Mechanical Engineering grad lands job at aerospace firm

He has gone from Legos to lasers and now James Turner has landed his first position since graduating from Niagara College at Airbus Helicopters, a subsidiary of the global aerospace giant Airbus.

The Mechanical Engineering grad was recently hired as a Manufacturing Process Engineer at the Fort Erie firm, where he will be overseeing aerospace components and ensuring the production lines are kept operational.

“It’s a totally different experience than what I’m use to so I’m a bit nervous,” says Turner prior to embarking on this important stage in his career.

Looking back, while he grew up with an “engineering mind,” it was not an obvious path to this point for the 25-year-old Turner. As a youngster he used Lego to build models, and then moved on to rebuilding cars; he naturally enrolled in the automotive program at Niagara College.

“I thought that’s what I wanted to do, and then I went on co-op and I didn’t really like it … it turned out I just wanted to work on my cars.”

A friend’s father suggested Turner would be well suited for the Mechanical Engineering Technologist program at NC. He enrolled and while he liked the program, it was 3D printing that stole his heart. “I wasn’t quite sure until I got to my co-op at Research and Innovation and that’s when I loved it. I thought ‘This is awesome!’ ” he says.

“It was Research and Innovation that fully sealed the deal.”

For his junior co-op, Turner was hired on as a Research Assistant on the Technical Services side for the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre. The Technical Services afforded him the chance to use the entire array of state-of-the-art equipment in the advanced manufacturing labs, more so than if he was only working on specific applied research projects.

“I was one of the only people in my class who was trained fully to use the Faro scanner and the Faro tracker,” he explains, adding that once he realized there were no design constraints, he found his true calling: reverse engineering (the measurement/analysis and detailed documentation of a physical part or tool in order to replicate or redesign the product).

“I started looking at things in a whole different perspective—like how things are manufactured and constructed.”

NC Mechanical Engineering student James Turner inspects the first project – a vehicle window trim – completed by the Fortus 900mc Gen 2, the first 3D printer of its kind to be installed in Canada. A classic car owner searched years for a matching window trim for his 1934 Dodge DR and his dreams are finally realized.

Centre Manager Jim Lambert recalls the early days for Turner: “Three years ago James was a kid who was one of the last in his class to get a job. Securing a co-op within the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre was really his only hope for technological placement … we took a chance on James and I am so glad we did!” 

Right from the start Turner displayed an ethic of hard work, determination and a desire to learn, explains Lambert. “He became the resident ’rockstar‘ for 3D scanning and point cloud post processing.”

The specialized skills that Turner garnered from the advanced manufacturing labs proved significant, especially during his two reverse engineering projects for Airbus Helicopters within his senior co-op, where he was able to work onsite, alongside the company’s Manufacturing Engineer, also a Niagara College graduate.

It also happened to be something his new boss at Airbus found invaluable: “It was a great way to assess James’ skills using the Faro Arm and Faro Tracker, but also the fit with our team,” says Scott Hickey, Sr. Manager, Manufacturing. 

“His experience with the Faro Arm hardware, software, setup and use checked many of the boxes on our applicant requirements list, allowing him to hit the ground running.” 

What’s more, adds Hickey, being able to have his manufacturing team interact with Turner during a project was “priceless.” Interestingly, in his new role Turner will continue to work with the same data he helped create during those projects and will be able to see it realized into production.

In addition to gaining teamworking skills while involved in cross projects within R&I, Turner says his top soft skill was learning time management. “You definitely have to learn to multi-task when you have a bunch of projects all due at once,” all with real-world deadline stress.

“Knowing that these industry partners are going to be using what you provide and that it’s not just a school project that’s going to sit on a shelf, you know it’s got to be good!”

In his 10-plus projects during his time with R&I, Turner also points to the value of such networking opportunities. “You get to actually work and communicate directly with industry partners … it’s fantastic.”

Turner’s most memorable project: matching a rare window trim for a classic car collector’s beloved 1934 Dodge DR. His team first reverse-engineered the existing window garnish moulding, designed a CAD mirror copy and then printed the piece on the new Fortus 900mc exclusive 3D printer (leading edge in terms of size, scope and materials capabilities.)

“It’s so rewarding because we were able to reproduce this part that the owner was looking for for many years.”

Turner has not forgotten his automotive roots and in his spare time you will find him working on his cars for the racing circuit at Cayuga Motor Speedway and Merrittville Speedway.