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INTERVIEW: Cultivating talent and partnerships at ST Engineering

Adrian Lim is vice-president of ST Engineering's aerospace sector engineering and development centre in Singapore, where aside from managing projects, he also nurtures employees and client relationships

What sparked your interest in aviation?

I was drawn by the hands-on nature of the job as a flight-test engineer, which was my first job in the aviation industry. My key role was to ensure that an aircraft ran smoothly after modifications or upgrades by running tests on its systems and electronics, and troubleshooting any errors. At ST Engineering, I had the opportunity to work on both military and commercial aircraft, which is not common in other companies.

Over time I have come to appreciate the different aspects of the industry. On one hand there are the operational tasks of keeping aircraft well maintained and safe for our airline customers to operate. On the other, we have the chance to develop new solutions or products where the sky is the limit. For example, we are currently working on building up our capability in 3D printing for aircraft parts and the possibilities are endless. So far, we have printed various interior parts to use on a major cabin retrofit, a passenger-to-freighter conversion, and want to do more to meet the needs of our customers by reducing the time required for part fabrication, thereby improving turnaround time. The use of 3D printing also helps to reduce the inventory required by the customers.

How has your career progressed?

My career in ST Engineering has spanned over 20 years and I have taken on a myriad of challenges. After starting out as a flight-test engineer, I moved to the USA where I became a programme manager for the Boeing 757 multirole aircraft conversion solution for the Royal New Zealand Air Force at one of our US subsidiaries. After gaining my airframe and powerplant licence, I took on the role of senior programme manager at another US subsidiary.

When ST Engineering started developing its Airbus A330 passenger-to-freighter programme, I oversaw the process as programme director. The development work was done in Singapore and implemented in Germany. I had the privilege to see our first A330-300 and A330-200s converted and granted US and European supplemental type certification in a relatively short time. Currently, as head of the engineering development centre, I lead a team of competent and experienced engineers to work on commercial and military engineering development projects.

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ST Engineering Aerospace

What are the highlights of your career so far?

It never fails to amaze me when I see our converted freighter take to the air again, which comes after a great amount of time and effort have been spent on the design and engineering stage. It is this very tangible output of the job that I enjoy tremendously. When I see the aircraft stripped to its bare bones and put back together, and then it goes soaring in the air, this is the affirmation of all the effort and engineering wonders that the team has achieved.

What does your job entail?

I lead a team of competent and experienced engineers to work on commercial and military engineering development projects. I also dedicate time to understand the various development projects in the company and seek new opportunities externally.

What does your typical day look like?

As the head of a division in charge of engineering development, there are many things I have to oversee, especially when we work on a wide range of projects such as upgrades on military platforms, the passenger-to-freighter range of A330, A321/320 and 757, aircraft interior modification and unmanned air systems (UAS). My typical day comprises meetings with various stakeholders to come up with solutions from the operations and financials to HR matters. This is actually not any different from running a business. There are business development and marketing elements to my job too, as I also meet customers and partners to discuss ongoing or new potential projects. We maintain excellent relationships with the aircraft manufacturers – including Airbus and Boeing – as they are a vital part of our success.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy nurturing young engineering talents – whether it is to encourage creative thinking on technical issues or to broaden their perspectives. It is a great joy for me to guide them up in their careers and expose them to various aspects of working in the industry. I also enjoy talking to our customers about the great work that ST Engineering does. Few people realise that the Aerospace sector of ST Engineering does not just provide MRO services – we are one of the few maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) service providers in the world with in-house engineering capabilities. This has allowed us to either execute technically challenging projects such as modifications and conversions, or develop new aircraft seats that are not only lightweight but also comfortable. At the same time, we also spend a lot of effort to ensure that our end products are airworthy and safe. Working on development projects is another aspect I enjoy about my role. It is exciting and inspiring to see the creativity and passion of our engineers as they work on innovative solutions that add value to our customers. Given that these are often uncharted waters, there is so much room for engineers to innovate by stretching their thinking. As an example, we have leveraged our expertise in UAS to develop an end-to-end system called DroNet. Optimised for autonomous operations in an urban setting, it holds much potential in enabling a smart city when applied in use cases such as large-scale infrastructure security, parcel deliveries and building inspections. In Feb this year, we made further strides in bringing this solution to market by being the first company in Singapore to receive authorisation to conduct beyond visual line of sight flight operations.

What are the challenges?

The main challenge is to continue attracting talented engineers with a passion for aviation. There are many options available, and not many are aware of the breadth of opportunities in the aviation industry. I think it is an incredible waste of talent when young engineers enter other fields because they are not aware of what a career in aviation can offer. After all, the opportunities are limitless.

If you would like to feature in Working Week, or you know someone who does, email your pitch to kate.sarsfield@flightglobal.com

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