Staffing, Recruitment & Training

Training the next generation of bulk handling engineers

Dr Tim Donohue, general manager of TUNRA, and Jamie Tsang, a fourth-year University of Newcastle engineering student, provide an insight into the experiences on offer for undergraduate students. 

Dr Tim Donohue, general manager of TUNRA, and Jamie Tsang, a fourth-year University of Newcastle engineering student, provide an insight into the experiences on offer for undergraduate students. 

TUNRA Bulk Solids has a long and proud history of work in the bulk materials field. 

In 1975, Emeritus Professor Alan Roberts started TUNRA Bulk Solids with the purpose being to engage with industry partners and problem solve through applying research outcomes from the University. The primary purpose remains the same today, with TUNRA offering a range of testing services and engineering design services, continually refining the methods offered to industry as well as developing new test methods and ways of analysing problems. 

The focus for these services has always been driven by industry, either resulting from industry-led projects with research outcomes applied from the University, or newly developed services to meet an industry need. 

Working at the interface of industry and research allows an insight into the best of both worlds: the contribution to solving industry problems in novel or innovative ways is rewarding, and the continuous engagement with industry allows insights into emerging issues across the bulk materials sector.

In addition to TUNRA Bulk Solids’ primary problem-solving role, it also has a focus on developing and educating the bulk solids handling industry . There are many ways in which TUNRA supports the learning and development across the sector, and, in terms of direct to industry support, several technical training courses are delivered each year. 

These include the traditional face-to-face and online courses delivered either from TUNRA’s facilities in Newcastle or from other parts of the country depending on demand, or even internationally. 

To complement TUNRA’s face-to-face offerings, online courses are also an option for some segments of industry. These online courses have proven to be an excellent tool to provide low-cost training to parts of the world where there are none readily available locally, and where the cost of travel would be prohibitive to attend a face-to-face course. The continual involvement in teaching industry short courses emphasises the culture of learning within the TUNRA team – the benefit to industry is that this reinforces the need to ensure the solutions used in problem solving continually adapt based on the most recent research findings. 

Complementing the training courses offered to industry is the strong focus on offering applied learning opportunities for the next generation of undergraduate students as they make their way through their studies. This also fits in to the broader university strategy of offering work integrated learning opportunities for all its undergraduate students. 

TUNRA is a wholly owned entity of the University of Newcastle and so there are multiple connection points between TUNRA and the University, and while the research translation mechanisms noted previously facilitate the main connection, the remaining focus of this article is to highlight the benefits that scholarships can offer to undergraduate students. 

It should be noted that TUNRA Bulk Solids has been offering these opportunities for many years, and there are many examples of successful engineers, both within TUNRA and out in industry, that have been recipients of opportunities like this. 

The undergraduate experience

Jamie Tsang, a fourth-year Mechatronics student at the University of Newcastle, recently underwent an internship at TUNRA Bulk Solids. He shares his experience and perspective as an intern, highlighting the valuable lessons and hands-on experience gained during his time at TUNRA.

He said internships play a crucial role in providing students with practical experience in their field of study, enabling them to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom. 

“I was exposed to a range of projects that broadened my skills and knowledge in the field of Mechatronics,” Tsang said.

There were opportunities to work on projects that involved the design, testing, and analysis of material handling systems, which required skills in mechanics, control, and electronics to create cost-effective and efficient solutions.

“One of the projects I worked on was the redesign of an inclined friction tester. The team saw potential improvements that could be made to the existing design to ensure better reliability and make the machine easier to operate for users by reducing manual labour requirements. With a focus on efficiency and effectiveness, we set out to re-design the friction tester to address these concerns,” he said.

Skills in Computer-Aided Design software were used to design the machine and 3D printing technology to prototype and test the concepts, allowing the team to fine-tune the design and ensure its efficacy. 

Tsang said he was able to gain valuable experience in product design and prototyping, as well as the use of cutting-edge technologies like 3D printing. 

“This experience has broadened my understanding of the practical applications of Mechatronics and will undoubtedly serve me well in my future career,” he said.

In addition to designing material handling systems, there were opportunities to work on various other projects. For instance, the team analysed the dynamics of a wind tunnel using Computational Fluid Dynamics. They also worked on the re-design of a drum mixer for material handling, as well as the configuration and testing of a radiation detector. 

There were instances when an unfamiliar problem in a project proved to be quite challenging. 

Tsang said he was fortunate to have supportive seniors who readily offered their advice and guidance, helping me to overcome these challenges. 

“In addition to practical experience, I was quite impressed with the diverse range of engineers I got to work with at TUNRA,” he said. “Working with a team of experienced engineers was a great way to learn from different perspectives and gain new insights into industry.” 

“One of the valuable lessons learned during the internship was the importance of collaboration and team-based problem solving. When faced with a challenge, communicating, and bouncing ideas off other team members was a great way to spark new potential solutions and perspectives. 

“Working in a team that includes individuals with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking offers distinct advantages. It enables the team to generate creative solutions that may not have been possible through individual efforts. This approach not only leads to more innovative outcomes, but it also fosters a supportive and dynamic work environment where everyone can contribute and grow.”

Tsang said the internship was a valuable learning experience that allowed him to put analytical and technical skills into practice.

It provided opportunities to work in a supportive and collaborative work environment, where teamwork plays a key role in completing projects and achieving goals.

“I recommend internships as an essential first step for students looking to gain practical experience and make a valuable contribution to their field,” he said.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to the team at TUNRA Bulk Solids for the opportunity to work and learn alongside experienced professionals in the field. I have taken away valuable insights and hands-on experiences that I will carry with me throughout my career.” 

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