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Raising the Profile of Women in Engineering - An interview with Heather Perriman

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Raising the Profile of Women in Engineering

Meet Heather Perriman, Quality Inspector at Fine Tubes

Heather Perriman works as a Quality Inspector at Fine Tubes in Plymouth, UK. She is currently enhancing her skills around Ultrasonic (Non-Destructive) testing of the company’s precision metal tubing products as part of her operational role.

Heather talks about the satisfaction she gets from solving quality issues, and how increased opportunities for engineering field trips and internships could encourage more young women to consider following in her footsteps.

Q. Can you tell us about how you became a Quality Inspector at Fine Tubes and what your role entails?

My current role involves overseeing the entire production line to check that everything we produce meets our exacting standards of quality and performance. I check the tubes we manufacture using a process called ultrasonic testing, or non-destructive testing, and report back. We have high-speed, automated immersion ultrasonic testing machines that inspect the tubes that we produce with diameters from 4mm to 60mm. It’s a great process to ensure our tubing products comply with our quality standards.

When necessary, I also get involved with straightening, polishing and all sorts of other key areas, including ball blasting, to ensure that everything that leaves our tube mill is consistently the best quality they can possibly be.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love problem solving and working to find solutions myself as quickly as possible. There’s a real sense of self-achievement when you’ve seen a job through from start to finish and ironed out any issues along the way.

I also enjoy the variety of my work. Because I do so many different things and am involved in so many different areas, I turn up at the start of the day and find out what my tasks are and where I will be based. I can go to all kinds of different work centres or sections and that keeps my role fresh and interesting for me. I’m always learning something new and getting involved in different projects and processes.

Q. Have you always been interested in working in engineering?

Yes, engineering has always fascinated me, right from a young age when I would take my mother’s Hoover apart, just to see how it worked. My father is a car mechanic, and I was brought up around a garage and taught how to spray a car and all sorts. So, engineering has influenced and interested me my entire life. I’m also a bit of a ‘DIY-er’ and enjoy doing woodwork in my spare time. I’m a very hands-on person.

As I said before, I love learning new things. Right now, I’m doing a Level 2 training course in Ultrasonic Testing methods. The process is similar to when dolphins use sound to detect the shape and size of objects around them. Ultrasonic Testing involves the tubes passing through an underwater machine with probes to pick up things that the human eye can’t see, like minor defects. If the wall of the tube is not the right thickness, for example, the machine can pick that sort of issue up.

Q: What changes have there been to your work during COVID-19?

We maintain social distancing on the factory floor, sanitise a lot more, wear face masks, and wash our hands frequently to keep everyone as safe as we possibly can. Signage throughout the facility helps staff to stay two metres apart from each other.

We have separate ways in and out of the factory and undergo temperature checks when we arrive at work each day. If you are found to have a high temperature, you are sent home to isolate straight away.

Q. How can we encourage more women to consider a career in engineering?

I think there needs to be a better understanding about what kinds of jobs there are available in engineering. To educate young women more about opportunities while they are still at school or college. Maybe offer more field trips, internships or summer placements so they can come and get a feel for what engineers actually do. Either they’ll like it or they won’t, but they will have a much better idea of what is involved.

Q: Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give to a woman thinking of becoming an engineer?

My advice would be to be yourself, do the best you can and take no notice of what the guys might think, because women can do this job just as well as they can! It can still be harder for women to progress in engineering because we often have to prove ourselves many times over. But it is possible to enjoy a very successful career.

I get respect from the people I work with because I have worked hard to get to where I am and I don’t have to actively prove myself quite so much anymore. I just get on with doing my job to the best of my abilities.