From building a ventilator in record time to working on a new hydrogen battery, Research Engineer Thomas Steigler MIEAust has packed a lot into his first four years in the profession.
Steigler, who is the 2021 Young Professional Engineer of the Year for Engineers Australia’s Newcastle Division, joined electrical engineering firm Ampcontrol in 2018 while completing his honours thesis in gas detection.
Attracted by the wide variety of projects, he has been with the company ever since. His work has included the opportunity to help develop an emergency ventilator in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working with biomedical technicians from John Hunter Hospital, the Ampcontrol team developed a prototype ventilator in just 18 days. Steigler was responsible for the electrical and mechanical aspects of the project, and was the lead testing engineer in proving the ventilator’s safety and success. This resulted in the Therapeutic Goods Administration granting it emergency exception approval.
While the machines have not yet been needed, Steigler said it was an extremely satisfying project to work on.
“It was in a completely different field that I hadn’t been exposed to before, and it was very successful,” he told create.
“I got an opportunity to work with people who I wouldn’t normally get to work with, biomedical staff from John Hunter hospital … and got hands-on experience engineering a product in the medical field. It’s something we’re all really proud of.”
Following the ventilator project, Steigler was part of a team that collaborated with Australian start-up LAVO on its “solar sponge” system.
This is the first residential hydrogen energy storage unit of its kind, which aims to pioneer the next generation of green energy storage for domestic use. Steigler worked on the electrical hardware component of the project.
“Instead of storing your excess solar energy in a lithium battery, [the LAVO system] converts that solar energy and stores it as hydrogen,” he said.
“This can be run back through the integrated fuel cell when you need it at night, or exported to the grid.”
He believes it is projects like these that saw him recognised as Newcastle’s Young Professional Engineer of the Year.
“I was completely surprised when I found out — I looked at the bios for the other finalists from the Newcastle Division and they all read so well,” he said. “I’m super proud to receive it at this early stage in my career. I think access to such a variety of projects has had a big impact.”
Advice for other young engineers
Studying engineering was the logical choice for Steigler, who had a passion for maths and science in high school, and whose father is also an engineer.
Before graduating from the University of Newcastle, he was heavily involved in the Formula SAE competition, in which students design and build a small race car.
“That taught me teamwork, communication and project management skills, which have been really useful,” he said. “[Those activities] certainly give you a step up over other students who haven’t been involved when you go into industry.”
It was also at university that Steigler became involved with Engineers Australia, attending industry talks and site visits as a student member, and finding his final year project after connecting with Ampcontrol Group Engineering Manager Dr Ian Webster at an electrical engineering event.
Today, it’s the problem-solving aspect of the profession that excites him, as well as exposure to a wide range of fields.
“I picked what I think will be enjoyable, that’s how my path has progressed,” he said.
“I enjoy learning. I’m exposed to this wide range of experience in all sorts of different areas, from very specific technical work to project management, and I’m enjoying building up my skills.”
His advice to other young engineers is to follow their passion.
“Choose a path that you enjoy,” he said. “You’re going to be able to put in the required effort if it is an area you enjoy — that’s where you’re going to do best,” he said.
The Young Engineer of the Year 2021 winners will be announced 1 March. To view the full list of finalists, visit our awards website.