It was while attending a Humberside Engineering Training Association open day in 2015 that Joe Boyd discovered Saint-Gobain Glass UK. He was investigating apprenticeship opportunities in engineering, in the belief that this path would provide more focused training/education than a full-time university degree course. “The role of Control and Instrumentation Engineer suited me well, as it required a good understanding of maths and science” Joe explains. “I also discovered that this apprenticeship would allow me to continue my education up to at least HND level, while being able to earn a monthly wage.”
Born and raised in the Lincolnshire coastal town of Grimsby, 21 year old Joe Boyd completed A levels in maths, chemistry and Spanish at Tollbar Academy in 2016. At this pivotal point, the opportunity to join one of the world’s leading flat glass manufacturers as an engineering apprentice at the company’s Eggborough site, less than 60 miles from home, matched many of Joe’s career preferences.
Specialising in the production of float, coated and laminated glass materials, the Eggborough plant between Knottingley and Goole provides employment for more than 200 people and is highly valued within the global Saint-Gobain organisation. The site has been operational for 20 years, features a 600 tonnes/day float line and employs a multi-skilled approach to personnel training, providing guidance to employees in a number of different ways.
Joe Boyd is the second engineering apprentice from the site to receive Glass Focus Award recognition from British Glass, following in the steps of former electrical maintenance apprentice Samantha Coolledge, who won the accolade in 2017. “Traditionally, we have always taken on two or three apprentices per year in the electrical, control and instrumentation fields but latterly, our programme has been extended to an additional two or three apprentices annually, ultimately to work in production” Steve Severs, Managing Director of Saint-Gobain Glass UK explained in a previous interview with Glass Worldwide. “We recognise we would rather have home grown, tested and ready people to add to the workforce when needed. Our desire is to support young people in our local area by providing high quality vocational training programmes and ultimately, employment opportunities to prepare the next generation of glassmakers.”
During his apprenticeship at Eggborough, Joe Boyd has worked on all three production lines on a series of automation investigations, adaptations and new capability designs. Working closely with the Industry 4.0 team, his value to the company has already been demonstrated, via the implementation of various money saving programmes. “Saint-Gobain has taught me a wide range of practical knowledge that is required for industry” he says. “I have learnt how to change and create programmes on various PLCs, diagnose faults in electrical circuits and much more.”
Joe’s current duties are associated primarily with engineering work at the coater and laminating line, including PLC alteration and instrument replacement, as well as installation and electrical fault diagnosis. In addition, he carries out annual ISO calibrations throughout the site and as a member of the site’s Industry 4.0 team, is often involved in associated engineering projects.
“The most rewarding aspect of the job is seeing the completion of a project I have undertaken and creating solutions that benefit the site” he confirms. “It has been a great sense of achievement to complete many of the Industry 4.0 jobs and I am glad to be a part of the Industry 4.0 team. This enables me to learn even more new skills that I would not have learnt under normal circumstances.”
One project that really stands out for the 21 year old engineer involves a washing machine Industry 4.0 improvement. “It was my responsibility to order parts, deal with contractors and carry out installation in a timely manner during a coater shutdown” he recalls. “This installation has now become a part of the monitoring system that I am developing with the engineering team, which will feed back information to operators when machinery problems arise.”
And among his greatest challenges was overcoming the problems faced while working at the Saint-Gobain factory in Dabrowa, Poland during glass testing. “I had to quickly develop an understanding of the Yokogawa operating system so that I could edit this accordingly, as well as make changes in the field under pressure and alongside a large, multi-lingual team.”
Next year, Joe Boyd will continue his further education by studying for an HND qualification in electrical engineering, following on from his HNC and level 3 NVQ in control and instrumentation engineering. “I now feel very confident when performing practical tasks at work and would consider myself a safe and competent worker.”
Control and Instrument Engineer Chris Neadley is acknowledged for providing essential practical knowledge throughout the duration of the apprenticeship, pushing for Joe to become involved in the coating line automation project, as well as supporting his responsibility for upgrading machinery and leading Industry 4.0 projects onsite. “I’m also grateful to Michael Dickinson, who arranged for me to be a member of the glass test team in Dabrowa, Poland, where I gained valuable knowledge of the hot end and was able to experience a full furnace rebuild.”
Engineering focus reinforced
Understandably, being named Apprentice of the Year as part of last year’s Glass Focus Awards, is the highlight of Joe Boyd’s career to date. “It has boosted my confidence greatly but even more importantly, the apprenticeship scheme has determined my future career in engineering. I would definitely recommend others to follow the apprenticeship route into the glass industry” he adds. “It teaches invaluable key skills that are essential for technical work in industry.”
Having been through the process himself so recently, Joe is unlikely to recommend many changes to the structure of the apprenticeship programme to benefit apprentices and sponsoring companies in the future. However, the amount of project reports, NVQ questions and HNC reports that had to be written at any given time throughout the apprenticeship did prove challenging. “I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be hard work but I think the process of project reporting and NVQ general knowledge questions could be restructured or streamlined in some way” he suggests. “An apprentice journal could be a good alternative for tracking progress.”
Victoria Adams, Communications Manager at British Glass, describes Joe Boyd as a worthy winner of the Apprentice of the Year accolade in 2019 and a great prospect for the future of the glass industry. “At Saint-Gobain UK, he has developed the skills to work in a world of big data and smart factories that will see him thrive in the future” she said. “He impressed with work which includes working on international projects in and outside Europe, as well as being trusted to implement a £20,000 project from start to finish. The judges were very impressed.
“It’s no secret that the glass industry is made up of a predominately older workforce – apprenticeships are a great way to attract young talent into a manufacturing environment that is also looking to embrace new technologies” she added. “The glass industry offers a range of opportunities for apprentices from roles in sustainability and finance right through to manufacturing and engineering.”
This year, British Glass is opening up the Apprentice of the Year award to include those on wider programmes within the workplace and instead, will recognise a Rising Star under the age of 30 in the industry. “There is a lot of young talent set to become the future leaders in our industry and it is important we recognise both their achievements and the business supporting them” Ms Adams confirmed.
Current sponsor of the award, The Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London has a long history of supporting education in the UK glass manufacturing sector. The organisation has sponsored the award since 2011, when it was called Best Apprentice of the Year, before British Glass renamed it Apprentice of the Year in 2015.
According to Maria Chanmugam, Chairman of the Glass Committee and Master’s Assistant, like other manufacturing sectors, the glass industry has a skills gap. “Apprenticeship schemes are important because they benefit both the individual and the employer, offering an excellent career path for those who prefer a vocational to an academic route” she commented. “From an employer’s perspective, apprenticeships help to develop skills relevant to their organisation and create a well-qualified and productive workforce. Manufacturers like Saint-Gobain, Encirc, O-I and Pilkington offer excellent apprenticeship opportunities across a range of skills. If actively promoted, apprenticeships could hold the key to success and meeting demand for skills in the UK glass manufacturing industry.” Glass Sellers is also a partner of Glass Futures, which will include a focus on apprenticeships as part of its planned specialist training for the glass industry.
Confidence for the future
Having successfully completed his engineering apprenticeship at Saint-Gobain in recent weeks, Joe Boyd is looking towards his future glass industry career with confidence. “I hope that I can continue to be a member of the engineering team at Saint-Gobain and believe there are many more opportunities for me” he concludes. “I have witnessed many improvements in the few years that I have been with the company and look forward to working with Saint-Gobain Glass in the future.”