In this blog, we shine the spotlight on Tom Kendal, Internet of Things (IoT) specialist at The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC)
Tell us about your role
As an Internet of Things specialist, I deal with all things sensors and industrial connectivity. I help introduce companies who are getting started with IoT or want to implement sensors, networks and data solutions within their company, to enhance data collection and improve on current processes. Due to my engineering background, I also work on computer-aided design (CAD) and additive manufacturing projects.
How did you get into this area of work and what drew you towards becoming an IoT Specialist?
I come from a traditional manufacturing and engineering background, working in industrial design and directly with machinery. I noticed the manufacturing industry was heading towards Industry 4.0, and there was this massive culture shift towards digital technologies.
I was working on projects, which allowed me to start integrating connectivity, working with cloud solutions and making machinery ‘smarter’, and it all grew from there. I kept learning and trying new things and even entered some international competitions around industry 4.0, for which I had some relative success. It all really interested me, and I enjoyed it, so my career took this turn from being just manufacturing to working with digital technologies to support manufacturing and deliver impact.
What does an average day look like for you?
Every day is different. One day I can be working on quick-turnaround reports to help inform SME’s with their digital strategy, whilst other days I can be working towards long-term large digital transformation projects or developing demonstrations. The role allows me to try new things and I am continually learning and developing new skills or working with colleagues on cross-disciplinary projects.
What is the best thing about your role?
The best thing about my role at the VEC is the wonderfully varied nature of the projects I get to work on. I had previously worked on individual projects for long periods of time and while that helps you develop a project long term, the weeks can become a little bit repetitive. At the VEC, I work on different types of projects in a range of industries which keeps you on your toes because next week you could be working in a new field that you haven’t experienced before.
What would be your advice to anyone wanting to get into IoT or similar as a career?
I would say – get stuck in! There is this huge open-source or creator community focussed on IoT that makes it really easy to get into small IoT projects, rather than worrying about expensive technical hardware. Its good practical fun to start with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino and start to collect your own data.. One of the earliest projects I tried was automatically watering my plants, sensing when the soil was dry, I was able to send an alert and start a water pump. The skills you learn are transferrable, so getting started with home DIY projects is a great place to start.
How did you first learn about the Virtual Engineering Centre?
I got introduced to the VEC through an industry connection at a large engineering company, who knew the kind of work I did and thought the VEC would be a very interesting place for me. My contact spoke highly of the VEC. I am very thankful for this introduction because I’m really enjoying myself here.
What were your first impressions of the Virtual Engineering Centre?
Starting a new job during the pandemic and working from home has been interesting. You realise how important office environments are for getting to know people and building relationships. Everyone has been very nice and friendly, patient and supportive. And I am constantly amazed at what people are doing on their projects, especially the VR stuff – it is like science fiction to me.
What makes the Virtual Engineering Centre different from other places you’ve worked?
Mainly, the VEC is so much more varied than anything else I have done or places I have worked. The VEC has found this nice place between academia and industry, and you get the best of both worlds. It’s more fast-paced than other companies I have worked with, which is great because it’s exciting to be busy on some of the exciting projects coming in.
What projects have you been working on so far and How have your specialist skills helped you work on these?
I have worked on a few different projects so far, including software projects, developing demonstrations, writing reports but mostly supporting a variety of LCR4 START projects (ERDF funded) – helping companies identify areas where they could utilise IoT and how they can implement this within their future plans and current processes. Some of these projects can turn into longer development projects where we will support these businesses along their digital transformation journey.
Do you have any predictions for your field in 10 years?
I think IoT is going to co-exist with most areas of our life. We currently have smartphones, smart TV’s, smart fridges, smart lights, which can be a bit gimmicky. But I think in 10 years’ time, everything we own will be connected, and we will be better connected to the places we live. Whether that is good or bad is a personal preference, but I think it is where we are heading.
It will make industry much more effective, especially in supply chains, and as technologies become more accessible, smaller companies will really benefit from that. The interesting thing for me is that you can do something now in 1 hour that it would have taken a week to do 5 years ago if it was even possible to do at all, so I’m excited about what we will be able to do then that we can’t do now.
A typical weekend for me is…
This question always makes me think of Hot Fuzz… Let’s assume we aren’t in a pandemic. If there is some sport on, especially rugby, I’ll be watching that at home or at the pub with friends. Sometimes I’ll be playing a round of golf (I’m not very good), going for a walk in the Peak District or going for a bike ride somewhere with my wife Esther around Manchester. Sundays, I’m at church in the afternoon followed by a big roast and Netflix. Sunday is usually a day to relax and clear my head for work on Monday.