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Later this year it’ll be a big fifth anniversary for Ashleigh, who joined us as an administrator in December 2017. She’s seen many developments at aae since that time, with staff changes and pandemic lockdowns causing her to evolve professionally and fully embrace her recent promotion to Operations Co-ordinator. 

Ashleigh gets involved with pretty much every aspect of what we do here, from sales to logistics and administration. We found a few minutes within her busy schedule to learn more about her role and her personal progression at aae technologies

How would you describe your role at aae technologies?  

Very varied – which is nice! Often I won’t know exactly what I’m doing day-to-day, so I’m basically all over the place, getting involved where I need to and making things happen. But I actually really like that. On any day, I could be doing anything from accounts to sales, repairs, freight and more. 

In our office, you have to know a bit about everything, because if anyone’s absent we need to cover for it. You get to learn a great deal about the business in general and understand more areas than just your own. That’s why I like it, because you’re constantly having to think about how to get around certain problems and find solutions fairly quickly. That’s what I enjoy most.

What brought you to joining the company?  

I was in a job where they pushed me towards a certain role that didn’t suit my skills, and I realised my true interest and talents were in administration. When the admin role came up here, I saw from the beginning it would be quite varied and I’d be involved with a bit of everything, so I jumped at it. Admin is my area, really, where I work best. 

Did you have an interest in subsea technology?  

To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about it as I was younger then! It sounded interesting to me, but it’s not something you understand that much until you actually start and get into it. And then you get to know how all the products we make work, and the interesting applications they’re used for. Obviously, I don’t have a technical background, but I find it all very fascinating and love learning as much as I can.  

How has your career progressed since you joined?  

I joined as an office administrator, but it was getting busy at the time and they needed someone who could cover other areas and switch between accounts, admin and sales. So it’s always been varied since I started.

Since that time, it’s continued to get busier and when one or two people left that gave me the opportunity to progress, take more control and at the same time learn more about the company and the products. 

So my role scaled up due to those departures and the pandemic. It was just me and my colleague Pam taking care of all the administration and switching between those roles. We look back on that and think, wow, how did we do that? We were working from home, a person down and on the phone to each other all day. For me, that was the turning point for the progression of my career, I had to step up into the role. 

It feels like it happened quite naturally, because I work well with Pam. It was easy to work out what we each needed to do each day to get things done in a very organised way, and I hadn’t realised I had that in me up til that point. So I’ve learnt quite a lot about myself doing this – I’m much more confident and comfortable in the role. It helped me to push myself, which was a great thing to happen. 

What’s been your biggest highlight?  

I think coming back into the office after the lockdowns and everyone being here again. One of my things is being part of a team, and working from home and just being on the phone isn’t the same as actually seeing them. I think the team has grown and become stronger off the back of that experience and coming back into the office again. 

When everyone was at home, you had to keep on communicating – picking up the phone instead of just popping over to speak to somebody. So I think a lot of people learned that communication is key and it’s forced people to become a bit closer, to be positive about asking questions and so on. 

And, obviously, the promotion to Operations Co-ordinator – that was lovely! 

What’s been your biggest challenge?  

I think when we were a person short during lockdowns, it was a massive shift. The vacant role was in sales, so I had to quickly learn how to do that job thoroughly and change my whole way of thinking for the role, while also working from home and getting through my existing day-to-day work. That was challenging, but then it was also rewarding and is paying off for me now in terms of my current job.

“We’re really good internally at saying, this is urgent. Let’s turn it around and get it out of the door.”

What do you love most about the job?

I do love coming into work and being with my team. The atmosphere here is so genuine, and you do care about each other. I love the work, I like a challenge, and I like how every day is different and there are constantly things we’re trying to find out. But if you’ve got a team that you’re comfortable with, that’s the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. 

What do clients love most about what you do?

I think people like the more personal approach in our office. We’ve built great relationships with our clients and they have a sense that they know they’re going to get our attention on their issue. They know they can rely on us and they’re not going to have to wait for ages for an answer. As we’re all a closely-knit team under one roof, we can respond fast. 

We’re really good at turning things around very quickly. A customer might call saying they’re in urgent need of a part, or a system, can we dispatch it today so they get it tomorrow? And we’ll be able to say we can. We’re really good internally at saying, ‘This is urgent. Let’s turn it around and get it out of the door.’

What makes aae technologies unique?

I think we’ve just got a completely different approach to everybody else. It sounds silly, but we’re genuine, nice people, and the website reflects exactly who we are.

Sometimes, you’ll see a website and wonder if it’s all 100% true, but I believe we are what we say we are. Our personal enthusiasm comes through, in a human kind of way. And it’s also true internally – people here won’t talk to you like you’re supposed to know what something is, and if it’s quite technical they’ll always find a way to explain it in human terms that make sense. I’ve never felt uncomfortable about asking questions about how things work. If you really want to know about something, everyone will have the time to help you understand, which helps me to learn and in the end do a better job. 

What are you excited about for the future?

I feel like we’ve already come so far and seen so much positive change in terms of our marketing, the website and the show stand. It feels like we’re constantly elevating ourselves and rising up. So I’m excited to see what else we can do. 

If you look at the difference the last few years have made to our brand, it’s exciting to think what more we can do over the next few years! 

Looking to upgrade your subsea equipment? 

Check out our latest range of sensors, beacons, transponders, USBL systems, workstations and more… 

In many ways, Jamie is aae technologies’ best-kept secret. Rarely having direct contact with customers, and strangely absent from our website’s team pages, he’s been playing a key role in our workshops for many years. Doing everything from writing software to drilling holes, refining our testing processes and constantly exploring the best ways to get things done, he uses every one of his diverse skills on a daily basis.

Jamie took time out from his duties as Production Supervisor to talk over the highlights of his time here at aae technologies and how his work has evolved since joining us in 1999.

How would you describe your role at aae technologies?  

It’s now looking after the acoustic positioning product range. So, I could be doing anything from advising one of our engineers on what to do, to putting products together myself. 

We’ve recently split production into tiers, separating our sub-bottom profiling product line from our acoustic positioning product range, which includes all of our positioning and release beacons, and our Easytrak USBL systems. I look after the acoustic positioning  product range, while Rob Whiting handles the sub-bottom profiling production.

What brought you to joining aae?  

Twenty-something years ago, I did a work placement at another local undersea technology company called GeoAcoustics for around 18 months. When I’d finished my HND, I was then looking for a job and sent my CV around to a few similar companies, one of which was aae

My thinking was, I knew the area (both locally speaking and in terms of the industry) and could work here for a while until I found my ‘dream job’. Someone at GeoAcoustics vouched for me and helped me get in the door. That was in August 1999. Since then, I’ve stayed here for over 23 years – it must have been my dream job after all! 

Did you have a previous interest in subsea technology?  

Coming through the education system, I did an OND in engineering, which involved both mechanical and electronic engineering. This was all locally – the OND was at Great Yarmouth College and then the HND at Norwich City College. I always thought I wanted to go into the CAD (computer aided design) side of things, but found myself getting into the electronics side and it kind of went from there. 

How has your career changed or progressed since joining?  

So, I started as a trainee, working on subsea equipment assembly for around one or two years. I then progressed to a test engineer role, and after five years then to senior test engineer where I basically ended up looking after all the test fixtures. It’s now so long ago, it’s tricky to remember! From there it’s progressed again more recently to the production side, and supervision. 

How do you feel aae has changed in that time?

When I started, the company had around ten members of staff, and we’re now up to around 50, so there’s been a marked amount of growth. When you’ve been here for as long as I have, you do start to feel a vested interest in the business, and it’s been a real pleasure watching it grow from a small company to where we are now. 

Twenty-three years ago, we were at the smaller Faraday Way site, literally only 500 yards away. We might not have moved very far distance-wise since I’ve been here, but as a company we’ve taken enormous leaps and bounds. I’ve been through two moves of premises, and each time the building has gotten twice as big.

What’s been your biggest highlight or achievement so far?  

Probably the whole tank testing process that we do with the beacons. I’ve taken it from what it was when I started to something far more automated. 

We originally had a calculator and a piece of paper, and would manually work out all the calculations for what we were measuring in the tank. Now it’s all done by computer – you can leave it for twenty minutes and it’s all done for you when you come back. It’s gone from an hour test with constant monitoring to a twenty-minute test that is click-and-forget.

To be honest, the real achievement was actually getting the company to agree to the software. It was a three-year progression, which started with saying ‘if we invest this amount, this is what we can do.’ At the time, it was a big investment for us on software but I think it paid for itself after three years in terms of the amount of time and labour that we’ve saved. We basically cut the time for testing down to a third of what it was. That’s probably my biggest achievement. 

Is it true to say technology has driven the evolution of the business?

When I started there were just four computers in the entire company. And now every person in the company has at least one device, as well as all the shared terminals for testing. The improvements in technology are visible in the products as well. There are things we do now that we couldn’t have done twenty years ago, especially thanks to miniaturisation in what you can do in the integrated circuit (IC) or microchip. 

When I first started, it was literally an eprom and analogue electronics, but that role is now performed by a microcontroller or ARM chip. Where it was once all analogue electronics, it’s now all done digitally. It’s really hard to describe the change, as it’s something you can’t see, it’s all done in a little black device. But it makes a big difference.

What’s been your biggest challenge?  

I guess it’s been learning to have the patience to let people agree with your opinion – or not! I’m quite opinionated, and because I’ve been here for years, I believe there is a certain way of doing things. I will share my opinion, but obviously there is a structure involved and you have to be happy to let people who have more of an idea of what to do have their opinion too. 

I might disagree over how something is done, but you need to trust others with their plan and follow it. You have to believe that the person you’re working with knows what they’re doing, and that you don’t always know best. On a personal level, that’s my biggest challenge. 

In a team environment, with collaboration, you always need to find the middle ground and come to an agreement. Or you can give someone else’s way a try. You can always say ‘I told you so’ at the end, but there’s no point in making things more difficult than they need to be. Sometimes the only way to know for sure is to test. 

This said, I can’t think of any occasions where we’ve done something that I’ve really disagreed with and it’s gone wrong! 

“I love the variety of what I do. One day I could be drilling holes in a box, another day writing software or fault-finding, trying to find problems with an item.”

What’s your usual day like?

On a good day, I’ll come in, check emails, check that everyone in the team is OK and then I won’t hear anything. Everything will just proceed as normal in terms of production and testing. 

On a bad day, I’ll come in, check emails and then get a million and one problems. And then you’re in problem-solving mode for the rest of the day. But that’s the good thing about what I’m doing now – no two days are the same. 

Problems vary from a small scratch on a casing to needing to replace the unit to even ‘this whole thing’s on fire, what do we do?’. That did happen, but only once! There was a short-circuit on one of the test units, so we got it outside ASAP! Nothing like that has ever happened with any finished products, though.

Otherwise, everything I do is workshop-based – due to my knowledge and skill set – and I enjoy being in the thick of what’s going on there. 

What do you love most about your job?

The variety of things I get to do. One day, I could be drilling holes in a box, another I could be writing software or fault-finding, trying to find problems with an item. Quite a range of activities. 

This probably grows from my college experience. Back then everyone was encouraged to try a bit of everything. It seems now that colleges don’t want to do that. We’ll have conversations with people who are just out of college who maybe have done a particular engineering course but haven’t done any modules on fault-finding or even basic engineering skills like using a drill. That might be an exaggeration, but everything seems very PC-based rather than practical, which may in part be down to how health and safety in training has changed over the last twenty years. But I enjoy having a range of skills I can use every day. 

What do clients appreciate most about what you do?

I would hope the reliability of it! I don’t personally get direct feedback from clients, but news does filter through from the sales and technical teams if there are issues and something we need to check or change in our processes. It’s always good to know where we can improve anything. 

What are you excited about for the future?

We have some very exciting new products coming out – some I can talk about and others I can’t yet! Obviously Pyxis is a big one for us, and much talked about, but there is some very interesting stuff in the pipeline that could be potentially game-changing for us as a company. I’m sure it’ll all be announced in due course! 

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the team growing. We took on two new production staff during the last four months and I expect over the summer at least one more will be added. 

It could be that we’ll see more women coming into the industry. We’ve now got two women working in production, and I know there’s another applying for a work placement with us, so there are definitely more women coming through than 20 years ago. And it does feel more open than it was. 

Looking to upgrade your subsea equipment? 

Check out our latest range of sensors, beacons, transponders, USBL systems, workstations and more… 

You’d be forgiven for thinking engineering is a boys-only club. Indeed, men do still fill the majority of roles in any engineering context.

But the balance is shifting. More young women are choosing to pursue careers in engineering – from civil projects to construction, technology, IT, mechanics and of course subsea equipment. 

On International Women’s Day, we wanted to shift our focus to women working at aae technologies and talk to one of them about how they got into their role.

The changing face of the engineering landscape

Wherever you look now in the engineering field, you’ll find women in key roles. A survey by the Women’s Engineering Society in June 2021 found that 14.5% of engineers in the UK were women. This may not sound like a significant figure, but is a marked improvement on the 9% found in 2015 – representing a 61% increase over the 6-year period. 

Attitudes from a young age are also changing quickly. Many old-fashioned ideas of what constitute ‘proper’ roles for women have now been firmly left behind in the last century, and perceptions of gender barriers to scientific or engineering careers are fading. The same report found 60% of girls aged 11-14 would consider a career in engineering, compared to 46.4% in 2018 – an approximate 30% jump in 3 years. 

There’s no reason to assume this rate of change will slow, and we should continue to see improved parity in the years to come. 

Quick aae spotlight: Jane Hayes

We’ve been delighted to welcome two new female engineers into our production team over the past year – Assembly Technician Jane Hayes and Junior Assembly Technician Elizabeth Matthews – and another young woman is set to join us for a work placement soon. 

Jane’s pathway into engineering seems to have been quite smooth. Out of college, she found herself working at electronics giant Sanyo and really enjoyed getting involved with cutting-edge technology. However, the fact she doesn’t possess a specific engineering or electronics degree or diploma did not hold her back. 

“Luckily,” says Jane, “I was moved into the test area.” It turns out she is a testament to simply getting involved and learning as you go on the job to get ahead. “Not being qualified,” she says, “everything I have learned has been through me being nosey…”

It seems nosiness and an aptitude for technology can play a key part in finding your direction and shaping your career. Jane also corroborates the findings from the Women’s Engineering Society, above, showing how perceptions of gender roles have shifted. “Nowadays,” she says, “there don’t seem to be many barriers for women to forge a career in engineering.”

She’s a strong believer in casting aside doubts and having the confidence to pursue whatever you feel drawn to. Her advice? “I would encourage any women to follow their interests in any career.”

The results of such self-belief are very rewarding. “I’m happy to go to work every day so that must mean I enjoy my work.” Spoken like a true engineer – logical and yet heart-warming at the same time.

No true path to an engineering career

What’s interesting in talking to a few women in engineering is that you don’t necessarily need to progress through a conventional engineering degree or similar qualification path in order to gain entry to a fulfilling career. As Jane mentioned above, she didn’t gain any specific qualifications, but learnt everything through getting involved with the work she loved and wanted to do.

In the IT world, Vickie Allen (senior developer and founder of the DevelopHER Awards) has become highly respected in her field, yet did not go to university. Always strong in Maths and logical thinking, she started in placements straight from school and progressed her way up the ladder through constant learning as she went. 

Similarly, through the awards, Vickie has encountered a great number of success stories of women who discovered a love for technical work, used online resources to teach themselves more and side-stepped into a more technical role. It seems that, where companies have women with skills and aptitudes who are keen to learn, they are often willing to welcome a change of career to a more engineering-based role.

The most positive feature of engineering is that it is constantly changing and evolving as technology also evolves and progresses. With everyone continually learning on the job and adopting new ways of working, this means that newcomers are not hugely disadvantaged compared to more experienced colleagues, and may have a better handle on new ways of working. 

Women in Engineering Day

March 8th might be International Women’s Day, but the engineering sector gets its own Women In Engineering Day on June 23rd. We’ll be sure to also shine the light on our female engineers then, to see how they’ve continued to progress and catch up on any new starters between now and then! 

Considering a career in subsea technology? 

Talk to us today about available opportunities or what training might be applicable to the roles you see yourself moving into in the future.

In March, we were delighted to meet friends and colleagues, old and new at Oceanology International 2022. As well as showcasing our Pyxis INS + USBL positioning system, we also shared our wide range of positioning and release beacons, and the MiniPod family of submersible GNSS receivers. Not only this but attendees could also explore our industry-leading geophysical equipment.

Oceanology

What else did customers get to see?

We were offering visitors the chance to get hands-on with the equipment, running dedicated on-the-water demonstrations onboard Briggs Marine coastal survey vessel, the Solent Guardian, in conjunction with MIND Technologies Inc. Our demonstrations included the Pyxis INS & USBL system together with the Klein 4K-SVY sidescan sonar in action. In addition to the live demonstrations, we hosted equipment workshops, and showcased our industry leading sub-bottom profiling equipment as well as our MiniPod range.

About Oceanology 2022

Oceanology International is the leading forum where industry, academia and government share knowledge and connect with the world’s marine science and ocean technology communities. Learn from ocean leaders from across the globe, boost your technical and blue economy knowledge, and connect with your industry colleagues at one of the many social events.

With over 8,000 attendees targeted for 2022, and 500+ exhibitors it is a must-attend event for those involved in exploring, monitoring, developing or protecting the world’s oceans, from seabed to surface and beyond.

When Steve joined us as Senior Support Engineer at the end of 2020, he brought with him over 25 years’ experience in the subsea acoustics sector and a hunger to make sure all our customers get nothing less than the best. The pandemic meant his role was restricted to phone or video calls, so, as concerns lessen, he can’t wait to get out and about to offer support face to face.

We caught Steve at the start of another varied week to get his thoughts on what it’s like to work at aae technologies and what he’s looking forward to over the next few months.

How would you describe your role at aae technologies?  

My role is Senior Support Engineer, so primarily I look after the customers. I help them with the equipment, to make sure it is working correctly, and they are using it correctly. A customer will call me up with a problem and I’ll talk it through with them and hopefully get it sorted out over the phone. But if there’s a major problem, the equipment comes back and I service and repair it. Generally, it’s about speaking to customers, going out on visits when possible and making customers happy at the end of the day.

Also, when Covid measures allow, I’ll be going out to demonstrate new equipment to the customers face to face and training them in how to use it. So, it’s very varied, very exciting, and I’m just waiting for Covid to let me go out and do the role I’m used to!

What originally sparked your interest in subsea technology?  

Straight out of college I did a work placement at another local company, GeoAcoustics, who manufacture  similar products to us. I was a customer service manager there, so I’ve been in customer service for around 15-20 years, looking after customers in a very similar way to what we do now. 

I came to the industry out of pure luck, really. During my two college courses, we had to do work placements, and their company’s name popped up each time as having an opportunity, so I kept going back as it was quite an interesting role. 

I’ve been in the industry now for 26 years, and the roles I’ve had in it are very varied. I’ve travelled all over the world and helped customers everywhere I’ve been, which is very exciting. The equipment that we make is fascinating. It’s just not a ‘normal’ industry! It’s also very close-knit. You see all the same customers over and over again during the course of a year, so it’s a very friendly industry to be in.

What brought you to joining aae?  

Unfortunately, the firm I was working for previously started to make cutbacks due to the pandemic. I’d noticed that aae were looking for a customer service engineer, and I knew Neil MacDonald, our Technical Manager, well from our time together at college 30 years ago (as well as living in the same street!). So I asked him if aae was still looking, he said ‘yes!’ and so I made the jump. 

It’s interesting how other firms have been making savings and scaling down during Covid, while aae have been getting busier over the last two years and employing more people. So it’s a really exciting place to be. We’ve obviously upgraded the image and the brand, and it looks like we’re reaping the rewards from doing that. 

How has your career changed or progressed since joining?  

As I’ve only been here 14 months, it hasn’t progressed that much. This said, as I haven’t so far been able to travel – it’s been all office and workshop based – I’ve been getting to know all the equipment we make inside out. Before, at my previous company, I used to build the equipment, test it and knew everything about it because I’d been there so long. Since joining aae it’s been a bit like starting again.

It’s very similar equipment, but there are subtle differences, so I’ve been learning as much as I possibly can about the products. This way, when I am finally unleashed into the world and free to travel, I’ll have a full understanding of the equipment and the confidence to talk our customers through our systems. So when they have the tricky questions, I’ll have all the answers. You might say I’m waiting now for the opportunity to get on out there. 

Also, the people here are great, the atmosphere is nice and you enjoy coming into work. I’ve been absorbing the company culture the last 14 months, too.

What’s been your biggest highlight so far?  

I’d probably say Ocean Business, the big trade show last October in Southampton. We went there with our new stand, released Pyxis to the market and carried out some new product demonstrations. I finally got to see customers face to face again and interact with them in person, rather than through a Zoom call. 

There were plenty of people who I already knew from my years in my previous job and new customers as well because aae’s client base is slightly different. It was great to introduce myself to customers, see real people and show them how our products work. That’s been the highlight for me so far. 

Ocean Business was actually delayed by 6 months due to Covid, so we were like caged tigers, waiting to get out. We’re very much looking forward to the next big show, Oceanology at the Excel in London this March.

Ocean Business

What’s been your biggest challenge?  

I’d say starting at a new company. My previous company had been my only real job for 25 years, so starting not only with new equipment but also a new way of working was a challenge. There’s always an element of fear of going from somewhere you’ve been comfortable for a long time to somewhere new.

But it has felt like a very easy transition to make. Looking at a whole new range of equipment that you’ve never seen before and wondering how to fix it can be very daunting. But everyone’s been very helpful, helped me train and been very patient with me. The change from one job to another couldn’t have been nicer. What could have been a big challenge was made a lot easier by the people here – a bit like everything we do, really. 

______

“If a customer is on a ship that’s costing thousands to operate every day, they can’t wait for 6 hours until you’ve had your coffee in the morning!”

______

What do you love most about your job?

I would say the customer satisfaction. The customer has invested a lot in our equipment, and if they’re having problems with it or don’t know how to use it, you can be on the other end of the phone to talk them through the process of getting the equipment working correctly. 

At the end of the day, if they can understand the full potential of the equipment and the best way to use it, and you’ve helped in that, then it makes everything worthwhile. Obviously, if they’re happy with the equipment, then they’ll potentially want to come back for more and work with us again for all their needs.

What do clients appreciate most about what you do?

They’re happy that you’re always on the end of the phone or an email, and that they can rely on aae’s equipment not only to work but if they do have problems there will be someone there to help them. We’ve got a great customer support team who are available 24/7, which gives customers faith in the equipment as well as faith in the company. 

Obviously, our equipment is used all over the world, so there is a team of us on a 24-hour call rota, even over Christmas and New Year. If a customer is on a ship that’s costing thousands to operate every day, but they can’t use it because our equipment’s down, then they need answers as soon as possible. They can’t wait for 6 hours until you’ve had your coffee in the morning! 

What do you think makes aae technologies unique?

I think it’s how it started, with Adam running with an idea, setting up as a small, family-type business and growing the company, but not losing any of that family ethic. We haven’t got too big or too corporate, and we still have that family approach. It’s all very friendly, no politics. Adam is still running the company after 32 years and has the same mentality as when he started out. 

From an equipment point of view, the reliability and the quality of our products is what customers really appreciate, so they come back to us time and time again. Maintaining that reputation is very important for a company of our size. I’ve seen from the outside how the company has grown over the years, and it’s very impressive how they’ve gained the reputation they have. 

Do you think a lot of what you do is defined by good customer service?

Yes. As we said before, the industry is very small. If a company starts to get a reputation for poor customer service, word will get around and you’ll start losing customers. Even though the industry is global, it’s still very small and everyone knows everybody. So it’s very important to have good customer service, helpful staff and reliable equipment to maintain your reputation in the industry.

What are you excited about for the future?

To be able to see the customers again at their place of work rather than via a Zoom call. Oceanology 2022 coming up in March and some exciting new products that aae is waiting to release into the market. So I can’t wait to go out, meet people and start demonstrating them to the customers.

I remember in my interview with Neil and Adam that I said this company is growing and on the verge of something very big. There is some exciting equipment around and there’s plenty of scope for the company to grow even more. It feels strange to say the growth of the last two years has been just the start of it when the company has been around since 1989, but it’s definitely the start of a great new chapter for aae.

Looking to upgrade your subsea equipment? 

Check out our latest range of sensors, beacons, transponders, USBL systems, workstations and more.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it had been a tough year, with pandemic restrictions and increased logistics hurdles to contend with. But our teams expanded to meet demand, our brand and website got a refresh and we rose to meet all the challenges thrown at us. Read on to see how we’ve maintained our company culture and continued to meet customer needs throughout 2021…

New faces, new look, same level of service  

You’ll have noticed we look a little different than we did at the start of the year. In early 2021, we went through the process of updating our brand and the results have gone far beyond simply an improved logo and colour scheme. 

The new designs and layouts across our website, literature and exhibition stands work in two ways. Firstly, they are far more engaging, helping customers to understand what we do and find what they need more quickly. And, secondly, they instil everyone at aae technologies with more confidence and motivation than ever– in everything we produce and our approach to customer service. 

We’re still the company you know, trust and respect, and we still have the same keen interest in what customers need from us. We’re just using our branding to more clearly convey our dedication, expertise and high standards. 

Watching the company evolve and expand

We’re pleased to say most demand for our products comes from the renewable energy industry. With the world’s focus shifting away from fossil fuels, this is a constantly growing sector that will only see increased demand over the coming years. To keep pace with this demand for our products, we invested in growing two of our most vital assets: our workplace and our people.

With sales in Geophysical products this year more than doubling, we’ve expanded our workshop space to accommodate the necessary increase in production capacity and ensure we continue to satisfy customers’ needs. 

We’ve also welcomed several new additions across all our teams, both in production and administration. Design engineers, a product manager, senior support engineer, quality control expert, sales staff and workshop technicians across all levels were included in this year’s new draft, bringing extra enthusiasm and range to our expertise and delivery. 

Putting ourselves on display

Our new branding has been really put through its paces since Covid restrictions eased and in-person events started up again. The striking new expo stand marked a huge step up in our physical presence at these events, presenting our products in a dynamic, professional way and leaving a lasting impression on both prospective and existing customers.

Ocean Business Expo

This gave Paul Griffiths, our new business development manager, and the whole sales team the perfect platform from which to showcase our products, services and our company values. With his established industry relationships, Paul has loved getting out to meet everyone again, and with the rest of the team has wasted no time in catching up with old faces, making new friends and strengthening our position in our sector. Make sure you spare them a few minutes when you see them at the next industry event!

Pushing new innovations

This year saw a number of product improvements, which either directly addressed clients’ needs or gave clients new capabilities and improved functionality. 

Here’s a quick run-down of what’s new:

1519 Release Beacon

In March, we were able to make mechanical changes to the 1519 to increase its load rating from 75Kg to 125Kg. This meant clients could release higher loads in shallow water applications.

Micro Beacons

In June, we waved goodbye to the 1319A and 1219A to make way for our new Micro Beacons: the 1329A and 1329D. Improved electronics and larger batteries combine to give longer operational life and the option for accurate depth aiding.

Submersible Power Pack

This Autumn, we added extra battery packs to our submersible BPK range to give greater flexibility for a variety of operations where remote power is required.

BPK-2470 is a rechargeable 3000m rated 24V 7A/H submersible power pack, while the BPK-2418 is a more compact 1.8AH version that can operate at the same depth and voltage. Both can give emergency power to a lost ROV/AUV locator beacon – doubling the listening/operational life for a 1100 series Mini Beacon for example – allowing sufficient time for the equipment to be recovered in the event of a power loss.

As ever, we can create custom solutions to suit client needs alongside our standard submersible power solutions.

MiniPods

December saw a significant milestone when we manufactured and sold our 100th MiniPod. We made significant changes to the RF protocol across our range, increasing the data throughput and allowing more MiniPods to be used simultaneously. The network can now also be monitored from multiple locations within range using additional RFR-101G receivers.

100th MiniPod

The optional addition on the 101GA of a Micro AHRS module allows the MiniPod to output its heading, pitch and roll to give higher accuracy on surveys.

All new MiniPods from 2022 onwards will have the new protocol enabled and upgrades are available for MiniPods already in the field. Please contact technical support for further information.

Pyxis

The big launch for us this year was Pyxis, our latest generation INS & USBL system – combining all our experience and expertise in USBL technology with an advanced inertial navigation system. As a flagship new product, we know the specs it needs to perform at, as well as the use cases and markets where it’ll be most effective, and our continual testing of the system reflects our quality, rigour and attention to details. Feel free to ask us for more information and find out how Pyxis could be just what you need on your project. 

Meeting challenges, maintaining commitment

The many issues we faced through Covid and Brexit were also shared by our customers. Covid has led to personnel issues across the country, while Brexit meant shipping and logistics became a lot more complicated and admin-heavy. But we stayed healthy, invested in thorough training for our staff and remained on top of the entire process to ensure business flowed smoothly. 

As well as items taking more time to reach us, and costing more to ship, we also had to contend with increased costs of metal and components across the board. And all the above issues have of course led to increased lead times on all projects. While we can take comfort from the fact we’re not alone in this, and these issues do have knock-on effects on our delivery, we are confident we’ve done everything in our power to minimise the impact to our customers. 

From increasing our levels of stock, so we don’t have to worry about components running out, to taking on extra staff, expanding our workshop space and doubling down on our commitment to our values in customer service, we’re doing all we can to reduce potential disruption for our clients and maintain our commitment to their needs. 

Driving forward into 2022

If we had to pick out one particular take-away from looking back over 2021, it would be an overall impression of progress. We’re not standing still. We’re adapting, taking on new challenges, improving our products, designing new products, and allowing our team to use their skills and growing the company in the right way.

But most importantly of all, we’re still listening to customers and working with them. Everyone has different needs, and different problems to solve, each to their own environment and objectives. We love working with that, taking problems and finding solutions.

The unifying force behind everything we do is the commitment, willingness and drive to be creative with our clients and produce the perfect products to meet their specific needs – and perhaps in the process creating something that the industry hasn’t seen before. 

It’s going to be another exciting twelve months ahead. If we don’t speak or see you before the start of 2022 – have a very Happy New Year!

Struggling with your existing equipment? 

Talk to us today, or maybe check out our up-to-date range of acoustic positioning and geophysical equipment. 

As our Business Development Manager, Paul is often the face of aae technologies – talking to both existing and prospective clients about their needs and how we can meet them. Having only joined us in June 2021, he still feels like a newcomer, but his long experience in subsea technology – progressing from initial engineering roles into a flourishing career in client acquisition and sales – means he’s a familiar face to many in the industry.

With events, exhibitions and meetings starting to return to normal, Paul can’t wait to get out and about more often to meet people and share his enthusiasm for aae technologies’ equipment. We grabbed a few minutes out of his Monday morning schedule to learn about him and his role here.

How would you describe your role at aae technologies?  

It’s a varied role in the sales department that involves looking at both new and current business in the acoustic positioning sector. With existing customers, it’s about developing and continuing the relationship – providing them with new information they might not have seen, getting them up to speed on everything we manufacture and sell, and looking at ways we can do more business with them. 

Circumstances are still evolving, but it feels like my time is divided around 50-50 between new and existing customers. As I’ve only been here a few months and things are just starting to open up in terms of meetings and events after all the Covid-19 precautions, I still feel like the new boy! 

What was your background before you came to aae?

I was at a competitor company in the subsea equipment sector for around 22 years and then moved to another firm that specialise in environmental monitoring sensors. From there, I left the industry and spent some time with a company that produces equipment to measure and improve air quality in working environments before deciding to make the move back into subsea positioning technology with aae technologies

I was familiar with applied acoustics, always respected the work they’ve done and wanted to get back into the industry. I knew Gavin and Hollie, so I reached out and the rest is history! 

So, you already had an interest in subsea equipment?  

Yes, I’m quite interested in it in general. My first job out of college was a junior sales position with a company that sold electronic components, but within a year I went on to Thomson Marconi Sonar, which was local to me at the time, where I got to know all about subsea sonar and acoustic systems, mainly in a military or defence context. 

From there, I joined Sonardyne as an electronics test engineer and worked my way up through production and manufacturing into a sales role. But my original qualification was a GNVQ (Advanced) in manufacturing. 

So, I’ve seen all sides of the business, and this helps when I come to sell our products, as I understand where they came from, how they were designed and how they’re put together. It’s a little different now, as I haven’t done the whole journey with applied acoustics, but I had the established knowledge of a very similar product and the end result customers need. 

How has your career progressed since joining aae?  

It’s been going well so far! It’s a very enjoyable place to work. The people are great. Now we’re starting to get out into the world again with everything opening up after Covid, and I can think about customers to go and visit rather than Zoom calls or Teams meetings, everything feels very positive. I much prefer the face-to-face work. There are things that come out of face-to-face meetings that wouldn’t necessarily come out of a video call. 

What’s been your biggest highlight?  

Making a sale is always good! The recent Ocean Business exhibition event was really good too. It was great to be back at a physical event and getting myself around, because people know me from my previous roles and a lot of people knew I’d moved, but didn’t know exactly what I was doing, while others didn’t know at all. So that was definitely a highlight, getting to see everyone again and simply being at the whole event. 

Because you haven’t seen someone in over a year and a half, while they might have posted a job change on social media, it’s only when you see them standing under a different sign or working with different people that you really twig that things have changed. It was great to make those personal connections again and catch up. 

Ocean Business

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?  

Getting to know people and products. Although I knew of the company and their systems from the past, you don’t actually really know them until you’re there and it’s a challenge to really get down to the nitty gritty and get to know all the people as well. Maybe not the most difficult challenge – and not unpleasant either – but still a challenge. You just need to get on and start talking to people, which is not a problem at all.

In the long term, it’s all about looking at what else we can do for clients and to push innovation in the industry.”

What do you love most about your job?

The varied work – it’s never the same each morning! There’s never any tiresome routine tasks or meetings. Having varied work to deal with keeps things interesting, and interacting with different people about a wide variety of applications and projects.

I also obviously like getting out for face-to-face meetings, and I love travelling. That was another thing that made me want to get back into this industry. In the last month, we’ve been away to two exhibitions in London and Southampton, and before that we travelled to Aberdeen. I’ve got another exhibition coming up in Amsterdam and the spectrum of where I could go is anywhere really, as this is a world-wide industry. 

Do you have a set process with clients?

There are a few stages. Often, an enquiry will come in and from there we’d need to qualify that enquiry to make sure the equipment we suggest in our quotation is suitable for their requirements. 

So, they may say they need to position an ROV accurately to within 15 metres. This is fine, but there’s still a lot of information missing from that, so we need to go back to them and ask a few more questions about things like water depth, how deep their ROV will go and more. Without that, we won’t know what system to quote or beacons to quote, either. For example, we wouldn’t want to supply beacons that are only rated to 500 metres when the depth could be much more. 

Every project is different. Because our systems are accurate to a slant range, you’re looking at water depth straight down, then the working distances horizontally from there, and so the actual necessary range that the signal has to travel is the length of the diagonal hypotenuse of that triangle. We work on a percentage of that slant range accuracy, but this can change all the time. 

In the end, it’s all about just speaking to customers, finding out as much information as possible about their project, taking it all in and providing the best equipment for the job. We very rarely get all the necessary information sent over straight away, there’s always something we need to go back and ask about. Which is fine, as it opens up the communications and we can do a better job. 

We can do specials and one-offs for clients, and sometimes I’ll be going to the engineers to see what’s possible on a particular job. If they need something our specification doesn’t quite meet, then it can be an opportunity to enhance something we already have – maybe with software or an adjustment to the hardware. We are an engineering company and one of the plus points in dealing with us is the way we can find solutions.

Would you say customer care is a key part of what you do?

Massively. The customer could be onboard a vessel that might cost anything from $100,000 to $500,000 per day to run. So, if your system is causing downtime, that has a big impact on the customer. The team really needs to be at the top of their game in terms of how they perform in our customer relationships, but it’s something they are very good at, we all are.

Engineers here will have a mobile number they’re available on any time of day or night in case customers need help, because customers could be calling from anywhere in the world. Three o’clock in the morning here could be ten in the morning somewhere else. It’s so important to be able to help them. I don’t deal with customer care myself, as I’m not an engineer, but we do have a dedicated team to handle it. 

What are you excited about for the future?

Growing the business and continuing our success. Looking at ways we could change what we do in terms of the equipment and introducing new equipment. All of that kind of thing is exciting moving forwards. In the short term, it’s about making sales, but in the long term it’s all about looking at what else we can do for clients, what new equipment we can design, and to push innovation in the industry. 

There’s a new piece of equipment we’re just putting out now actually, the Pyxis USBL system, and that’s exciting. You have to make sure you release a new system correctly – that it’s been thoroughly tested and any issues found and fixed, so it doesn’t fall over in the field. We’ve just launched Pyxis and should be getting those properly out of the door in the next couple of months. I’m looking forward to that! 

Looking to upgrade your subsea equipment? 

Check out our latest range of sensors, beacons, transponders, USBL systems, workstations and more… 

As our Group Office Administrator, Pam gets to wear many hats and handle everything ‘officey’, as she says. However, this doesn’t really reflect the depth of experience she now has across the company, from liaising with the engineers for orders to dealing with agents and even pitching in with the sales team. 


Also now handling freight logistics in tandem with our Logistics Manager James Eman, Pam’s days are varied, rewarding and sometimes unpredictable! She took time out from making sure the office was organised ahead of a well-earned break to talk about her role here at aae technologies.

How would you describe your role at aae technologies?  

Very varied at the moment! When I first joined in 2008, I started as an assistant to the technical manager and covered the admin side of repairs. Since then, obviously, the company has grown in terms of output and people, and more recently I’ve moved more into freight and logistics, which is mainly what I do at the moment.

I enjoy it because every day is different, and you never know if you might get something challenging thrown at you. ‘Office Administrator’ is just what’s at the bottom of my emails, but I cover pretty much everything that goes on in the office. As I know all the jobs, I stand in when people are away or support while we’re waiting for new staff to start, as well as handling general admin. If needs be, I do it! 

What originally brought you to joining the company?  

Before aae, I spent eight years at Sanyo, the television manufacturer, working in the engineering department. I was creating service information and used to produce the manuals that went down to the service department with the parts list, and so on. So I had a background in technical information, which wasn’t a million miles away from what I started doing at aae.

In 2008, there were rumours Sanyo was going to close down (which eventually it did), and one or two engineers I used to work with came here. I heard aae were looking for somebody in the office, so I decided, rather than wait around, to get myself into the jobs market before it became flooded. I got the interview and the rest is history! 

The whole oceanography and subsea equipment side was completely new to me – and I’m still not technical at all – but I have learned a lot and love all the testing and clever work we do here. 

What’s been your biggest highlight?  

This job is always satisfying, so it’s hard to say if there’s been one particular highlight. But on a personal level, as part of working more in logistics, I undertook more training and gained a Foundation Award in International Trade, which is a recognised qualification in the industry. It involved five different courses covering all the aspects of logistics – there’s a lot more to logistics than simply packaging something and sending it off. I never thought I’d go to college again and do anything like that after all these years! 

What’s been your biggest challenge?  

In terms of logistics, Brexit has been a big challenge. But on the whole, with any kind of challenge, the key thing is having other people in the office to bounce off. Everyone here will always have a way to solve an issue in-house, and it’s often just a matter of constantly asking questions and getting someone else’s opinion. Our logistics manager, James, has been great to have on hand. 

Regular challenges are the nature of the business when you’re sending things to such a wide variety of locations, for different uses. We were saying we should put pins on a map of all the countries we’ve sent to, and see which ones we haven’t yet! Some locations are more challenging to get to than others, but we usually find a way to get our equipment where it needs to be. 

What’s been the most remote place you’ve sent things to?  

Recently, we sent an item directly to Bangladesh, which you might not call remote, but was quite challenging. We do also send equipment up to The Orkneys, which can be complicated logistically, as they’re all little islands on their own in the sea, so it has to go via the north Scottish coast and then out on ferries. There was another time when our technical manager had to fly out to Alaska to do some testing on equipment. The phone signal there wasn’t good!

A lot of the time we deal with agents internationally and send equipment to them before they send it on to the end-user, so we don’t often have to deal with any extremely remote places. On the other end of the scale, we sometimes meet vessels making a port of call locally in Great Yarmouth, and then it’s always a quick turn-around: “We’re in port, only here for 24 hours. We’ve got this piece of kit. Can you take it off? Can you get it back on?” We always do our best to make it work.

“I’m really excited about new people joining the team, with fresh thoughts and ideas.”

What do you love most about the job?

I like unexpected surprises. Day-to-day, you know what’s going out and you have a plan for dispatch, but you also don’t know what might get thrown into the mix. Overnight, something could have happened with an order, or a new order has come in that has to be turned around that day. All of a sudden, there are half a dozen things going on and you just have to deal with it. It’s never boring. 

What do clients love most about what you do?

We’ve got a great technical support team behind us, and clients get all-around good customer service right from when they purchase equipment from us through to after-sales care. There is always somebody available on a mobile number 24-7 should a client need help, and engineers are on a rota to cover nighttime hours for people who might be calling from all around the world. You can’t really do better than support like that. Customer service is king. 

Do you think that’s what makes aae technologies unique?

Yes, I think it does, and it counts for a lot. You could sell anything, but if you don’t provide the backup to go with it, then customers aren’t going to come back. We send engineers out with the kit when they buy it, to give customers training and show people how to use it, and we like to make sure our service is the best. 

What are you excited about for the future?

We’ve got some new kit coming out, but I’m more excited about the new people that will be coming on board to join the team. We’ve got people who have been here for 20 plus years, and it’s great that we have that depth of experience, but we still need new people to come in with fresh thoughts and ideas. Hollie Moran has brought an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm – she’s so forward-thinking and has done wonders with our marketing. 

The new products and new Pyxis’ INS + USBL system we’ve launched look fresh, modern and dynamic thanks to people like Hollie’s input, which customers notice. That’s the difference new ideas can make.

Looking to upgrade your subsea equipment? 

Check out our latest range of sensors, beacons, transponders, USBL systems, workstations and more…

Originally joining aae technologies at 16 part-time while still studying at college, Ben’s love of electronics meant he quickly soaked up everything there is to know about our technology and how it can be used, modified and improved. Since coming on board full-time in 2011, he’s gained a huge amount of experience across every aspect of product manufacturing, development, maintenance and customer service, rising to become our Acoustic Positioning Product Coordinator.

Ben works directly with clients to tailor equipment to their specific requirements, as well as providing technical support through our modulus arm. We caught up with him ahead of another busy day of sourcing vital parts and finding new ways to meet clients’ needs.

How would you describe your role at aae technologies?  

I’m the Product Line Coordinator, which means I’m in charge of our Acoustic Positioning product line from concept stage through to production, delivery and after-sales support. I also oversee the withdrawal of older products from the market as new products replace them, while also bearing in mind parts we’ll need for repairs and maintenance – both for legacy support and ensuring we have the new components for the new line. 

What sparked your interest in subsea equipment and acoustic positioning?  

I’ve always been interested in electronics and had a talent for it when I was at school, doing well at GCSE and A level. I also grew up with subsea equipment around all the time. My dad would bring home CSP units to soak-test them in the garage at weekends! 

I used to help out here during school holidays, doing very basic assembly work and then slightly more advanced work while I was at sixth form. I wanted to go straight into work after leaving college, and applied for a few engineering positions, but when a permanent vacancy in production came up here at aae it felt natural for me to join the team. 

How has your career progressed since joining aae technologies?  

The first three years were spent in production, building acoustic positioning equipment, while studying for an HND in engineering one day a week. Then I moved over to repairs, as the servicing requirements increased with the rising level of sales. After another few years I moved to a more customer-orientated role providing after-market tech support and also gained another HND in business management in my own time.

During the last two or three years, I’ve worked with the design and development team for custom engineering projects. This could be modifications of existing equipment, housing of subsea sensors, or equipment we source to compliment our own. Last year, I moved into the role I’m in now – in charge of the whole process because I’ve worked in most of it! 

With experience in production, servicing, design and support, I understand what we need to do internally, how the processes work and exactly what the customers want. I make sure the design engineering manager is aware of any problems and we address them through design.

Products

What’s been your biggest highlight?  

This is a tricky question, as we all work very much as a team, so I can’t think of one specific thing for me personally! Everything we do is team-related, from the company reaching its 30-year anniversary to achieving international business awards and successfully fulfilling some huge orders along the way. 

There was one particular instance in 2014. We received a huge order, and at that time had one engineer building beacons, so I dived in, making batches of ten a week. We built and sold over 500 beacons that year, which was quite an achievement with a small number of staff. But it was just one of the things I’ve been a part of as a member of the team. 

What’s been the biggest challenge from a customer?  

One that I always talk about is when we had to convert a PAM 3510 tester – an on-deck test unit for beacons – for use in the Arctic. It needed to run at temperatures of around minus 10 degrees or more. Far, far colder than is usually specified for our equipment.

So, we had to put heaters into the PAM, but because it’s within an enclosed case you have the issue of some components getting too hot. To get it so that the elements heat the instrument up, but not to a point of failure, with the heat evenly distributed within the constraints of the existing design, and for everything to operate at a colder temperature, was a tough challenge.

Obviously, the Arctic is a very isolated place, so if it goes wrong, that’s it. You can’t just take it back to the shop. We did a lot of testing to make sure it worked, using a combination of heat mats, temperature probes and fans, so that if anything got too hot the probes would shut the heaters down. Don’t forget, the heaters also had to warm the equipment up enough to turn on in the first place. LCD displays are not very liquid at extremely low temperatures! 

Another more recent project was with battery pack bottles, which stemmed from a customer requirement to extend the life of the batteries to power their equipment for longer. We developed the bottles, with me doing most of the board design as a customer special, and now they have become a standard product, available for anyone to buy and use with our equipment or other people’s. It’s a great example of a customer challenge or need driving industry innovation.

“As a family-run, independent business we’re able to provide exceptional customer service. Our ‘no problem’ attitude to requests is our main selling point.”

What do you enjoy most about the design, building and testing process?

The variety of it all. Some days I could be helping customers all day, many remotely all over the world, about all kinds of issues. I love the interaction and problem-solving. 

I also enjoy the continual improvement of products and being able to have influence over where that goes. We recently improved our 1519 Release Beacon so that its safe working load significantly increased from 75kg to 125kg, which makes a big difference to customers. That’s very satisfying. 

It’s just great to be part of a team that’s looking at new products all the time, bringing them to market and seeing them do well. It’s all about hearing the feedback from customers and seeing them come back again and again to buy more! 

What makes aae technologies unique?

As a family-run, independent business we’re able to provide – in my opinion – far better customer service than our larger competitors. Our customer-focused approach and our ‘no problem’ attitude to requests is our main selling point. We’re agile, can adapt to customer needs and give our full attention even to small engineering jobs. And because we use local suppliers and local people, we can get prototypes and one-off solutions developed comparatively quickly. 

One good example is custom cable moulding, where clients need cables to interface into an ROV and then link up to battery packs to supply additional life to a transponder beacon. They’ll want us to build the entire solution – cables and equipment – so that it links up to their ROV and they can talk to it through the ROV umbilical. Larger competitors typically make their own equipment but won’t source and build a whole custom solution.

What are you excited about for the future?

We’re looking to enhance our MiniPod range to increase the number of MiniPods simultaneously operating over the wireless connection and increase data speeds. We’re also continually improving the accuracy and reliability of acoustic positioning equipment with further trials scheduled later in the year. All very technical, but exciting – especially for customers! 

Struggling with your existing equipment? 

Talk to us today, or maybe check out our up-to-date range of sensors, beacons and other subsea equipment.

In the latest edition to our team spotlight series, we speak to Gavin Willoughby, Business Development Manager, about his role, our defence offering and his love of rugby.

How would you describe your role at aae technologies, in your own words? 

My position as Business Development Manager is extremely varied, and I’ve been really lucky that it’s a role that has evolved as the company has grown. I’m now in my 18th year with aae technologies, and as a member of the senior management team, I’m working across the whole group of companies, liaising with all departments, advising and implementing strategy and representing the group on the international stage.

If I could describe my day-to-day role, it would predominantly involve the sales function of the business and how that is managed and run. I also manage direct sales, contact and communication with customers, existing and qualified leads, as well as finding new opportunities, industry connections and product ranges. It’s a whole lot of everything, and although it’s a cliché, it’s a fact that no two days are the same.

When I started with aae technologies, there were around 15-20 people in the company, and as the only sales person in the organisation, it was for me to build up the sales and commercial side of the business. Fast forward 17 years and we now have a company of 50+ people serving many industries with a much wider product range; and as the company has evolved so has my role, becoming a Director with a specific focus on the company’s defence division.

Gavin

What was your background prior to joining aae technologies?

I studied mechanical engineering at Norwich City College, after which I took on a temporary sales role with an engineering company, where I ended up staying there for 14 years.  It turns out sales is my comfort zone!

The company operates in a very niche industry. What attracted you to it?

At that time, I was in need of a change of direction and scenery, looking for something specifically in technical sales, which blended my sales and business experience with my technical knowledge. I saw that applied acoustic engineering (as it was known at the time) was advertising for a technical sales person, and after looking further into the company and its operating environment, I knew that was the role for me.  

I was drawn to the fact that applied acoustics was a small independent business with a good reputation, successfully operating in the global arena. International travel has always been a fascination of mine; I’m very interested in other countries, their people, and their cultures. Growing up in Norfolk with its 130km coastline has also made me very at home with the sea, so the attraction to an ocean technology company was not easy to ignore. I met with Adam, our CEO, a couple of times and he gave me the opportunity to join the team, all these years later it’s an opportunity I’m still enormously grateful for.

What do you enjoy about this industry?

This is an extremely niche business that takes on the challenges of the subsea environment and overcomes them with our design capabilities and engineering output, something which is hugely satisfying as it is enjoyable. I love hearing from customers, finding out about what they are trying to achieve, challenges that they have and finding the right product that is going to support them to achieve their goals. I like to grow working partnerships with customers, developing close relationships with people that become long-term partners; many customers we work with now have been working with us since the formation of the company. Customers know they can come to me to discuss their next project and they know I will do everything in my power to find the right products to support; and circling back to my formative years in Norfolk, to be lucky enough to work in an environment where I can spend lots of time on the water demonstrating products or travelling to different countries is a huge draw.  

I also love the fact that technology is evolving and advancing to keep pace with the requirements of our customers and the wider industry.  I’m learning something new every day, and I doubt that will ever stop.

How would you summarise aae technologies’ expertise in the military/defence industry?

When I first started at aae technologies, our business largely focussed around the offshore oil & gas industry, though it quickly became apparent that we should strengthen our business through diversification into other industries and addressing new applications. Maritime defence was an area that we had limited knowledge of, so I started going to defence trade events, meeting key industry personnel and learning about this market sector, quickly realising it had similar challenges to the oil & gas sectors. Underwater acoustics can be tailored to meet lots of different needs and the defence organisations and naval groups of the world have requirements that can be met using our technology. 

Having worked with international navies of vastly differing sizes, capabilities and budgets, I’ve learnt that all have contrasting needs, and face all manner of challenges, but all equally require advanced solutions within their constraints to meet their primary objectives. In 2005, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Royal Navy provided an opportunity for us to successfully demonstrate our capabilities, resulting in a long-term partnership that continues to this day.  With the Royal Navy held in such high esteem worldwide, this partnership has allowed a great deal of pre-qualification for supplying our products and services to many of the world’s navies, particularly those within the NATO group of countries, leaving us proudly flying the flag for British engineering and manufacturing.

Defence contracts are very different to standard commercial work; their timescales are far lengthier, there is more admin for their teams, more government intervention, more testing and qualification involved in the process, so they tend to take longer to come to fruition. We’ve had to adapt our processes to create tailored solutions, which the industry has grown to know and admire and we’re seeing more and more business coming to us for bespoke engineering support.

What would you say sets the company apart in this area?

We have the agility and flexibility to be able to change what we are doing. Within the defence industry there are always multiple stakeholders involved in large scale projects, all who need to have input in products and differing needs. We are flexible to take on board all the requirements and come back with relevant solutions. By having an area of aae technologies group that focuses solely on defence contracts, we are specialists in the industry for our field of expertise.

We know some of the larger defence contractors are more than capable of providing for the industry, however we provide a more realistic and competitive option, we meet the objectives within the confines of government budgets. 

What are your plans for aae’s defence offering moving forward? Any new products or developments in the pipeline?

Many countries are developing and investing in their submarine capabilities, equally many countries are growing their capabilities in anti-submarine warfare (ASW).  This heightened awareness of the underwater battlespace is leading to an increased need to have effective products to counter potential threats. 

Furthermore, the concern that that subsea pipelines, cables and other infrastructure could become targets is also increasing, and so naval organisations need to be equipped to protect these environments and have greater underwater monitoring capabilities. We continually carry out R&D to support this sector, developing acoustic systems that can keep us ahead of the curve.

Away from defence, we’re heavily involved in the offshore wind industry, something that’s taken off in a huge way in recent years, particularly along North America’s eastern seaboard. It’s an area of specific interest to us, and a market where we’ll continue to focus our attention.  And though I am responsible for the group’s defence business, by spending more of my time on the other side of the Atlantic I’ll be better placed to develop our North and South America commercial offshore activities too.

What are your main interests outside of work? Any interesting facts? 

Rugby has always been a big part of my life, I started playing when I was 10 and played my last game 35 years later. Rugby feeds into my business persona – being a decision-maker within a team of like-minded individuals, there’s a lot I take from sport into business. You also come into contact with people from all other walks of life, all with stories to tell and experiences to share. Like my aae technologies career, rugby has taken me all the way around the world as a player and a supporter. Playing in Australia and South Africa, in particular, will be forever etched in my memory.

I am a bit of a wine lover too, I have a very small share in a vineyard in Southern France, and although it’s been a very long time since my last trip, I’m looking forward to revisiting that soon. 

In 2019, aae technologies opened an office in North America (Canada), which I was running prior to the pandemic, in support of the North American defence industry. Once the world opens up to international travel again, I’ll be back in North America on a semi-permanent basis to grow the region into a major part of the group’s business activities.

Please get in touch with our team today to discuss your defence needs, for any other product information, or reach out to Gavin directly on GWilloughby@appliedacoustics.com.

Michael Calvert, our Geophysical Product Manager, tells us why geophysics gets him out of bed in the morning and shares his plans for our renewable energy offering.

How would you describe your role at applied acoustics? 

As geophysical product manager, I have quite a varied role. Anything from product training and working on design and development, to organising product trials and answering customer questions and support requests. The whole spectrum. 

My main purpose is to be a communications hub, organiser and fixer. With my background as a geophysicist, I can see our products from a customer’s perspective. I talk to engineers, customers and sales, linking them all together to deliver the best product possible. 

Where did your interest in geophysics and subsea equipment start? 

It was a less usual and more diverse route that led me to this role. Initially, after leaving secondary school, I worked as an electrician. Then, in my late twenties, I went back into full-time education, completing a foundation course in electronic engineering at the University of York. 

I have always been a practical thinker, but with a keen interest in earth and life sciences too. I think the subject of geophysics appealed to me because it combines all of these aspects. Therefore, after my studies at York, I went on to complete an integrated Masters in Geophysics at the University of Southampton.   

The great thing about working on geophysical surveys, especially marine geophysics, is that you’re often the first to see a part of the world that has never been seen before. That really appealed to my spirit of discovery.   

Why did you join applied acoustics?

I’ve worked as an offshore geophysicist for several years (Gardline and EMGS) and it’s not always easy. You’re away from home for six months of the year or more, so I’d always planned to eventually find a shore-based role. The Covid situation this year caused a lot of disruption to offshore survey projects I was working on and provided me with an opportunity to re-assess my work-life balance.

The role at applied acoustics appealed to me because it brought together my knowledge of geophysics and skills from my electronic engineering background. applied acoustics is also a long-term supplier of survey equipment to companies like Gardline, so I already knew they were well-established and respected in the industry.

How would you summarise your experience of the renewables sector?

The majority of my renewables experience came at Gardline. I was involved in offshore wind farm projects in the UK, Europe and USA, working with the likes of Equinor (formerly Statoil) and Ørsted, one of the biggest companies in the offshore wind farm sector.

Some of the projects focused on UXO surveys and clearance, while others incorporated a combination of geophysical methods including seismic surveys, side scan surveys, magnetometers, bathymetry, geotechnical surveys and geohazard identification.

What unique challenges and opportunities do renewables projects offer?  

Most windfarms tend to be sited in very shallow water settings, which can be particularly challenging for seismic surveys. These surveys are typically aiming to acquire ultra-high resolution (UHR) data for the near-surface portion of the seabed (first 50m or so). 

To get the best results, the surveys depend heavily on highly accurate positioning of equipment (source and receiver), high-frequency sampling of data, and precise timing of events (shots points and arrivals). The combination of these factors mean the UHR surveys, particularly multi-channel surveys, have a very low tolerance for error.  

There are also multiple stages to a renewables project, from assessing the viability of offshore construction sites through to construction, then ongoing monitoring and maintenance. As a result, renewables projects tend to be large in terms of geographic area and data volume, not to mention long-lived. This allows us to build relationships with clients over a number of years. 

How are applied acoustics’ products designed to suit the needs and challenges of the renewables sector?

Many of our sparkers are designed to produce the high frequencies required for UHR seismic surveys. Our Dura-Spark 240/400 and 400+400 in particular give their users a great amount of flexibility when it comes to varying the source’s power level, pulse shape, frequency content and bandwidth.      

Our USBL tracking systems and positioning beacons deliver accurate results in shallow-water and deep-water settings, with little interference. We recently launched our Easytrak Pyxis INS + USBL system, which was very much designed with shallow-water renewables operations in mind.  

How are you looking to enhance applied acoustics’ support for renewables clients?

One of our main aspirations is to stimulate discussion and establish trust with everyone in the geophysical survey chain. Our primary relationship is usually with the acquisition company, but by engaging with data processors and the end clients, we can build an even greater understanding of the sector, how it is changing and how we can adapt to that.

We are looking to encourage collaboration at all stages of the process and develop “virtuous circles” with clients. If we can enhance our products to better suit a client’s needs, they can acquire high-quality surveys and in turn make good project decisions.

Granted it’s been a difficult year for building contacts and relationships, but like any problem, we can find a solution if we work together. 

Please
get in touch with our team today to discuss your renewables project, or reach out to Michael directly on MCalvert@appliedacoustics.com.

As we moved into April, not only did we see every season occur here in the UK, but we also celebrated another team member’s anniversary. This time, it was the turn of Rob Whiting, our Production Manager.

Rob first started with applied acoustics in 2001 as a Test Engineer, joining Adam and James as employee number 11 in the business. Rob had some experience of offshore life as a trainee survey engineer but quickly had to adapt his skills to become an applied manufacturing engineer, occasionally stopping on his journey for a beer or two.

When we caught up with Rob, this is what he said about working with us:

“applied acoustics is a great family business that has given me both employment and opportunity for which I am grateful. It has been great working to help serve our customers and expand the business via its technology, processes, and premises over the years. As part of my role, I have introduced into production countless new products, attended many trade events, and had the opportunity to travel and advance my education. 

When you look back at what we have done 20 years doesn’t seem long enough! I would like to thank Adam and all the team at aae technologies for many great years as it’s great collaboration that makes it all work and I look forward to many more years ahead.

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to speak to Adam about working with Rob over the course of 20 years;

The business has changed somewhat since Rob started with us. Initially, as an Electronic Test Engineer, he was always good at getting things finished and ready to ‘get out of the door’, understanding the importance of our customer’s needs. More latterly as part of the management team he gives a clear insight as to what he needs from engineers in order to build products on time, ensuring delivery times are met and stock levels are maintained.

Thank you for your continued support and hard work Rob, here’s to many more years.