British Science Week, which in 2021 takes place from 8th to 13th March, celebrates the broad range of jobs and careers available in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) industries and promotes STEM to younger generations by providing activity packs and school projects. While children learn the core sciences, like biology, chemistry and physics as part of the curriculum, many are yet to understand how to apply the knowledge to real life situations.
To support British Science Week, Harjinder Randhawa, Laboratory Supervisor at Finning UK & Ireland, discusses his lesser known, but important, role in fluid analysis.
While the typical picture of the construction industry is of operators in hard-hats at work on the job site, a lot of science and engineering goes on behind the scenes. Similarly, the traditional picture of a laboratory - white lab coats, goggles and test tubes - is not always the reality, a large amount of research and data analysis will take place outside of the lab environment. My role ties together the two - monitoring the condition of construction equipment using laboratory techniques. The aim is to reduce wear and tear on equipment and avoid unexpected repair costs.
Condition monitoring facilities, like Finning’s fluid analysis lab in Leeds, test oil and other fluids from vehicles ranging from excavators and buses, to lifeboats and racing cars. These laboratories carry out techniques including particle count, particle quantification, Gas Chromatography (GC) and analysis of trace metals, to monitor the condition of the fluid and the equipment it was taken from and report back to the customer, while suggesting proactive steps to take to optimise the life of both.
Though condition monitoring labs usually only test the oil and report the data to customers, employing lab technicians and diagnosticians who have science and engineering backgrounds can give a more comprehensive picture to the customer. Diagnosticians can point out specific issues with the equipment, such as a faulty bearing, and explain the different levels of severity to the customer, rather than making them decipher the data themselves.
Equipped with a strong understanding of fluid and equipment condition, construction businesses can plan in proactive maintenance to prevent costly breakdowns. Consider this example. An excavator in a quarry has not had its oil regularly checked and a buildup of residue has caused the engine to fail 70 metres underground. The breakdown causes unexpected downtime and reduces the productivity of the workforce, as additional workers and equipment are needed to help pull it to the surface and take it off site to be fixed. Regular oil sampling will help identify any faults that need addressing and allow the site manager to fix them proactively, saving time and money.
Lab technicians and diagnosticians who carry out fluid analysis have a varied and vital role in keeping the construction industry running. British Science Week is a great event for busting the stereotypes of STEM careers, sharing the behind the scenes of different industries and encouraging young people to consider STEM in the future. Chemistry skills learnt in school can easily be transferred into a lab technician role, and I hope future generations will consider it as a possible career choice.
If you or someone close to you might enjoy a career in fluid analysis, apply for the newly launched Laboratory Technician Degree Apprenticeship programme here.