This weekend sees the 4th International Women in Engineering Day (INWED18) take place with events based around the world and online to recognise and celebrate women who work in engineering and to show girls thinking of becoming an engineer the amazing and varied career opportunities on offer within engineering.From aerospace to additive manufacturing, CAD is a vitally important tool for allowing designs to be shared and manufactured across multiple departments and multinational companies with ease. However data can sometimes be difficult to share as not everyone uses the same CAD packages or has the same requirements for their models. CADfix is a CAD translation, simplification, defeaturing and repair tool which is used in a wide range of engineering disciplines to allow the smooth transition of data from one package to another without the need for manual intervention.
CADfix itself is a powerful tool based on almost 40 years of development experience built by a diverse team of engineers. In the second of two profiles for #INWED18, I sat down with Amy to talk about engineering and what it means to her.
Amy Guyomard (CADfix Software Developer, Cambridge, UK)
Amy has been a software developer at ITI for 2 years working in the UK based CADfix team. Her focus is in aerospace and ensuring the geometry in CAD models coming from a given design system are ready for a different simulation system.
In brief, what do you do at ITI?
My job is to ensure that when somebody comes up with a computer design to make sure that it’s fit for purpose in some way. You might draw a plane in your CAD system and when you’re zoomed all the way out you can’t see the fact that there’s actually a 5mm gap between the wing and the fuselage, turns out when you manufacture you’ll care about that gap and you’ll want an airtight plane!
I work with models which contain issues that are difficult to identify and design algorithms which will robustly find and fix those problems. Along with robustness, my algorithms must be efficient, as engineers would like to have an automated tool that runs faster than them manually addressing these issues.
What is a typical day in the life of an engineer at ITI?
On a normal day I’ll have a big problem to solve, at the moment it’s matching and reparenting mesh to geometry. I won’t think about the problem in its entirety, but I’ll break down the problem into small sub problems and a day will be spent solving a sub problem, bearing in mind that it feeds back into the bigger picture.
Recently I did a little bit of work on projections, I spent a few hours brainstorming and then prototyping in code, and then if my solution works, fantastic, then I’ll try and optimise that code. If it doesn’t work, it’s back to the drawing board. You keep going until you get something that works, and then you test and release code. There are bits of my day where I’m thinking, bits of my day when I’m coding, and there are bits of my day when I’m actively discussing problems in engineering.
I think one of the things that’s a misconception about my job is that you can do it all in a vacuum, in so much as you can do it without talking to anyone. I very rarely subscribe to the great person theory of invention where it’s one person who has an idea and says “Aha! I have a perfectly worked out plan which I don’t need to run by anyone”. Theoretically that’s possible, but I don’t think many people want to work on their own completely and need a team to bounce ideas off of and occasionally ask “Do you think this plan will work?”
How did you get into engineering?
I come from a small island called Jersey which is renowned for two things: 1) Its cows, 2) It is a high finance centre. In all honesty when I was in secondary school I didn’t realise engineering was something I could pursue. Much like all 16 year olds who want to do mathematics, I thought the only avenue for me was to become a teacher or, coming from a financial centre such a Jersey, I thought I was going to go into high frequency trading.
At 17, I told my parents I wanted to apply to Oxford or Cambridge to do mathematics. My Dad said “If you’re good enough to study there you’re good enough to apply anywhere in the world.” I chose to apply and got accepted to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in MA, US. It was my first real exposure to a whole bunch of engineers and a whole bunch of people who were really interested in STEM and using science and technology to solve problems.
It was whilst I was at MIT I discovered my two favourite areas of mathematics: Computational Fluid Dynamics and Approximation Theory. In brief you take a computer, computers are inherently discrete and make it deal with something that is continuous. This is a very interesting problem to me, and I think it’s the problem that’s at the heart of why I love what I do.
What do you love about Engineering?
Open ended questions like “discuss this poem” are normal in subjects like English or History, but in mathematics or science, you rarely get asked “here’s a problem, what is the best way to solve it?”.
People don’t understand how creatively free your job can be when you’re in engineering. You’re given a problem, and no-one has a good idea of how to solve it. We know there’s probably an optimal way, but we’re not expecting to find it. We want something that’s good, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Also, for me, it’s creative but there are metrics. When you paint a picture, it’s very subjective whether it’s a good painting or not. However, in engineering you have an objective which you either achieve or you don’t. It’s the creative problem-solving process that I enjoy.
Is there one project you're particularly proud of working on whilst at ITI?
I’m proud of my mesh matching code. Basically, you take a mesh that was made from geometry and label the nodes with which bit of the geometry they are on. It’s useful in two places; firstly, historically no-one wanted to parent their meshes because it took up extra space which wasn’t available, so this information was thrown away. Now they’re coming back to needing this information or they’re using mesh generators which don’t have this information, so when you take your boundary conditions from your geometry and wish to apply it to the mesh it’s difficult to clearly identify which condition applies to which part of the mesh. Secondly, this mesh parency process is used in CADfix’s morphing tool. In this case, the information already exists on the mesh but we don’t know where to apply those displacements on the geometry because we don’t know which parts of the mesh match to which parts of the CAD geometry.
People have genuinely told me that because they didn’t have good matchers, or there were no matchers available on the market, they would remake the mesh and save the parency at that time rather than just reparenting the mesh they have, which is just ludicrous!
On the surface, it seems like matching is a simple thing to do, and people think it’s easy. In reality, it’s a difficult thing to do quickly and minimising errors in the choices your code makes, and I’m proud of my code for the matching accuracy and speed it takes to complete a match.
How can industry do more to raise the bar to improve diversity in engineering?
At 17 if you tell someone you want to go and do say a history degree and you have 3 C’s at A-level no-one goes “you’re not good enough” they probably say, “you can go to University and study that”. In my experience, if you have 3 C’s and you want to go and do engineering at University, you’re met with a “no you shouldn’t”. The women who I work with and know socially in engineering were top of their class and were determined to go and succeed in engineering or tech. They were the stubborn ones who were always going to do it regardless of what people told them. The people who are wavering and maybe considering it are told “no it’s too hard” or “no it’s a big risk” or “no it’s not for women” and that shouldn’t be the case.
If we want equality in our industry we need to encourage people from all backgrounds and abilities who show a passion for engineering to try it. And being average and passionate is OK, perfection isn’t mandatory.
I think we could also provide better access and exposure to engineering disciplines at a younger age. I didn’t learn to program until I got to University and the school I came from still doesn’t offer a Computer Science A-Level or even IT (if you want to study that you have to go to the Boy’s School). It’s about having access and not having to fight to obtain that access to study the subjects you want to do at school. Things like Coder Dojo’s are fantastic and giving kids access to coding, but more should be done in schools to highlight what’s available beyond school.
#INWED18 is on the 23rd of June. Have a look at the INWED18 website and find out how you can help to encourage women and girls to get into engineering.