James Mansell

James Mansell

University of Newcastle
Graduate Mechanical Engineer
James studied Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) (Hons) at University of Newcastle

What's your job about?

I’m in the second six-month rotation of the Downer Graduate Program, working in Rail - Freight Engineering. Part of the Rail division’s expertise is providing locomotive maintenance services to some of Australia’s major freight providers. Downer has numerous sites across Australia, but I’m mostly based out of Downer’s Cardiff  facility, with trips to other locations as required (as varied as Port Augusta to Sydney).

Part of Downer’s responsibility in providing maintenance services is the development of technical maintenance plans – basically what preventative maintenance tasks to do and when, with the goal of finding the optimal balance of reliabile performance, minimal maintenance and running cost, and availability for our customer to use their assets.

My current rotation has me developing and implementing the technical maintenance plan for two fleets, taking it them from development through to delivery. This rotation takes me entirely through the project process. I started by developing a project plan with timelines and the identification of key stakeholders, then developed a maintenance plan based on failure analysis, predictive models, product specifications, operating profile and contractual requirements. Again, it’s a balancing act to optimise the plan to achieve customer requirements.

Once this has been achieved, this plan is reviewed as a workshop with our senior fleet engineers. The plan is then presented to our customer as an engineering report for approval.

The plan is then implemented on our maintenance management system and rolled out across our sites. My job is to facilitate and perform those tasks from start to finish.

What's your background?

I grew up in the Lower Hunter area of NSW, and went to school and university in Newcastle. Through high school my favourite subjects were science and maths, and I chose to study engineering at uni because of this.

Prior to finishing uni I was offered and accepted a position in the Downer Graduate Program, within the Rail division. I chose to accept the position at Downer due to three main reasons:

Their commitment to development of graduates;
Rail industry prospects – there are several major projects across the country at the moment;
What I perceived (and found) to be a great workplace culture.

Upon accepting my position in the graduate program, Downer offered me part-time work from September 2015 until the full-time commencement of the program in February 2016.

My first rotation was in the technical publications team, working on improving and developing work instructions for freight rollingstock maintenance. This involved working with maintainers at our maintenance facilities to understand what information is important to them. I found this extremely valuable in developing subject matter knowledge, as it helped me understand exactly how our maintenance activities are done.

Since commencing the graduate program, I’ve also had the opportunity to work on the submission of a bid for a passenger fleet project – which although challenging, was very rewarding, and provided exposure to the passenger engineering space.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

My managers have made an effort to identify my strengths and weaknesses and place me in positions where I can develop professional skills whilst still contributing. With this in mind, I think any engineering graduate with a willingness to accept a challenge and continue learning could do my job.

There was a great deal to learn when I started (and much more left!), but people are generally very willing to share knowledge. I think three important attributes are: being interested and willing to learn, to be able to communicate effectively and build relationships, and to be able to solve problems.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

The best part of my job is Downer putting enough trust in my aptitude to allow me to manage the current projects I’m working on myself. Although at times this creates some challenges given that I’ve still got a lot to learn, the business has simply given me an objective, as well as the resources and support I need to achieve it.

This allows me to approach problems in ways that I see as being the best way, and allows me to utilise my strengths, as well as being truly engaged in the work I’m doing.

What are the limitations of your job?

Maintenance planning is about identifying patterns – the same thing over and over. “Business as usual” is good. This lends itself to getting repetitive and is the biggest limitation of my current role.

The enjoyment is there though, and a way to overcome this is by pushing for improvement – by looking at ways through iteration to improve a process, lower a cost, increase performance, etc.

If you like doing things by just following a set process, it can get reptetitive. If you look at maintenance as being about improvement, you can overcome this. That being said, that’s just this rotation!

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  1. Expand your network with other students! The paths of your classmates will diverge greatly into different industries. Once you finish, most of your interactions will be within the same industry.
  2. Aim to get experience as early in your degree as possible. It will help you understand why you’re learning certain things at uni.
  3. Have a healthy amount of focus on finishing uni while you’re there and take time to enjoy the lifestyle. I met some of my best friends at uni.