Women in Engineering – Airedale’s Fiona Toseland
Date: 18th June 2015 | Posted by: Airedale Team | Posted in: Blog
Airedale Air Conditioning, Leeds, UK, June 18, 2015
To coincide with this year’s National Women in Engineering Day (23 June 2015) which aims to raise the profile and celebrate the achievements of women in engineering, Airedale’s Fiona Toseland, Project Manager (Special Projects) shares her passion for the business. Fiona has worked in the air conditioning industry for 25 years.
The following article was first published in the ACR Journal on 9 December 2014.
Q: Tell us about your background
I have a BEng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering, Strathclyde University – obtained in 1989. I am a Chartered Engineer, Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (CEng MIMechE).
I come from a very strong engineering background, my father, my husband and both my siblings are all engineering graduates. My siblings and I all studied at Strathclyde University as it was (and still is) a great university for engineering. My parents are from South Yorkshire but the family moved to Largs in Ayrshire in 1968 when I was 6 months old.
I graduated in 1989 and worked for Star Refrigeration until 1998; I then moved to Nottingham to work for another refrigeration company before relocating to South Wales in 2001 to work for Electrocatalytic (US Filters). I moved back to my South Yorkshire roots in 2009 after 41 years away.
What attracted you to the industry?
Having studied physics, chemistry, maths and further maths at school, I always had a keen interest in science which led to me to study for a mechanical engineering degree. The turning point came when my school received a visit from representatives of the recently formed WISE in my final year (1984).
My chosen areas of specialist study at university were fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. For my final year dissertation I undertook a research project in CFD (computational fluid dynamics) modelling. CFD analysis is one of the virtual engineering techniques applied by Airedale in the design of its cooling systems to maximise the use of internal space and ensure the heat exchange area is configured to achieve the optimum cooling capacity for a given footprint.
My background in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics, together with my final year project choice of CFD modelling, led to my tutor recommending me to Star Refrigeration who were looking to recruit two graduates from the ‘Milk Round’. I stayed at Star for ten years, gaining valuable experience.
What do you specialise in now? Or, what type of projects do you work on?
The Projects team at Airedale manages large-scale, complex telecoms installation and upgrade programmes for key accounts such as Telefonica, EE and Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Ltd, a joint venture between O2 and Vodafone, and Network Rail projects.
The team provides clients with an end-to-end solution which encompasses bespoke system design where necessary, with the objective of simplifying the specification, installation and commissioning process for customers.
What do you know now about the industry which you wished you had known before?
I quickly realised the importance of multi-tasking, good communication and recording information. At school and university you concentrate on one piece of work at a time and set your own study schedule. In business, at any one point in time you will be working with a large number of customers, all with their own priorities, in addition to numerous internal departments such as procurement, production, testing, shipping, installation and commissioning. You may also be liaising with external bodies like the Health & Safety Executive. You quickly learn to prioritise, be organised, communicate clearly, use tact and, above all, stay calm.
I also have quite substantial financial targets to meet so I also have to wear a business development hat as well as my project manager’s hard hat!
When I first started out in the industry I was the only female engineer in the business, and the only engineer with a degree, so you did have some hurdles to jump to prove yourself.
What excites/interests you about the industry and your part in it now?
It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of a business which plays a lead role in helping drive energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of end user clients in what is traditionally a relatively energy-intensive industry. Over the years this has seen Airedale pioneer many design innovations such as the concept of energy-saving concurrent free-cooling and, most recently, the integration of the latest HFO (hydrofluoroolefin) based low GWP refrigerant R1234ze within its chiller range well ahead of the impending phase-down of traditional refrigerants such as R410A and R134a.
You get chance to make a difference to people’s lives by improving the environments in which they live and work by helping to provide the right heating, cooling and air change conditions.
What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the Air Conditioning industry?
If you are interested in design and innovation it’s definitely the industry for you. You get the opportunity to use a variety of skillsets – from project management to ‘softer’ communication skills – as well as applying your engineering knowledge. This has even seen me designing and building a new free-cooling telecoms unit so you could say I’m involved in the process from start to finish.
You also get the chance to visit a large number of interesting sites and meet people from many different industry sectors – from food and beverages to house construction, ice rinks, hospitals and schools.
I am as passionate about the industry as when I first left university. I guess my nurturing instinct applies equally to my work as my family. I own each project with the same amount of tender loving care!
Where do you see your career developing?
There are still a limited number of women who choose to enter the industry but, if you know your subject and like to be challenged, it’s a very satisfying career route. Being so intrinsically linked to technology, it’s definitely an industry big enough to allow you to specialise in a particular sector such as healthcare or education without going down the more traditional routes like nursing or teaching.
What are the challenges of this industry?
The implications of getting it wrong mean that good planning, effective communication and keeping up-to-date are key. The devil really is in the detail - financial penalties arising from contractual failure could be very damaging and legal implications for breaches in health & safety potentially very serious indeed.
There can be a long chain of parties involved in any one project so maintaining quality and lead times whilst coordinating multiple disciplines also presents its headaches and means you absolutely must keep your eye on the ball.
What are the benefits of being in your role?
Constantly learning and developing, being challenged, being in control of your own working day, taking ownership. Opportunity to make a difference, finding ways to innovate and be creative. Travelling, visiting different sites, working with different people. Being a role model to your children and their friends.
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