A gender neutral field service engineering workforce

How can new and emerging technologies encourage a gender neutral field service engineering workforce?

Judith Lesowiec specialised in Mechanical Engineering and started her career with Rolls-Royce. Judith is now a Lead Engineer for Edwards Vacuum part of the Atlas Copco Group.
In this article, she discusses how service tasks for field engineers can be made gender neutral.

Judith Lesowiec profile photo

Background

“3…..2……1…… LAUNCH”
That was the start of my engineering career, aged 17. I was, with a team of classmates, launching a weather balloon, strapped with a GPS tracker and portable camera, into the edge of space.
The next few hours were tense as the GPS tracker ascended above our monitorable range. We had to wait to see if the culmination of all our planning and designing would result in success.
I’m pleased to announce it did, as you can see in one of the images we captured below.

Passion for engineering

This sparked a passion in me and started me on my journey to becoming an engineer! And, happily for me, the space balloon project was a brilliant example of a successful engineering team. We were a diverse, proactive, and supportive group. We supported one another in our strengths and helped each other in our weaknesses.
I particularly enjoyed the part of my role liaising with the local air traffic controller, and making sure our balloon wouldn’t get into any unintended trouble.
However, all the roles, from design to manufacture to the rescue mission of the descended balloon, were gender neutral. So, they could have been done by any team member. It meant we could all play to our strengths and have equal opportunities. What a dream ?

Career path

Fast forward 10 years and the dream is looking slightly different. I’m working in Field Service Engineering technology for Semiconductor Service. It’s a fascinating area, and the day-to-day role of the service engineers, is interesting, varied, and of ever-growing importance!

Legacy of a male dominated sector

However, due to the legacy of engineering traditionally being a male dominated sector, some field service tasks can be designed to the average male lifting and height requirements.
This means that field service engineers who don’t fit those initial design requirements may struggle or be unable to complete some service tasks. This is of course by no means the engineers’ failing, rather that initial gender-neutral task designs were not taken into consideration.
Going forwards we can design new service tasks so that they can be completed by anyone, regardless of their gender. But how do we counteract those legacy tasks that still need to be performed now? And is technology the answer?

I would say an enthusiastic: Absolutely!

Technology-based solutions – AI

In my current role at Edwards Vacuum I am leading on exploring technology-based solutions to this legacy problem!
One such solution uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) backed technology to measure the ergonomic suitability of a field service task.
Simply take a video of the task for analysis. Then input it into the system along with any weights/forces, and out comes a report of the ergonomic suitability. It analyses a person’s posture and so, by testing a range of people with different body types (gender, height, build etc.), any potential ergonomic suitability problems with the task can be found.
Once the problems have been found, we can then design them out retrospectively, or supply additional support (tooling, assistance etc.) so the task can be completed.
The best part is that field service engineers globally can have access to this technology. They are then empowered to test the ergonomics of any specific local tasks they may have to do.

Technology-based solutions – exoskeletons

Another technology we are exploring is the use of exoskeletons as powered lifting tools. These smart bits of tooling help the wearer adopt the most ergonomic positions for lifting. As well they provide up to 30kg additional lifting strength! And that’s not all. We currently have 25+ bits of technology on our emerging technology watchlist to keep on improving the field service engineer experience.
Some examples include health monitoring wearable trackers, mixed reality headsets for technical support and cobots.

Summary

The issue is, of course, bigger than gender differences.
For example, the same applies to racial and national differences. If tasks have been designed based on the average American male or European male, male engineers from countries where men are historically smaller will also be impacted, by these technological advances.
The ultimate aim is that no one’s physical body limitations will stop them from becoming a field service engineer.
In summary, I am convinced that adopting the right emerging technologies will continue to increase the diversity of our field service engineer population. This will then ensure that nobody is being held back because of their gender.
With all of these exciting solutions at our disposal I am confident, as I learnt at 17 with the space project, that the sky is the limit!

Further reading

Women field engineers share their tips and experience.
PPE issues for women is discussed in:
Jessie Moffitt, Wind Turbine Technician for Fairwind in the United States
Diversity in field engineering – Allyship – a practical and positive compass

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  1. Congratulations Judith, It is wonderful to read about women working in the Engineer field, it gives us empowerment and pride to see equality in the area!