Matthew Simms has been elected Fellow for the Institute of Mechanical Engineers! We caught up with him to find out what it means to be elected, his experiences, and the future of offshore.
You’ve been elected as a Fellow for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers – what does this mean?
Fellowship is the highest grade within the institution, and it carries weight that you’re seen as a leader within your industry.
I’ve always been very invested within the institution and have always wanted to progress towards applying for a fellowship. It’s extremely beneficial from both a personal and professional perspective too! To say WT has employees within various fellowships, it highlights not only the expertise and capabilities of WT but also that of those within, holding great weight as industry leaders. Another great benefit would be the additional route available for meeting potential clients as I am likely to meet people through the institution.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
If you were to ask my parents, they would say that from a very young age, I was forever taking things apart without really knowing how they would go back together. I had a fascination for how things really work and that went on for a very long time. I really enjoyed Mathematics and Design Technology at A-level, so it seemed the perfect fit to progress to Mechanical Engineering at University.
I joined an engineering company in 2006 as a Graduate and the team I was working for specialised in structural dynamics so anything from bomb blasts to earthquake design. From there I went on to explore structures that experience wind loading, wave loading and so on, mainly in the oil and gas industries to begin with. However my career quickly moved into wind turbine foundation design.
What brought you to WT?
I had worked across multiple detailed design projects early on in my career, developing that capability. Up until six months before I applied to WT, I didn’t really know anything about the company, then quickly started to notice WT really were operating as an industry disruptor; successfully breaking into a well-established market. As time went on, I noticed Wood Thilsted were becoming a force to be reckoned with and winning some of the biggest projects globally.
Can you tell us what you are specifically responsible at WT?
I am a Chief Consultant in WT’s Primary Steel, Loads and Corrosion department, and am responsible for our technical delivery across our projects, from the quality of delivery to the technical content. I’ve spent the last year being the Primary Steel lead for detailed design of Dogger Bank B, so I’m currently in the process of finishing that off and moving into more of a technical oversight role across all our primary steel delivery.
Every day is different and we’re moving into lots of different areas which is exciting, from floating wind turbines to jacket foundations. I’m also involved in asset management groups which strive to look at existing offshore structures and maximise their effectiveness through lifetime extension. If we can offer our clients an additional five or so years onto the life of their structures, we’re providing an invaluable service and one highly regarded by our clients.
As we grow the team, I want to provide the graduates and younger engineers the same enthusiasm and opportunities that I’ve had. I’m thankful to WT for giving me the opportunity to work across such large global projects and I can already see our grads have that sparkle and excitement of being a part of something exciting and large-scale that is fundamentally changing the course of our futures.
We may only be at 150 people, which is small in comparison to other engineering firms, but we’re 150 dedicated only to offshore wind engineering – which is a huge team compared to our competitors.
So, is there any specific advice you would give to young people looking to break into the industry?
For young engineers, it’s fundamental they can understand the calculations we’re doing, why we’re doing them and how we’re getting to these conclusions and solutions. In a nutshell, you can’t do the job to the best of your ability if you don’t understand the coding and breaking it down line by line.
I would also recommend work experience, as difficult as it can be to secure at times, it is truly invaluable experience.
We’re likely to see a shortage of experts in the years to come as the industry booms and we’re faced with this race to net zero, so I’m determined to look at other ways we can get young people into the industry.
Is there anything in particular that keeps you interested and motivated in your role?
Trying to decarbonise our energy mix is a huge draw for anyone working in this business, and I’m determined to be a part of this transition. I have two daughters, so I’d love to leave this planet in a slightly better place than when I got here. When I talk to my 8-year old, she really does understand that what I do in renewable energy is really beneficial.
At WT, we’re working across the biggest projects in the world, and working with the biggest names in the industry, from fabricators, installers, or operators. That’s extremely interesting to me and the fact we’re doing something for the greater good is hugely motivating. Another reason I moved away from the world of oil and gas too!
What would you say is the highlight of your career?
I was lucky enough to work on the London 2012 Olympics, working on the stadium designs and the foundation design on the five vertical axis wind turbines just outside the Olympic stadium, put there as a showcase for renewable energy.
Other dynamic loads included horse loading for the equestrian stadium or wind loading for the temporary venues. It really was a once in a generation event to be a part of.
To be honest, I’m proud of anything I’ve had the opportunity to work on, from submarine bases to nuclear power stations, it’s just amazing to see what you work on come to life.
My offshore wind highlight would include working on the detailed design for Dudgeon, an offshore wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, and Beatrice, off the coast of Scotland. More recently, working on Doggerbank B has been so exciting!
Is there anything you still want to achieve or do in the future?
Being a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers means there may be opportunities in the future to sit on one of the panels helping to drive policy change, with key links into government. This is going to be vital as we’re likely to see ourselves in a race against time to get as much renewable energy as possible to offset oil and gas.
There is also much more we can do in terms of renewable design. In the future, it’s likely we are going to overproduce from renewables and we need to be able to store that somehow. I’m interested in looking at ways to expand the offshore wind offering as a broader service, for example how we bring energy produced back to shore and onto the National Grid.
What are you most excited about the future of offshore wind?
The booming size of the turbines for one! The sheer scale that the current engineering boundaries could stretch too is very exciting.
As I mentioned, it’s exciting to see how we can widen the offering beyond energy too. If the developing world are really going to jump onto renewable energy, they may prefer for their turbines to generate clean drinking water for example. I like to challenge the norms, and there are many facets that this industry can go off into which is very exciting. Why don’t we turn the energy into hydrogen at source so we can fuel a tanker to go and collect the energy? In the future, we really need to be thinking outside the box and here at WT, we’re generally quite good at getting our clients to think in a slightly different way.
What are the main challenges we’re likely to see in the world of offshore wind?
Our USP is that we can design a wind farm quicker than the rest, but we’re likely to come up across supply chain issues, as we’re going to be designing quicker than anyone can fabricate and install it. I think the industry will see an issue where supply of components and steel becomes a real problem. That’s where our asset management comes in though, and if we can go to an existing wind farm and work to increase their power output for a client, that is hugely valuable to them and means we’re less reliant on a supply chain as the turbines are already there. It's an engineer’s dream really, problem solving with a happy client at the end of it!