Barriers in engineering and automation

Sorria Douglas joined L.A.C. Conveyors & Automation in July 2019 as a Junior Mechanical Design Engineer in the Automation division and graduated from the University of Derby. In this interview, Sorria explains how she got into engineering and automation, what her role consists of, why the entrance barriers in engineering and automation are not as difficult as they seem, and why more women should consider it as a career.

How I Got Into The Engineering Industry

After discovering mechanical engineering from my research during my time at college, I instantly knew that this was something I wanted to do. I loved how varied the university courses sounded; I’d get to learn about things like thermodynamics, thermal fluids, and machine design. I also liked the fact it was rooted in maths and science, which is something I’d always enjoyed since school.

My first lecture at The University of Derby was relatively daunting as I didn’t initially see any other females. This led me to wonder if I was the only one on the four-year course, but it turns out there were five of us in total. While this might have been a concern to other people, it was not a deterrent for me. We instantly gelled and are still friends to this day!

Throughout my degree, I enjoyed the problem-solving element and how the course challenged me; it was exciting to work through a variety of situations and discover the most effective solutions.

In my last year, I decided to specialise in mechanical design that focused on 3D and 2D modelling machinery allowing for better visualisation of features and components of an overall build. 

I was so happy when I received 88% in my dissertation (which involved designing and developing a novel wind turbine that could be used in a rural village) and was awarded a First Class Honours for my degree overall. It really cemented the fact I’d chosen the right career path. 

What My Day-to-day Looks Like 

I have a lot to learn but every day I’m learning something new, and I’m excited about my future here at L.A.C. During my day-to-day role, I am usually designing components for client projects, which I was put on straight away.

It’s great to be within an organisation at a time where they are growing so quick. It was definitely an eye-opener to give my opinion and expertise to real-time projects and then see the designs I was making materialise into tangible goods and see how the part I designed was being used for other businesses

I loved having the extra responsibility, though it was somewhat nerve-wracking. I also ensure the designs are sent to the manufacturer and oversee the assembly of the projects being built. 

Working for such an innovative company provides a wide range of learning and progression opportunities (and equal opportunities for men and women).

One thing I find really exciting about L.A.C. Conveyors and Automation is the work it does in the AI and robotics industry, which is a hot topic at the moment. The diversity of the work also provides me with the opportunity to expand my engineering knowledge to include electronics and control engineering.

barriers in engineering and automation

What To Do If You’re Interested in the STEM Sector? 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They are all great subjects that can lead to interesting career paths even though they might be a bit tricky at times. I’ve always been aware it’s a male-orientated industry but I would say to all women aspiring to have careers within this sector to not let that information put you off.

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to be involved in the engineering industry. Every skill learnt is valuable and there’s a constant demand for fresh minds to keep developing ideas. The entrance barriers to engineering and automation shouldn’t be affected by whether you’re a male or female or depend on how male orientated the industry currently is. 

The issue with women in engineering (or lack of) seems to be a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Women need someone who they can look up to in the industry, but in many places that don’t exist.

I think if we educated children more on STEM in primary and secondary school, you’d see an increase of females going into the industry. It’s great to have this article written as an example and I’m occasionally made aware of how few women are in engineering and why it’s an exciting time for them to get involved. 

As mentioned, I didn’t even know what mechanical engineering was until I finished my GCSEs! At school, woodwork and bricklaying were offered, but from my experience, it was always boys on those courses, which I understand can put girls off.

There’s so much that you’re able to do with an engineering degree. If you’re into science, technology, maths, are constantly curious about how things work and love to be challenged, then engineering could be for you.

Not only this, but it allows you to create a real-life difference from coming up with solutions. I’ve never felt out of place or treated inferior to my male colleagues throughout my engineering journey and I love being able to say that. 

The industry itself is starting to make progress, but it’s slow. I recently spoke at a women in engineering event, for children aged 12+, and was asked a lot of questions about gender diversity in the industry and how I felt about it. It was so nice being able to respond, honestly, that I’ve never once felt out of place or treated differently by my male colleagues.

About L.A.C. Conveyors & Automation

Who we are: Founded in 1992, L.A.C. Conveyors & Automation are a leading UK supplier who’ve been successfully supplying conveyor systems, belt conveyors, roller conveyors, automation, and robotic solutions to the UK’s blue-chip industry. Located in Bulwell, Nottingham, L.A.C. are known for their outstanding customer service, continual support, flexibility, and bespoke service. With a full in-house service team, and an engineering team who’ve worked together over 20 years, L.A.C. covers all aspects of control system design, build and associated software, and ongoing support.

What we do: L.A.C. has a wealth of experience supplying conveyor systems and robotic solutions to a range of industries including automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, heavy engineering, and logistics. L.A.C. design, assemble, incorporate testing, and deliver with training and after-sales support for a smooth handover. With an in-house mechanical design team, project managers, and engineers, all the builds are undertaken on the five-unit 60,000 sq. ft premises.

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