Alumni profile - Dhan Hapuarachchi
In my role as Service Delivery Manager: On-Wing Services (Europe) at Rolls-Royce, I am based at London Heathrow airport, close to our operational base, and I lead a team of twenty-four aero engine mechanics and one service operations officer. We have a global planning team which operates 24/7 as the department covers the globe, but my region is mainly Europe.
Why did you study Materials Science and Engineering (BEng) and focus your PhD in Materials Science at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind?
I had seen a CNN programme which reported on the advancements of Materials Science and how it was going to shape the future. I also discovered that the degree course modules were very broad and therefore it would give me a good foundation to either go into further studies or straight into industry. I had not planned to complete a PhD before starting university, however, my final year project was very enjoyable so I decided to take up doctoral studies. I knew this would help me when I started to apply for jobs in industry.
At undergraduate level, what modules did you like learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies?
There was one module called “Property of Matter I” which was taken by Professor Julian Evans which I remember very well. Professor Evans had a very unorthodox teaching style which made the lectures really interesting. The lectures were more philosophical which made the class discuss and debate the concepts and ideas covered in the lectures.
Were there any academics in SEMS that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?
The two names that come to mind are Professor Mike Reece and Professor Ton Peijs. They were very approachable and supportive members of the department. They were very knowledgeable in their field of research and they also had really good people skills. They would make the time to meet students and help them with any issues or concerns they had. This made me realise that it is really important to support people around you and in terms of working life, this is even more important the more senior you become.
What was your PhD thesis and how did your PhD build on what you had learned at undergraduate level?
My research was looking into the thermal and fire properties of polymer non-composites. I was fortunate enough to have been given a scholarship by the EPSRC and the Building Research Establishment (BRE). This allowed me to carry out my experimental work using their equipment and for my research and to have an industrial input. The analogy of moving from undergraduate to doctoral research is like water flowing into a funnel, wide at the top and narrows towards the tip. This is similar to the detail you focus on during your PhD research. I was able to use the broad theoretical knowledge from my BEng to help explain the results I was getting from my experiments.
My first professional role after my time at university was Laboratory Technologist (Civil Aero). I was part of a team who supported the manufacturing facility which specialised in components for the Rolls-Royce Trent aero engine. My main role was to support the special processes part of the business. As I had a materials background, I helped with root cause investigations and any production issues.
It is coming up to your ten-year anniversary working for Rolls-Royce since you graduated in 2010. Please can you touch on each of your roles within the aviation and aerospace branches of this company. What have you gained from each role?
My first professional role after my time at university was Laboratory Technologist (Civil Aero). I was part of a team who supported the manufacturing facility which specialised in components for the Rolls-Royce Trent aero engine. My main role was to support the special processes part of the business. As I had a materials background, I helped with root cause investigations and any production issues. My main take away from this role was to understand how the company operated and how the corporate procedures were used. I worked with manufacturing engineers and I found their tasks interesting which led me onto my next role as a Manufacturing Engineer (Nuclear Defence).
A manufacturing engineer’s (ME) main task is to support the operations business with any technical work packages or problems. There are several disciplines within ME but I was aligned to new product introduction (NPI) and continuous improvement (CI). An NPI ME would look at the design specification and put together a set of instructions on how to manufacture the item. A CI ME would look at an existing production line and see where time savings could be made. I enjoyed both aspects of the ME role as well as the people leadership aspects. I was given the opportunity to lead a project team of engineers and deliver a significant project to the business, however, I did not have direct line management of the team. I therefore learned how to influence and negotiate with many of the team and surrounding staff. This sparked my interest to move into the leadership route as I felt I had the technical foundations and wanted to improve my leadership style and get the best out of people.
My first leadership role was as Manufacturing Engineering Team Leader (Nuclear Defence); I had people responsibilities to assume such as sickness and absence, development, coaching, promotion and disciplinaries. I still had to get involved with technical tasks but less in the detail and more on coaching others to solve the problem and deliver. My next role as Manufacturing Engineering Manager (Nuclear Defence) was very satisfying as I was part of building a new team of engineers. My vision was to standardise our processes so that there would be no variation on who delivers the task. I had to look at the next 12-18 months in front of me from a strategy perspective as I had a target to hit in a year and a half time and had to put things in place so that we could hit our medium to long term goals.
Up until now, I had spent my Rolls-Royce career in an engineering role so I wanted to get some operational experience and some shorter deadline pressure. This led me to my current role as Service Delivery Manager On-Wing Services (Civil Aero) which is the most challenging role I’ve faced thus far.
What does your current role as Service Delivery Manager: On-Wing Services for Europe (Airlines) involve? What does a typical working day look like for you?
I am based at London Heathrow airport, close to our operational base, and I lead a team of twenty-four aero engine mechanics and one service operations officer. We have a global planning team which operates 24/7 as the department covers the globe, but my region is mainly Europe. We deliver a maintenance service to our customers so I need to make sure the team have the rules and tools to execute their tasking. Our main objective is to carry out scheduled preventive maintenance and unscheduled urgent maintenance while the engine is on wing. This reduces the cost and service disruption to the airlines. My day is made up of attending meetings which cover the Europe operation, being the point of escalation and working on improvement projects. I also have the responsibility to maintain our key performance indicators which cover: Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery and People. This job is very operational and the delivery times are measured in hours whereas my other roles had weeks and months as timescales.
It is evident that you have worked your way up throughout your career. What are your future career aspirations?
I wanted to get a good grounding in engineering and leadership before moving onto my next role. I am at a point in my career where I can become a senior leader within the company, but I have not mapped my next step yet. I was thinking about going into academia to become a lecturer in manufacturing, operations/leadership. I will be making my next career move in 2021.
How do you unwind outside of work?
I have two children under the age of five so try and fit in walks and podcasts when I have some time to myself.
What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying Materials Science and Engineering at Queen Mary?
This degree course can be very broad so it can help you break into most job markets. I would suggest a year in industry as this will give you an advantage over some of the other graduates. The year in industry will help with your people skills and influencing - both of which are huge in the professional world.
Were you a member of any societies or volunteering groups during your time at Queen Mary?
Unfortunately, not but this is something I am interested in now so I am happy to support my former university where I can and give back to students. I hope that this profile can help inspire prospective and current students and alumni.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?
The two examples I would give would be my first day attending the Fresher’s events and my PhD graduation day. They are two significant points of my academic journey and are at stark contrasts to each other. When I started you had all the unknowns of taking on an undergraduate degree, which is complimented by graduation day where I reflected on all the work and effort which had been put in.
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Dhan or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at email@example.com.