19 October 2017
The second interview of our Meet the Expert series is with John Pratt, who is a Technical Support Engineer. We find out more about building relationships across the world and the importance of an instrument service.
John, how did you first get involved in the world of testing?
I left school at 18 and attended Newcastle University to study Electronic Engineering. I had always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together, so engineering seemed a good choice. My very first job from university was Test Engineer, working with electronics.
I joined James Heal in 1993 or 1994 as an Electronic Engineer, building control panels for instruments, similar to what our Electronics Department do now. It gave me a strong knowledge of how the components of our instruments work, as you become very familiar with each one.
I remember the first Martindale I worked on, it was a 403 model. I carried out a Service at a company this year and found a control panel on a Martindale 403 that I had built. I turned the instrument over and there was my name and the date 1994, and this instrument is still carrying out daily testing in 2017.
After 3 years in Electronics, I moved to the Service & Calibration department to become a Service Engineer, travelling all over the world servicing and calibrating instruments.
What did you enjoy about being a Service Engineer?
There are a lot of customers that I know well, as I have visited them most years for almost 25 years. I’ve also built up strong relationships with our network of Agents, as I’ve worked closely with them on Calibration Tours.
Take for example Turkey – Service Engineers can spend 8 weeks a year there. I work with the same people every day of the visit from our Turkish partner Aygenteks, and I know them better than some of my colleagues in Halifax. You become part of their family for the eight weeks you spend there.
Travelling is also good. I left James Heal for 3 years in 2002, as the travelling was too much for me, and In this time I worked as Design Engineer, designing software and PCBs for electronic weighing equipment. I loved the design work, but I found myself sat at my desk in an office thinking of all the places I could be travelling to. You find that on some calibration tours there isn’t time to see the country you are in, but particularly in Europe weekends are free. Most recently I got the chance to walk around Nuremberg and take in the history of the city.
When James Heal asked me to come back as a Technical Support Engineer, I took them up on the offer and have been here since.
How is being a Technical Support Engineer different to your previous role?
I am the main contact for Technical Support on the Engineering KnowledgeHub. I’m the person at the end of the phone, or answering tickets on our KnowledgeHub, providing support to ensure customer’s machines run smoothly. If you have contacted James Heal regarding spare parts enquiries, warranty enquiries, instrument failures or software installation issues, it is likely to be me who helped you with it. I also work alongside our local partners, providing them with the knowledge to support customers.
I still travel for 10 weeks a year, working within a team of Service Engineers carrying out Service and Calibrations.
What challenges do you face?
We have customers all over the world and we have to be able to support them without being in their laboratories. This requires a wide range of in depth knowledge, and the ability to troubleshoot without seeing an instrument, which can be a challenge. A lot of the queries that come through are quite complicated, and you have to give the customer a comprehensive answer to solve their issues. It’s so important that their instrument runs well.
The KnowledgeHub can get quite busy, but it normally quiets down just enough for you to catch up before it starts getting busy again.
Some instruments are more challenging to service than others, they can be more complicated or have more components. This is something you get used to over time, though, as I’ve been doing this for nearly 25 years.
Do you have any tips for keeping an instrument running well?
Get your instrument serviced at least once a year – similar to running a car, a routine service means your instrument will keep going for as long as possible. Servicing might include lubricating the instrument, cleaning it down, checking the burrings are correct, all things that over time could determine how long your instrument lasts for.
I serviced James Heal instruments last week in Germany that were over 30 years old, with a full service history. Many of the services had been done by me, I had signed off 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and so on. The reputation of James Heal is instruments that are built to last, and I regularly see this in practice in the field.
I would also advise on annual calibrations, to guarantee the results you are getting are accurate.
Do you have a project you are particularly proud of in your career?
I don’t have a specific project, but what I am proud of is the quality of my work. I don’t like to see anything done wrong, or without the correct care and attention. Whether I’m building something or servicing it, I know how important it is to be done right. Some people tend to rush things, whereas quality is more of a priority for me.
Finally, what else interests you outside of work?
At the moment, my children, aged 2 and 4, mean I’m too busy to have a hobby. I get home from work, play with them until bedtime, and then go to bed very tired. Being a Dad feels like a second full time job sometimes.
I’ve always liked classic cars and own a couple of old ones, I’ve restored one in the past and it needs restoring again. I’m waiting for my children to get older to do this. I’ll be under the car and a little face will appear, trying to be helpful, so it might be a few years yet.