AEMT - Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades

25 July 2019
Reflecting on 50 years of service at Rotary Engineering
Thomas Marks, Secretary to the AEMT, speaks to John White, who looks back at his career with the Sheffield based engineering company, Rotary Engineering, as he approaches retirement.
As I’m introduced to John by Rotary’s MD, Simon Swallow, he mentions, “People like John are an essential asset to engineering companies and should be celebrated for their loyalty, reliability and the excellent work they do!” The varied nature of Rotary’s business, has meant John’s job is quite varied, including working on industrial electro-magnet rewinds, special machinery for repairing/manufacturing motors, electrical control systems, and electrical wiring of machines. Simon comments, “John has had the flexibility to approach different projects, and apply the same diligence to making sure something is done correctly.” John quickly adds, “I’ve always found it easier to do things correctly, rather than do a bad job!” 

Starting out

It was the summer of ’69; three superstar astronauts achieved one of the world’s most staggering engineering feats to date, travelling 240,000 miles to our nearest celestial object, manoeuvre a lunar module to land safely on its surface, where two of the men step out onto the surface of our moon for the first time in history. In the same year, John White, a young 16-year-old lad fresh out of school, and at his most impressionable age, stayed up late especially to watch the landing. Inspired by what he saw, it was at that time when he and 9 other peers began their apprenticeships with Rotary Engineering.
In those days, Sheffield’s infrastructure was having a major overhaul as it went from 200V to 230V mains supply. Every motor in town had to be re-wound, making the workshop very hectic compared to these days. There was a lot of overtime, as the machines were re-wound over the weekend, and installed back on site for Monday morning. The additional pay enabled many of them to be able to save up for their first homes. It gave John and his peers plenty of experience to start their careers with. One of his first lessons, John remembers, was to take his time, “I remember rushing a 6-pole machine and making a complete mess of it. We had to start all over again.” 
Learning was done with 4 days in the workshop, and one day spent at college, which John remembers as “long days! We started in the classroom at 9am and worked through till 7pm. I remember bunking off to catch Star Trek on TV! By that point I wanted school behind me, so being sat down wasn’t the highlight of my apprenticeship!”
Training was done as part of a team where John felt there were plenty of people to turn to when you had a question, at that time it was common to have female winders and two or three were employed by Rotary. “It didn’t feel like training when you were in the workshop, you just got on with the job in hand. The progression to professional winder, around the age of 23, was seamless, without much fanfare over the transition. The nice thing was a pay rise, which was celebrated amongst my peers down at the pub!” 
Of course, the motors 50 years ago were very different to what is found today. John remembers, “they were a lot easier to rewind back then. There was more room in the slots to get your turns into. Over time, motors have become more compact as they increase in efficiency. Better insulations have meant the motors can run hotter without burning out. A lot of smaller motors aren’t even able to be repaired now or include complex technology such as in servo motors. Over time, the motors requiring repair have got larger and larger.”
Working with copper throughout his career, one area John admits to finding difficult was winding with aluminium. “It’s an unforgiving material! Difficult to join, and if you get the tension wrong it can put the whole winding out of shape.”
Loyalty runs thick in Rotary – as epitomised by their continued membership of the AEMT for over 50 years! I asked John what motivated him to remain loyal to Rotary for 50 straight years. “It’s hard to explain,” John says, “I’ve always felt very comfortable working with the people at Rotary. Work almost comes secondary to the people.” 
Perhaps we should be taking more time to remember why we work in the first place. Ultimately, it all comes back to people - we’re social creatures after all! As a trade association one of the best benefits we offer is the opportunity to network with people who are all in the same trade. 

Memorable moments:

Asking John about his most memorable moments throughout his career at Rotary, he modestly admits, “The early days will always be a good memory. Really, I’ve just enjoyed turning up to work, and getting on with the job.” John has handled some pretty important work however; in the early days, Rotary was contracted to overhaul Drax power station’s generators. John’s part in the project involved him forming the machine’s coils. Ultimately, he was a part of a team who ensured power was generated for millions of people living in England. 
John also worked on a prototyping project for a submarine. A tiny magnet, which involved the customer coming to Rotary for trials. Johns skill and knowledge from handling many electro-magnets at Rotary was essential for developing the final design. 
An Oil and Gas company also employed John’s knowledge when developing a piece of kit to cap oil wells. The device had to be inserted through a hole in the side of the pipe, and for this reason, the windings had to be formed spherically, rather than being loaded vertically, which would have employed drum motor technology and a lot more concrete in order to cap the well. The initial design was in fact changed quite radically after John’s suggestions. 
Simon ends the interview by adding, “Today, society has made people very ambitious in their careers. Rarely are people interested in staying in one job for their entire career. Employee’s such as John are an essential part of Rotary’s business. As demonstrated by his breadth of knowledge and skill, which would be lost had he moved away from the workshop to a desk job.”  
 

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Thomas Marks, Secretary to the AEMT, speaks to John White, who looks back at his career with the Sheffield based engineering company, Rotary Engineering, as he approaches retirement.

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