Doncaster’s role in Mars space mission revealed
A piece of Doncaster engineering expertise is hurtling through space – as part of a mission to Mars.
And it is not the only piece of equipment created here in the borough that is keeping us in the space age.
The borough’s out-of-this world role in technology saw the Doncaster firm AgemaSpark, based on an industrial estate in Kirk Sandall, drafted in by Rolls Royce to do specialist work for them on an engine casing.
They wanted 1.2mm holes created in 150 positions, to allow the engines to be concisely monitored by complicated instruments – and the high level of accuracy that was required meant they wanted the Doncaster firm to take the role.
The apparatus is now making the journey of more than 33.9million miles from Doncaster to the red planet, helping carry scientific research equipment.
For AgemaSpark, it adds to an already proud record when it comes to getting its work from South Yorkshire to space.
When they launched the international space station, it included boxes made from a single piece of metal that had been created by the firm, and which are still in use in orbit in the skies above Doncaster.
The firm works in a specialist field which sees if carrying out cutting work that does not involve any blades. Instead it uses the energy from an electrical spark to erode away metal in a process called spark erosion. It means the result is a smooth and accurate cut.
They use it to create moulds which are utilised in many industries, as well as specialist work like that they have carried out for the space programmes.
Managing director Paul Stockhill set up the firm which has been based in Kirk Sandall since 2002.
A former pupil at Stainforth secondary modern school, he went on to work for a number of engineering firms. He is dedicated to engineering and is concerned about the lack of engineering expertise among the younger generation.
It has led to him playing a leading role in the campaign to open a Doncaster University Technology College, which is due to open in 2020 on a site in the town centre.
He said: “AgemaSpark is a precision engineering company. We have elements of our work in the international space station. We do research and development work for companies like Rolls Royce and Siemens, and we do work for the oil and gas industry. We even export to China.”
The firm employs 15 people, although there are plans to expand over the next five years. He hopes to develop a 3D printing operation for metal, which would allow him to create complicated components, for which he would currently have to outsource the work to other organisations.
But Mr Stockhill has been concerned about the skills gap in engineering.
He said: “This technology is going to develop over the next 20 years, and it will change the face of engineering and toolmaking. It is exciting, what we can do.
“This is why I have an interest in the opening of the UTC. We want 14-years-olds to experience what we are making now and see the technology that is coming out. They are the ones who will develop this technology that we don’t even know about yet. We need to give them the skills.
“I can’t find apprentice toolmakers to employ - they are not there. When I started working at Crompton Parkinson there were probably 5,000 to 10,000 people working at places like Crompton Parkinson, Harvesters, the railway plant works, Bridon and so on, big employers of engineers. I have 15 people. Nine of them are 30 or under. I have one in their early 50s, and the balance are in their 60s. All the under 30s started with me from school, or soon afterwards, and we put them through college.
“I have a policy of taking an apprentice every year.
“There is a huge requirement for technical skills to make people fit for work.
“When the UTC develops it will be able to fetch industry in to see the young people and talk to them about industry, and show them how things are made. When those young minds leave the UTC they will see if they want to go to university or work, but they will leave school with a better understanding of what is going on in industry. We have many engineering firms struggling to find engineering skills.”
Mr Stockhill is currently looking at possible new locations for a future site, where it may be possible to bring in the 3D printing plans.
“We are at the point where we want to move on to the next stage,” he said. “That is where the high tech side of things is going. We can subcontract, but we would like to able to do this sort of work in-house. We could double or treble the workforce in the next five years.”