Glass fibre engineer
David Anderson is a laminator working for the country's leading military and commercial boat building. He is one of 70 in the workforce producing glass-fibre hulls of all shapes and sizes for boats as varied as leisure yachts to military landing crafts and rigid raider patrol boats.
What do you do?
My main role is working in a team producing glass-fibre hulls. We could be making a 66ft Moody leisure yacht or small military craft for the Ministry of Defence. It can take up to six weeks to produce a 66ft, hull for instance.
What is a typical working day?
I clock in and change into my work overalls. Each day is similar, although I will be working on all different types of craft.
Basically, I laminate hulls by covering the inner side of a hull-shaped mound with layers of glass-fibre matting and resin. It is almost like wallpapering and painting as you have to ensure there are no air bubbles between each layer. We use glass-fibre matting of different thicknesses in different parts of the boat for added strength and waterproofing.
How are the hulls produced?
You have to wait for each layer of resin to harden before applying the next layer. Sometimes we incorporate a layer of balsa wood as well. Typically, a hull will have up to eight layers of glass-fibre matting and resin applied before it is left to harden completely. The mould, which forms the outer shell, is split into two parts and moved away, leaving the glass-fibre hull. This is then polished using power sanders to a fine gloss finish and then fitted out to the owner's specifications.
What hours do you work?
I work a five-day week, starting at 7am and finishing at 4.30 pm, except on Fridays when we finish early at 2.00 pm. With meal breaks I work a core 39/40-hour week. However, there is ample opportunity for overtime as well.
What is your working environment like?
I work in a team of about six people in a large, environmentally-controlled building which looks like an aircraft hanger. The temperature is warm to help the resin harden quickly and the air is changed and circulated regularly to clear the dust and smell of resin.
What tools and equipment do you use?
I use the same type of tools as a painter and decorator. The resin is applied using a lamb's wool roller and I use another metal roller to iron out the air bubbles between the layers of glass-fibre matting. I wear industrial gloves and overalls.
What training have you received so far?
The training has been mainly on the job, learning from experienced laminators. In addition, I have been on a number of company initiatives involving health and safety, product and material handling and first aid. In addition, I have trained as a crane operator as these are used to move the completed hulls and moulds.
What special skills and qualities do you need to be a glass fibre engineer?
Lamination is a skilled trade and you must have pride in your work. I work from designs and specifications provided by the customer and I must be accurate in my work to keep to these measurements. For instance, I cannot afford to leave blisters between the layers as these will crack open when hard and become a weak spot for water to enter.
Why did you choose this type of work?
When I left school I intended to join the leisure industry on a work training programme but my dad worked for a smaller boat builder and suggested I train as a laminator at the same place. I liked the idea of working in a team and involved in a manufacturing process so joined as a trainee. With experience, I felt confident to join a large-scale shipyard to produce larger craft.
What do you like/dislike about your glass fibre engineering job?
I really enjoy producing something from start to finish and to the customer's satisfaction and I like working as part of a team. The job isn't tedious as I am working on so many different types of craft.
David's route to his career as a glass fibre engineer
- Trainee laminator with small boat builder.
- Joined present company as laminator.
David's glass fibre engineer tips
- Find a local shipyard or boat builder who is prepared to offer some work experience – it will give you a taste for the work before committing yourself.
- Look at becoming an apprentice – you will get some qualifications while working which is a bonus.
Glass fibre engineer related jobs
- Marine craftsperson
- Materials technician
- Motor vehicle body repairer/refinisher/building
- Plastics process operative
- Polymer/plastics technician
- Polymer/plastics technologist
Salary of a glass fibre engineer
- Starting pay for a trainee laminator would be about £10,000, rising to £14,000 - £16,000 with experience.
- Senior laminators can expect to earn £18,000.
- These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.
- Laminators may be paid extra for shift allowances and overtime – which can substantially increase their income.
How to become a glass fibre engineer
- There are no formal qualifications to work as a laminator/plastics process operative, although some GCSEs/S grades can be useful and may be required by some employers. Laminators are in demand by automotive, ship building and aeronautical manufacturers.
- Apprenticeships (Skillseekers in Scotland) may be available. Various manufacturing companies offer a range of short courses in glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) applications and technology. NVQs/SVQs at Level 1-3 are available in Polymer Processing and Related Operations.
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