What is it like to be a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at KAON?
Kristaps (Kris) Erglis is a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at KAON. Kris who began his engineering career in his home country of Latvia before moving to Ireland, first worked for a company that made machines for the food processing and packaging industry before joining KAON in 2018. We asked him about life as a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at KAON:
“The culture at KAON is different. The two co-founders, Garreth Finlay and Fergus Hynes, are hands-on engineers. It’s a very different dynamic to what I was used to before, and it makes for a very different work environment. The owners here actively participate in everything we do. Previously, I was used to a very clear management hierarchy – a management that you didn’t really interact with much. For me, this is definitely better because you see the direction that they want to go in and you see how hard they are working to make things progress. There is a connection between us, and you adopt the same mentality.”
“Work is never monotonous here. It’s not the same thing over and over again. I’ve designed machines for catheters, machines that make caps, syringes, ink cartridges and machines for consumer goods products and automotive products. I work with different types of circuits, with electromechanical solutions, with purely mechanical solutions, with different high-grade materials. We work with the latest technology in the market. The equipment that we used when I started five years ago would be considered completely obsolete today. You are constantly exposed to new technology. It is ever changing.”
Creating something new
“I really like making new things. The process of creating something new, at least in my eyes, is one of the most exciting things you can do at work. KAON provides me with these opportunities. It’s a great match. It just happens that I really enjoy doing the things that KAON are doing. I really like converting an idea into a physical thing. Pretty much what happens is Fergus and Garreth mastermind a concept of how a machine could work, and then they hand it over to me or to other senior engineers and we can work on that idea and suggest how best to convert it into a realised solution. There are currently five machines on our workshop floor, and I either was directly involved in the design or heavily involved in some other aspects of each of them.”
“I am currently working on a machine that will assemble microchips onto the ink cartridges for printers. This is our first big project for a new customer. With a new customer, it’s important to put our best foot forward, to show that we can deliver what they want, that we are easy to work with, that we are open to their suggestions, and that we want to fix their problems. Obviously, we want to showcase that we can do what they want because that promises further work in the future. We are hoping that this will grow into something bigger.
With this project, I’m taking a lead role, so I must coordinate work for other designers and work with project managers to make sure we are hitting the project milestones.”
“Roughly 20 per cent of my time involves directly providing support to my team. I would talk with them most days to see how they are getting on – if they are struggling with any issues, need assistance with a technical solution or with prioritising tasks. There would be management aspects, but there would also be technical aspects – correct methodologies. It’s not just telling them a solution but showing them the thought process – how you arrive at that solution. We both do it once or twice, and the third time they do it without my help.”
“It varies a lot from week to week, but Mondays are project days. We have 15-to-20-minute project meetings where we discuss open issues and targets that we want to hit during the week. If you have one project, you have one project meeting. If you have five projects, you have five project meetings. In most critical projects, we would also have morning design meetings for 15 minutes.”
“This week I also have four 1-to-1 meetings scheduled with my team. I have these once a month to talk about how they are getting on in general and help with any issues they may have. If there is anything they are struggling with I can then allocate time to work through it with them.
“The rest of the time is getting through design tasks – the most exciting part of my job. The breakdown is about20 per cent of the time dealing with the team, 20 per cent dealing with project managers or gathering information that might affect plans or targets, and 50 to 60 per cent on actual design work.”
“Another part of the senior engineer’s responsibilities would be to meet with clients and with other equipment suppliers. We design unique equipment ourselves, but we buy standard components from other suppliers – such as conveyance systems or feeding systems. You have to provide those suppliers with technical specifications and then supervise their design and build. It wouldn’t be uncommon to travel to their site to test equipment before it is accepted, sent to us and then we integrate it into our machines. As part of that process, I have been in Switzerland, the UK and China.”