VernaPeople - Meet Nathan Shields

In this instalment of VernaPeople, we introduce you to Nathan Shields. If you haven't already met him, now is your chance!

What is your job here at Vernacare and how did you get to where you are now?

I am a New Product Development Engineer, responsible for research, new product design and testing at our Bolton site, where we manufacture all our medical pulp products and hospital macerators. In addition to working on new products, I also offer a supporting role for other departments within the business, such as assembly and production. This includes general technical support, generating visual instructions and creating realistic renders of our designs.

Prior to starting at Vernacare, I worked as a laborer at a sheet metal company, where I was first introduced to and became interested in engineering. I went on to study mathematics and physics at college before attaining a degree in mechanical engineering at University.

 

How long have you been at Vernacare and what has changed in that time?

I have only been at Vernacare for 5 years but the company has grown significantly in that time, both physically and commercially. The company nearly doubled in size following the acquisition of Synergy Health Healthcare Consumable Solutions at the end of 2017 and we have continued to grow on a global scale. I can’t help but be excited by what the future holds for us as a company based on everything that has happened so far!

 

What is a typical day like for you?

One of the great things about my job is that there is no typical day! Most weeks include some Computer Aided Design (CAD) modelling, experimentation and prototyping. I also generate most of the technical communication for our team, but the variety as a designer is endless, you just never know what is around the corner!

 

What is your favorite part of the role and what are the challenges?

It’s such a fun and creative job and something I am really passionate about. I love being part of a close team and tackling designs in new and novel ways. In a recent design project, we realised we would have to make multiple iterations of the same part to test if the design was effective. This was clearly impractical and costly so rather than spending months buying and testing prototypes we purchased a 3D printer and had them done in no time at a fraction of the cost.

The most challenging aspect of the job is dealing with technical issues which have no clear cause. Diagnosing these can often take a lot of time and effort but finding solutions to complicated problems is what engineering is all about. 

 

What is your favorite part of the role and what are the challenges?

It’s such a fun and creative job and something I am really passionate about. I love being part of a close team and tackling designs in new and novel ways. In a recent design project, we realised we would have to make multiple iterations of the same part to test if the design was effective. This was clearly impractical and costly so rather than spending months buying and testing prototypes we purchased a 3D printer and had them done in no time at a fraction of the cost.

The most challenging aspect of the job is dealing with technical issues which have no clear cause. Diagnosing these can often take a lot of time and effort but finding solutions to complicated problems is what engineering is all about. 

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I can’t help but be excited by what the future holds for us as a company based on everything that has happened so far!

What has been your biggest achievement so far within this role?

My biggest achievement would have to be being involved in developing the Compact macerator, our new slimline hospital macerator, perfect for smaller sluice rooms. The project started around the same time I joined Vernacare, so it was the first product I ever worked on. I learned so much from my colleagues about the design process and seeing it finished in our lab after all our hard work was a great feeling. Now these macerators are being sold worldwide and making a difference to healthcare environments.

 

What values and skills are most important for success in your role?

I think to be a design engineer you have to be tenacious. It is rare that things are right the first time you try them, so you have to be prepared to try and try again until you achieve the best results.

It is also important to be willing to learn new things; technology is constantly evolving and it is important to ensure that we are optimising this effectively to tackle challenges in innovative ways.

 

What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?

I have 3 (soon to be 4!) young children, so most of my free time is spent being a dad and entertaining them, which is great. On the rare occasions that I do get a free moment, I like to play electronic instruments and own a few sound synthesizers.

 

What would you be doing if you weren’t an engineer?

When I was young, I shared my dad’s love of Sci-Fi films and wanted to be an astronaut. As I grew up I developed an interest in teaching, at university I was the course representative for mechanics and ran study sessions for my peers. I was also involved in a STEM mentoring scheme, which let me help new starters learn the fundamental math skills needed for their subjects. A friend of mine suggested I look into teaching because I was enjoying it so much and I seriously considered it for a while.

 

Lets get personal! Tell us something we don’t know about you.

I spent 6 years working as a care assistant at an Elderly Mentally Infirm (EMI) care home during my studies. The job was challenging at times but very rewarding. Even 5 years on I still miss the residents and their families. Little did I know at the time that I would end up designing products for the healthcare industry!