Women in Engineering Week - Interview with Nancy Cutinha, Operations Manager - Anchor Magnets

As part of Women in Engineering Day, Elevation Recruitment Group brings you a series of interviews, published over the week. Our interviewees are women working in the engineering sector, in various roles and industries across the Yorkshire region.

Our final interviewee of the week is Nancy Cutinha, Operations Manager at Anchor Magnets. Nancy has over 20 years of experience in the industry, managing the manufacturing process, improving efficiencies, and implementing strategies. Nancy is dedicated to her affiliations with WEST and IChemE to encourage women into engineering careers and support those women retuning to STEM after career breaks.

In this interview Nancy shares her career journey to date, what her role as Operations Manager entails, her affiliations with engineering institutes and her thoughts on whether more needs to be done in education settings to engage young women into the engineering sector.

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What initially attracted you to a career in Engineering?

I have always been fascinated by the application of science, and that everything around us has been touched by science in some form.

I was attracted to the engineering sector because of its practical, hands on approach and I knew there were so many career opportunities and avenues within the industry. As importantly, I liked that engineering has a responsibility to the environment and global issues, and it helps shape the practices we see today.

I wanted the ability to work in an industry that I could develop everyday materials into products that have a purpose, whilst using technological advances such as robotics, automation, and virtual reality.

For all those reasons, engineering was the only career I wanted to pursue.

Can you tell us more about your career and how you have got to your current position as Operations Manager?

After I graduated with a degree in chemical and process engineering, I knew my key interests were in renewable energy and manufacturing process improvements. This led to my first role within a renewable energy company, that recycled household waste and turned it into district heating and generated power through a steam turbine to the national grid. My role was to optimise the steam turbine and engineer efficiency increases in the district heating system. I then moved into quality and environmental management, ensuring the company received accreditation to international standards, as a way of increasing their credibility with customers. 

After I took a career break from the industry to care for my family, I began working at a multi-national superalloys manufacturing industry, as a Process Engineer within the technical team. The business manufactured superalloys for the automotive, aerospace, and nuclear energy industries. In this role, I used my process engineering skills, root cause analysis techniques for problem solving and lean six sigma techniques to improve the product process, quality and yield. After a couple of years, I progressed into a management position for the continuous improvement and process engineering department of another superalloys manufacturing company, where I led a team of process engineers in developing systems to improve product yield, process efficiency, production capacity and product development. I was responsible for practices to both improve the quality of the products and reduce lead time for our customers. 

At that point, I felt I had accomplished everything that I wanted to in project and process engineering and was looking for a more strategic role, where I could utilise my skills to branch out and work with the different departments within a manufacturing business. That was when I found my current role as Operations Manager at Anchor Magnets.

In this role, I manage all operations on the company’s sites, both here in the UK and in Germany, including goods in, stock management, production, maintenance, process improvements, engineering, despatch, human resources, health and safety, quality, environment and developing culture. I work with a great team of senior managers, team leaders and production operators.

I now have a better insight into purchasing, pricing, employee and customer relationships, sales and marketing as well as the day-to-day production operations involved in meeting customer demands. I also work closely with our sales department to understand customer requirements and I am more involved in influencing strategy on change management, business growth and operational improvements.

What specifically attracted you to your position at Anchor Magnets?

The move to my current position was a result of wanting to grow beyond engineering into the wider realms of manufacturing. The role would enable me to work with diverse and multi-disciplinary teams of people on company-wide projects, to help develop and grow the business.

Having researched more about the role and the company, and speaking to the hiring team, I liked that as an Operations Manager I would have strategic oversight of the whole company operation and all aspects of the manufacturing process, from the receival of raw material, through to the various production processes, quality checks and dispatch. In addition to this, I was excited about the opportunity to be working in partnership with other supporting functions, such as sales, customer services, purchasing, stock management, maintenance, product and process development, health and safety, quality and environment, whilst working externally with suppliers and contractors and managing internal personnel.

I knew I could make a valuable contribution to the wider business, and I wanted the opportunity to support and develop the team and the full product lifecycle.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

The role has given me fantastic opportunities to learn more about managing health and safety, legal aspects and human resources, recruiting and developing team-leaders and team building exercises.

I have also learned in depth about the process and science behind the manufacturing of magnets of all kinds, from sheet magnets for the advertising and retail industry, to extruded magnets and magnets for various engineering applications.

I am constantly learning new ways of doing things and finding opportunities for improvement in processes, team building and product portfolio.

I also enjoy liaising with my network in academia, through the University of Sheffield and the Institution of Chemical Engineers and Institute of Materials and Metals, to develop relationships within the industry. We currently have a second-year chemical engineering student working with us on an industrial placement, they are looking into more opportunities for recycling our magnetic product. We would like to do more to support young people that are considering engineering and manufacturing roles as a career.

Can you tell us more about your membership with the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IchemE) and your affiliation with the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET+)?

I have served as treasurer of the Sheffield Members Group of the IChemE for the last 5 years, and previously as secretary. As an active member of the IChemE, I am also responsible for reviewing budgets for regional member groups. I carry out peer reviews for undergraduate chemical engineering courses for various universities, as part of their accreditation with the institution. In recent years, I have been invited by the University of Sheffield to judge poster presentations for students studying a master’s degree in engineering, which is great - I love to see the creative thinking and innovations from budding engineers.

I am also a STEM ambassador and supporter of WEST (Women in Engineering, Science and Technology). WEST is a small charity where various universities and institutions work together to support women in achieving their full potential in a range of industries, from shaping policies to encouraging more girls into STEM careers. I try to do my part as an advocate for the engineering sector by giving talks to secondary school students, and in particular young women, about jobs in industry, talking about my role and career path, and the career opportunities available to engineers. I have also initiated industrial placements within Anchor Magnets for A level and university students wanting to pursue careers in engineering and manufacturing.

What has been your biggest learning curve/ challenge in your career?

The nature of engineering means there is always something new to learn, whether that be technology, systems, or processes. What I have found most challenging but also interesting is people partnerships and management. In my current role, I work with a diverse group of people, so my biggest challenge has been improving my communication skills and trying to understand how people think and work. This is something that I continue to work on.

For me, the biggest challenge in my career was moving from a heavily technological and engineering-based environment to managing a larger and more diverse group of people. Manufacturing processes are exciting, but people are also very interesting.

What has been your biggest achievement in your engineering career to date?

My proudest achievement as an engineer was managing a multi-million-pound investment project, to increase capacity of the continuous superalloy casting process by about 50%. I worked with teams of engineers from the USA, Germany, and UK. My organisational skills took on a sharp learning curve, as I had to deal with multi-disciplinary teams of contractors, engineers, electrical technicians, safety inspectors, corporate lawyers and have regular updates with the board of directors. This was both exhilarating and challenging to ensure the budget allocation and deadlines for project completion were met, which thankfully they did!

As a woman in Engineering, do you have any role models that you look to inside your field and why?

One of my role models is Professor Daphne Jackson, a physicist who shattered the glass ceiling to become the first female professor of physics in the UK. She was a pioneer of women in STEM and a founder of WEST (Women in Engineering, Science and Technology), a charity with an aim to inspire women to study and work in non-traditional trades and careers like engineering. I am particularly inspired by her support for women who return to STEM after a career break, something I whole-heartedly support.

What do you think are the main qualities you need to succeed in an engineering role and the industry as a whole?

As an engineer, you gain a range of analytical skills, but communication skills are equally as important. You need to also be aware of who you are speaking with and use terminology that non-technical departments can understand too.

You need the determination to succeed whatever the odds and be resilient to challenges you face along the way.

Do you think there is more that needs to be done in education to engage young women into engineering subjects?

It is good to see we have come a long way as women engineers, but there is still a lot that needs to be done to improve. I do not believe there are enough female engineering role models that are visible and are able to encourage young women to start a career in engineering.

Having STEM ambassadors that go into schools and provide talk about engineering careers will make a big difference to the industry.

If you were to sell the idea of a career in Engineering, what would you say are the best things about it?

Engineering offers many varied opportunities that are applicable world-wide, and you can always adapt skills to new industries.

A degree in engineering can open career opportunities such as education and academia, research, a range of careers in the industry or even a move into investment banking. (Banking industries look for engineers to access the viability of projects). Other engineers work as contractors on varied engineering projects both nationally and globally. In short, a career in engineering opens up a world of opportunities, the main challenge is taking that first step!

What is the most important advice you would give to women who are interested in starting a career in engineering?

I would always say go for it, the world is literally your oyster and do not be put off by anything. There is a lot of flexibility in engineering careers, and it also has a global reach too.

For more information on the industry, or to speak to our Engineering and Manufacturing recruitment division, please contact John Bohan, Senior Director This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Ian Bruce, Regional Director This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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