The old covers in Teesside and Hexham, which the water workers need to open to read customers’ meters, were providing a challenge – as the company found it was running out of the keys needed to lift them out of the ground.
‘Lifting keys’ are usually made to fit a certain type of cover, and allow the readers to lift the lid off the chambers without bending.
So Northumbrian Water decided to turn to NETA Training, part of the Education Training Collective (Etc.), for help finding a solution that was both lightweight and strong.
Working alongside NETA’s expert tutors, a small team of engineering apprentices and full-time learners helped to design a range of options, which have now been tested on the old covers, leaving Northumbrian Water’s team delighted with the results.
Now, the company has bought the materials, so that the learners can put the best design – which benefits from being both lightweight and strong – into production, giving them experience of working on a real-world product for a commercial client.
Emma Taylor, who manages the team, said: “We were getting down to the last keys for these old covers, which date back decades, and it was becoming a real dilemma on what to do, because they simply aren’t available any more.
“My husband works at NETA Training as an Engineering Department Co-Ordinator, training fabricators & welders, so I asked him how easy it would be to make brand new ones. As a result, we took the idea to NETA Training who gave it to their apprentices and students as a project, and the results have been fantastic.
“The team members who trialled the keys found that this particular design was perfect, because it was durable and also lightweight. The learners have done an excellent job and, as a company that gets really excited about helping to develop young talent in our region, it’s great to be able to give this group a chance to work on something for real use by a commercial client.”
NETA’s mechanical course trainer, Colin Walsh, said: “This project has been a fantastic experience for our learners. It not only challenged their problem solving and design skills, working to a live brief, but also showed how the skills and knowledge they are learning can be applied in the real world of work.”
Engineering student Jamal Islam, 17, said: “It was great to work on a live project alongside our course. It has given us the chance to learn something new and expand on our knowledge and experience.”
Picture (left to right): Harry Russell (Process Operative Apprentice at Sembcorp), Emma Taylor (Customer Manager, Northumbrian Water), Nigel Mason (Meter Reader, Northumbrian Water), Colin Walsh (NETA’s Mechanical Trainer) and Jamal Islam (Engineering student).