Head of Technology and Innovation
Thales Ground Transportation Systems, UK
A Mechanical Engineer by trade, Ben is a Chartered Professional with a Masters of Philosophy in Industrial Systems, Manufacturing, and Management from the University of Cambridge, as well as a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Mechatronics Engineering from the University of New South Wales.
As the Head of Technology and Innovation for Thales Ground Transportation Systems UK, Ben has previously worked for the Technology Transfer Office of the University of Cambridge, and as a Mechanical, Manufacturing and Industrial Engineer for Thales Protect Vehicles based out of Bendigo, Australia.
How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I joined as a Student back in 2008, transitioning into a Graduate membership before then becoming Chartered in 2015.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I think a natural curiosity into ‘why things are the way they are’ really inspired me to dig deep into science and engineering. This was particularly fuelled early on by my passion in reading anything there was to know about aircraft, cars, buildings, etcetera; I was heavily influenced by my older brother’s interest in similar things and my dad’s work in building and construction management. What has inspired me to remain in this field is undoubtedly my belief that the profession is a force for ‘good’ in this world, along with the sense of pride and responsibility for delivering this ‘good’ which I see in many of my peers.
How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
In my current role as Head of Technology and Innovation for a major transport technology provider that operates in one of the world’s most complex transportation environments, I hope that one day (soon), the innovations we are developing will be deployed to the benefit of the Australian people. These innovations range from research and technology development carried out in predictive maintenance, to human factors studies around how humans interact with autonomous systems at nearly every level imaginable. This will hopefully see more efficient and effective multi-modal transportation services being provided to communities.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
In my work for Cambridge Enterprise, the Technology Transfer and Commercialisation Office of the University of Cambridge, I worked to commercialise a novel nanostructured lithium-ion based battery material from the labs of the Engineering Department and into a fully-funded technology spin-out company. For me as an engineer, I had to draw on nearly every professional experience and knowledge accumulated to date, including systems and manufacturing engineering, electric vehicles, project management, and intellectual property. Not to mention even stakeholder management and management accounting! Not only was this endeavour highly challenging, but to see the technology backed by investors made it also highly rewarding.
Why did you become a volunteer for Engineers Australia?
Moving to the UK, I initially wanted to maintain contact with the Australian engineering community here, help my journey to becoming a Chartered Professional Engineer. However, I quickly saw volunteering as a rewarding avenue to give back to the profession. After attending my first meeting of the UK Chapter, I almost immediately started contributing to the organisation and planning of events as well as the operations of the Chapter, ultimately leading to me taking up the role of President at the end of 2017. I have found it a great way to not only support my fellow engineers but also build professional networks and contribute to the overall mission of Engineers Australia to help further the profession.
What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
A fundamental purpose of engineers as often articulated by bodies such as Engineers Australia is the need to create value and benefit for the community. A common issue facing the profession, particularly in ‘Westernised’ countries, is the lack of diversity and inclusion across several measures, which begs the question: How can we ensure benefit to the ‘entire’ community if those creating the value and benefit are not representative of it?
The flow on effect leads to other issues commonly associated with the profession – including lack of interest, lack of retention, poor design, etcetera. Furthermore, as we push for more STEM-focused education, we cannot forget that the most important education for any engineer is an understanding of society, culture, and people.
What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
Considering how connected the world can be today, there has never been a time where global challenges are as well defined or as well communicated. What excites me is that companies, including engineering firms of any size, do not have an excuse anymore to not understand how they can contribute to making the world a better place. I am excited to see whether the global engineering community can effectively respond to such challenges and make a real, sustainable difference to the world.
Who is your engineering hero?
Taiichi Ohno – an industrial engineer credited as being the ‘father’ of the Toyota Production System. Much of the principles and philosophies of ‘lean’, agile, and much of the ways and systems in which the products and services which we use every day are created and delivered can trace their origins to the Ohno’s work. In my mind, this is what makes him a truly inspirational engineer.
Image: courtesy of Ben Ting