Corinne Stuart matriculated in 2011 and studied for an MEng at University College. Corinne is a Senior Mechanical Engineer for Dyson, previously working on electric vehicles and now on personal care products and sustainability projects. We spoke to Corinne to find out more about her engineering career so far.
What excites you about engineering?
It’s the breadth of products I could work on, I could move to health care products, sports ware, home ware, aerospace or back to automotive in the future if I wanted. The skills are transferable so you can end up designing for many different people for different parts of their life.
What inspired you to take up Engineering?
"I am a maker and want to improve daily interactions and experiences"
I think my real calling is to design, I love the invention of objects and how the same thing can be designed in different ways. I am a maker and want to improve daily interactions and experiences. I was going to apply to do Product Design at university, however a physics teacher saw some potential in me and organised for me to have work experience at QinetiQ in Farnborough. Once I had seen the test facilities they worked with, anechoic chambers the size of stadiums for jet engines and wind tunnels for scale models, I realised that engineering would allow me to solve bigger problems and work more with exciting technology.
How did you get into your current job?
After university it took me a while to find a job, as I found it hard to find time to apply whilst doing my fourth year. Eventually I joined a small automotive consultancy, Randle, where we worked from first principles on lots of interesting projects including a flying car and a roadster that was to drive on the roads in India.
Whilst working there, I was headhunted by Dyson to join for the Electric Vehicle project. In that role, I worked on integration and mechanical design of the low voltage electronics. The project was unfortunately cancelled; however, I was redeployed within Dyson and now have a role as a Senior Mechanical Engineer in the Technology Development team for Personal Care. Our team works on the first principles and simulations to support product development, looking to fully understand the integration of technology in products, how to optimise and make them robust for owners.
Moving from working on electric vehicles to personal care products – what similarities / differences are there between the two?
I think at Dyson we are always trying to fit in as much technology as we can into our products. For both the car and our haircare machines, the package space to fit it all in within a design surface is a real challenge. The requirements of the air flow, electronics, structures, ergonomics, safety, motors can all be at odds; working how to make the best compromise requires collaboration and an understanding of all elements. This is where having a general engineering background has been incredibly useful.
For both projects, I have been surrounded with engineers who are looking to innovate and deliver the best product they can, Dyson attracts a lot of real talent.
"This is where having a general engineering background has been incredibly useful"
The main difference would be the size of the teams and the speed to deliver. Personal Care is an established category now for the business, so the teams working on a single product can be kept smaller than that for a car. We also work as a global company, so I have had the opportunity to work with our teams in South East Asia (SEA) as products transfer to them.
For the last year you had a Research Fellowship, which has now led to a secondment to the sustainability team. What is your research about?
I applied and was awarded an Industry Fellowship looking at the environmental impact of digital data as part of the South West Creative Technology Network. Looking at the users, devices, service providers, infrastructures their current and projected impacts. This has become a hot topic with the energy consumption of NFT and cryptocurrencies making headlines. Off the back of this work I now have a role one day per week looking at this internally for Dyson in our ways of working and design of connected devices.
I worked 4 days a week at Dyson and did the fellowship on my extra day. I did not see myself as someone who would continue in academia beyond my undergraduate degree, however doing my own research outside of work gave me some much-needed ownership of my outputs.
The fellowship attracted academics and creatives so I learnt a lot about different practices and outputs, how incorporate making into my research can help consolidate ideas. I now have a residency in a creative technology studio in Bristol to continue this aspect.
Would you like to work on more sustainability / environmental engineering in the future?
I am very passionate about sustainability and took the relevant unit at Oxford in my fourth year. I am enjoying my secondment to the sustainability team where that is the primary focus of my time.
In my main role as a mechanical engineer, I also apply myself to make the products more sustainable. Lean engineering with materials, looking for opportunities to save a few grams of plastic or metal, can have a big effect when the products are produced in their millions. In addition, by making the products more robust, so they don’t break when they are dropped, means they last longer. You don’t have to work in environmental engineering for your work to have a big impact.
What is an average day like for you?
I live in Bristol and work at the Malmesbury Campus in Wiltshire so get the Dyson Bus into work or drive in. I will get a coffee from one of the campus cafes and find a space to sit in the project area that I am currently working on. If I am working with our teams in SEA then I will have calls at 8am as they are finishing their days, we will share project updates, simulation and test results. Depending on what I am doing I could be in labs building rigs, testing, building simulations, writing documentation or drawing in my logbook. I am normally on one project at a time but that will include several different work packages.
We have quite a lot of outdoor space on campus, so if it’s nice I will eat lunch outside with my team. We clock off at 4.30pm which gives you time in the evening to do something once you get back home or there’s a gym at work which I sometimes use before driving back.
Tell us about your time at Oxford
I studied Engineering Science as an undergraduate at University College. It is easy now to look back with a golden glow on those years but, it was very hard work. My time at Oxford was hugely challenging, the speed of learning and pressure of being in a cohort of the most intelligent undergraduates in the world was daunting to me. I would have found it incredibly difficult if it hadn’t been for the support of my friends, family and course mates.
How has your degree helped you?
One thing that I am incredibly grateful for is the broad and thorough understanding of engineering we are given; this means I can understand problems quickly and help think of solutions. Even though I don’t work in electronics I understand shielding requirements or control systems which are required in our designs.
"One thing that I am incredibly grateful for is the broad and thorough understanding of engineering we are given"
It has also given me confidence that I can understand the more complicated problems by breaking it down to the fundamentals which we were grounded in. Still drawing my free body diagrams!
What are your visions for the future?
Over the next year or so I am planning on gaining my Chartership and having some accreditation for the simulations I am producing.
I am lucky that there is a lot of training available at Dyson and we are encouraged to diversify and upskill so as new projects come along there may be opportunities for me to try out something new. I have only been in this role for a year so am hoping to progress in role and to lead Dyson in engaging with their digital footprint.
Robots for a safer world