innovation and development never stop, so it is a great segment to be in and see where it will lead us. It affects all areas of our lives in different ways and is constantly evolving to the needs of our times.

Even the pandemic has us all now using technology differently than we were before, including to continue delivering on our work responsibilities.

A project I worked on during the Covid-19 lockdown period is a good example. It involved the installation of new lines for an international client, as well as the upgrading of existing lines. It was a challenge for all involved, but we completed it successfully.

What was your first day working at SL Controls like?

My first day was a long introduction to all policies and general aspects of SL Controls and the way the company functions. The HR team was excellent in delivering the induction and made the experience a fun and enjoyable process.

As this was back in January 2017, it was very different from the current world situation, so it was a personal process that was great. I also got to meet a lot of other employees that day and all are still involved in SL Controls.

Is there anything about SL Controls that makes it stand out from working at other companies?

SL Controls let you get on and just do your job. If additional assistance is required, you just reach out for it and the support will be there.

I have been on contract for five years with a multinational company, and once you get the project progressing successfully, they leave you to manage it with the vendor. Constant feedback is provided to SL Controls, the vendor, and me personally to ensure all parts are working to the required goal.

What advice would you give to people interested in joining SL Controls?

SL Controls is developing to meet new challenges in the industry. This means there are many opportunities to join what is a fast-moving environment – opportunities in engineering and management.

You can also develop your career to enhance your prospects and move with the times. There is a referral scheme in place, too, that makes the onboarding process as easy as possible.

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Inspiring the Next Generation to Love Engineering

“Where do we start, as there have been so many highlights over the last five weeks?”

That was Fiona Chung’s response when asked how the STEAM Engineering in a Box programme was going. The team and the children they are teaching have reached the halfway point of the programme.

STEAM is an organisation that works to inspire children about engineering as well as science, technology, arts, and maths. SL Controls signed up to lead a 10-week programme with a class of school children at Strandhill National School.

Two of our engineers volunteered to take part – Validation Engineer Fiona Chung and Systems Engineer Philip Nicholson. They lead a one-hour class every Friday on different engineering topics. Over the first five weeks of the programme, the children have learned many of the basic principles of engineering as they have taken part in activities that have included building bridges, boats, planes, and turbines.

“The activities are the best part,” said Fiona. “We go through the material, but the kids are already quite knowledgeable, and they are eager to answer what they know when we ask them questions. Then we get into the activities, and they are so excited. They are nearly fighting with each other to get started.

“After the activities, we have a recap, and that’s when I find they ask me questions. I think it’s because when you present to them, they are taking it all in. Then, at the end, they have the curiosity to find out how this relates to this, or this works with this.”

Philip said there is also a competitive streak between a lot of the children in the class. “It started in the first week,” Philip said, “when the groups were competing with each other to see which bridge could hold the most weight. Two weeks ago, we were making boats, and it became a competition about whose boat could hold the most without sinking.

“This activity is a good example of how it all works. We started by explaining to them how buoyancy works and Archimedes’ principle. Then the children split into groups to make boats, taking cardboard trays and waterproofing them, then using insulation foam to give the boats buoyancy.

“They were apprehensive at the start as to what they could put on their boat before it sank, but then they got more confident. The more load they could add to the boat, the more satisfaction they got from their creation.”

The biggest problem that Philip and Fiona face is having enough – enough materials or enough time, as the kids always want more. “What we’ve found is the children are very good at thinking outside the box with ideas for different materials or using items from previous weeks,” said Philip.

And getting everything done in the allotted hour? Sometimes they run into break or lunch, but Philip says it is the “quickest hour of my week”.

The competitive streak isn’t just between the children, either, as the SL Controls engineers also have their own little competition going on.

“I just want to throw it out there,” said Fiona, “I am the most popular engineer in class!”

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