After graduating from university in 1993 with a mechanical engineering degree, Mark Skinner has used his accumulated expertise to bring to fruition a range of bespoke engineering projects at a number of enterprises – including his current employer, road tanker specialist, Holmwood Highgate.
Mark Skinner started his career in engineering during his last year at university. He started working for Shephard Transport Equipment in Brisbane as a draftsman/engineer and immediately embarked on a steep learning curve of professional development.
“I learnt plenty there; as it was my first real job as an engineer I was able to start putting into practice the theory I’d learned at uni,” Mark says. “I made a few rookie errors which I learnt from and continued learning a lot over the four and a half years I was with the company.”
Mark’s next job was with Holmwood Highgate, and in fact he has worked for this company in three separate stints during the last 23 years.
“I started with the company in 1996 in a design/engineering position which I enjoyed a lot, but I had this longing to move overseas and work in motor racing, so after three years at Holmwood Highgate I finished up and my wife and I moved to England where I landed an engineering role with Lotus Engineering.”
With this ambition satisfied to a degree, after two years in ‘Old Blighty’, Mark and his wife returned to Australia where Mark resumed employment with Holmwood Highgate, working on the design of mine service equipment and general engineering tasks which he found interesting. However, there remained in him a burning desire to conquer more frontiers and experience different things.
This eventually prompted Mark to up stumps again and move to the ‘pointy end’ of the road transport equipment realm, taking a job as Operations Engineer with Western Star Trucks Australia.
“I worked there four and a half years and learnt much about the truck side of things as opposed to the trailer side. This role included a lot of Australian Design Rule and compliance work and being involved in bigger commercial decisions involving product planning and development.”
From there Mark moved on to join Brisbane-based waste industry body builder, Superior Pak, where he assumed the role of Engineering Manager, a position he held for four and a half years. He soon discovered this was a job he could really sink his teeth into.
“I really loved the challenge – this was probably one of my most enjoyable jobs,” Mark recalls. “This sort of equipment works hard so making the structural, hydraulic and electronic elements bulletproof to work day in, day out without fail is a challenging job. Some of my favourite design and engineering work was in the waste industry…”
After finishing at Superior Pak, Mark worked for an explosives company for a couple of years before returning to Holmwood Highgate, where he has remained ever since.
“Holmwood Highgate won a large defense contract to design and manufacture 250 containerised bulk liquid modules, a project which I oversaw as Lead Engineer for three years,” he says. “This involved designing four different types of modules for pumping and storage of fuel and water.
“It was a difficult job because the modules needed to meet a wide range of criteria, some of which was conflicting. This meant that when you changed one thing it impacted on another. But in the end we managed to come up with some really good products.”
After this, Mark returned to the commercial road tanker arm of the business in charge of special projects and it was here that he brought to fruition a new concept for a bitumen tanker design for a long-standing customer.
“The customer had this idea for heating the bitumen in transit using electric heating elements inside the tank,” he explains. “For safety reasons conventional gas or diesel fueled heaters on bitumen tankers can’t be used while the trailer is moving so on long trips the driver has to stop, fire up the burner and wait for the bitumen to come up to temperature before proceeding.
“We were able to gain approval for the electric heating elements to operate while travelling and we installed a diesel-powered generator on the trailer to power the heating elements in transit.
“This drastically improved productivity and helped the customer’s driver fatigue issues because the drivers no longer needed to stop for long periods at regular intervals to reheat the bitumen during long journeys.”
Fittingly, the revolutionary design won a Product Innovation Award from the Heavy Vehicle Industry Association in 2018 and in July this year, a Good Design Australia award for Engineering Design.
“It was a really good research and development project for us and we learnt a lot that we’ve been able to apply to our regular bitumen tanker range.”
In conclusion, Mark says he gains a great deal of satisfaction from seeing the equipment he’s helped design out in the field doing its job consistently well and standing the test of time.
“For me, that’s the best part about being an engineer,” he says.
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers. Industry Icon is a series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of the commercial road transport industry.