Zimbabwean Vukile Dumani has been named Airbus UK's Filton apprentice of the year. He completed his higher engineering studies in September and is now a specialist engineer in non-destructive testing
What does your job in non-destructive testing involve?
I use NDT techniques to look for defects in aluminium, carbonfibre and other materials like steel. We apply ultrasonics and eddy currents into materials, as these are reflected by defects. Another technique is to look for changes in a magnetic field caused by cracks or delamination in carbonfibre. The layers of carbonfibre are more complex than aluminium, so we are developing new techniques that could be used on Airbus aircraft.
Can you describe a typical working day?
There is no such thing as a typical day. One day I could be working upside down inspecting an A400M wing in Seville, and the next I could be writing a procedure for inspecting the landing gear attachments on an A320. Each task presents a new challenge. Sometimes we have to conduct inspections for airlines - for example if an aircraft has had a hard landing - and this could be anywhere in the world.
Dumani: proud to have gone through the Airbus apprentice scheme
What aspects of your job do you particularly enjoy?
I enjoy the technical side of things because I like maths and equations. I like figuring out how things work, such as how a soundbeam behaves like a lightbeam and how it behaves in a material like carbonfibre or aluminium, and the differences between the two.
Which are the most challenging aspects of your job?
The biggest challenge is the level of responsibility placed on you. You cannot afford to miss a defect, because that could be very costly. You could do an inspection and say there is a defect, but if there is none and they strip down the parts and replace them, that could cost a lot. But you have to be honest. You can't just brush things off. My apprenticeship has been challenging, but also rewarding, and it helps to be able to put into practice what you've learned in the lecture room.
What has most surprised you about your job?
The most surprising aspect is the amount of work that you do. When you join as an apprentice you don't have that much responsibility. But when you start working full-time, there's a lot of pressure because the airlines are waiting for procedures or results. Once you're doing the job itself, you realise the qualities that are required to do the job.
How clearly can you see your future career path at Airbus?
When I started NDT they talked to me about what it could lead to. My aim for the future is to gain more NDT qualifications, which will enable me to do more inspections and take more responsibility working on bigger projects. It is quite easy to change discipline. With NDT you work with many different departments and gain an insight into what they do.
Do you have any particular advice for people thinking of applying for an apprenticeship?
You don't necessarily have to be into physics and chemistry, but it helps. If you go to university you won't have any industrial experience at the end of the three years. But if you do an apprenticeship like the scheme at Airbus, you gain a degree, an apprenticeship, and then you've got a job and you get paid for it.
For NDT it is important you get that hands-on experience. Growing up in Zimbabwe I was not exposed to much aviation, but I realised that aviation is the pinnacle of engineering. I feel privileged to have gone through the apprentice scheme; it has taught me so much.