You’ve taken a bit of a different path to some of our other engineers and it’s a really good story to tell … how did you get into engineering?
There wasn’t much in the way of career guidance when I was in school and, not knowing what was out there in the real world, I didn’t really apply much effort. After leaving school I ended up as a factory hand out on a fishing trawler. From there I moved into running a fish meal plant, which turns offal into dried out fish meal through a variety of processes. I started getting into the mechanical and fitting side of things and I found it quite interesting that you could control so much of the plant through mechanical means … I was blown away and got more into it, so I left and did my Trade in Machining and Toolmaking through CompeteNZ.
What engineering experience did you have before Caliber?
I did my apprenticeship at South Fence Machinery. Towards the end of my apprenticeship, I ended up in the design office which I really enjoyed! From there I moved to Australia and found design work with a company that made Oil & Gas Tools. That was interesting because these tools are exposed to very high pressures and temperatures and are used in very corrosive environments. I found it fascinating. I applied what I learnt through fitting and machining to the design office, making my designs cheaper and still doing the job.
When I came back from Australia, I went back to the trawlers for seven years as a Factory Engineer. Out there you pretty much have to fix everything—mechanical, hydraulic, electrical—yourself while keeping factory downtime to an absolute minimum. There’s a workshop there which is great because if I wasn’t busy I’d get bored, so I was making things all the time. You’d create improvements to the factory every trip to make things run better or reduce ongoing costs whether it was by making new parts or modifying existing parts. We were out at sea for 6-7 weeks at a time and the aim there is to stay out and not have to come in for anything. Originally there was no internet, no help out there, you’ve just got to sort it out with what you have on hand!
And you’ve recently done more study …?
In 2019, I finished my Diploma in Engineering through ARA.
[Ed. We take out hat off to Nathaniel for continuing his study to build on his passion for mechanical engineering and progress his career. It should be noted here that Nathaniel was awarded the Gordon Fairweather Trust award for his exceptional marks, thorough application, and outstanding references – qualities that made him stand out from the crowd and make him a Caliber-calibre engineer].
What do you enjoy most about mechanical engineering?
There’s just so much variety. So many different fields and applications within mechanical engineering … it underpins everything we know and do.
What makes working at Caliber different from the other jobs you’ve had?
The variety makes a huge difference … there’s something different every assignment. It’s a learning curve each time you go to a new client.
Another difference is there are so many guys at Caliber who are so intelligent and knowledgeable, and you can call on them for help when you need it. In some places, people don’t want to share their knowledge … they guard it … but the Caliber guys aren’t like that at all.
We’re currently in the Covid-19 lockdown, but you’re still working for clients remotely. What does a typical day for a Caliber engineer look like? How has it changed in these lockdown conditions?
No matter whether you’re working at the client’s premises or remotely, communication is key. You need to communicate really clearly so that you know what the client wants so that you can deliver it. Currently, we’re using tools like Zoom and Skype to ensure we’re staying well connected with our clients. Whether we’re onsite or working from home, we’re representing Caliber. Every day there’s new things to learn. We also connect with our Caliber team mates regularly, so we can share ideas, help resolve technical issues, and stay connected.
What would your dream project involve?
It’s cool being involved in every step of a project … from concept and design to manufacture and installation… doing all the work yourself … the machining work, the fitting … something from start to finish … it’s rewarding. I used to do that out at sea quite a lot … think “I can make this better” and do it all, with what I have on hand. I’m quite keen to use my pool table as the basis of a removable CNC router.
Is there any particular project or industry that you’re particularly interested in?
I’m really interested in automation. The fish filleting machines out at sea used a lot of sensors and stepping motors to assist in filleting fish. Between studies, I did three months’ work with Scott Technology on their cool automated machines … I’d love to be involved with more automation projects.
When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy spending time with family. I have a two-year-old daughter and we play Duplo together! I enjoy pool and chess. I have a few 3D printers and I enjoy making things with them. I’ve got quite a few 3D printer parts I’ve made (as you can see in the photo at the top of this interview). The other day I needed some pool cue holders, so I whipped some up. I enjoy the process of working out what’s required, designing, and printing them. I print using PLA and ABS plastics. I’ve got 40kg of plastic here! I love making things. I’ve made vases for gifts! One New Year’s we had a costume party and I made a trident and crown … designed it, printed it … it looked pretty good!