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An Interview with EthosEnergy’s Steam Turbine Application Engineer

June 04, 2024
An Interview with EthosEnergy’s Steam Turbine Application Engineer

Moving through the gears: EthosEnergy’s Sam Drinkwater on his journey from engineering apprentice to Steam Turbine Application Engineer

“I wanted to be able to make a difference.”

That’s what Sam Drinkwater – Steam Turbine Application Engineer and Subject Matter Expert (SME) in industrial steam turbines– says about his move to EthosEnergy in 2021.

In this article, Sam talks us through his career journey and why when the opportunity arose for him to join our Worcester facility in the UK, it really was a “no-brainer.”

Finding his feet in the field

Sam confesses to being a bit of a late starter. It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that he found a real direction for his career. He has his father to thank for encouraging him to attend an interview at Worcester College of Technology for an apprenticeship at a high-speed gearbox original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in his late teens.

He hasn’t looked back since.

It was the first step in an exciting career in mechanical engineering that, 21 years later, has seen Sam work around the world on projects involving rotating equipment:

“I decided to go into the field and do hands-on work, traveling the world. Eighty percent of the time, I was away from home, literally around the globe. I must have visited all continents and most countries.”

And it was after four or so years working abroad that Sam discovered his real passion – steam turbines.

Moving to another company as a rotating equipment engineer, he set about learning all he could about the equipment and systems. Once more, working in the field:

“I definitely believe you need to get your hands dirty.”

 And when he’s not working, you can either find him cooking with fire on his many BBQ’s, keeping himself busy being a father to his young daughter, or completely renovating his house – the engineer in him meticulously planning everything out, doing a dry run, thinking things through, and applying what he’s learned:

“The only thing I haven’t done is the plastering.”

Adding academic knowledge to practical know-how

Sam has never been someone to sit still, to rest on his laurels. He likes a challenge. And that was certainly what he gave himself when he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering while working full-time on a project in Denmark:

“Because I was working away, there was no way I could go to a brick-built university. So I joined the Open University. I completed the course essentially while I was traveling around the world, which was immensely difficult. But it was good because I get bored easily if I’m not thinking about things. I need to keep my mind active.”

Studying and working full-time for four years would be enough for most people. Not Sam. When he graduated, he immediately embarked on his next challenge – a master’s in mechanical engineering.

As part of his studies, Sam examined how the steam turbine market has evolved and why it is that two separate technologies had different strongholds in various geographical locations across the globe: those using reaction technology and those using impulse

technology. In modern-day markets those previously clear-cut lines have become blurred and have merged to create the new challenges for us all.

All the intricacies, inside and out

Sam is a great believer in the value of a well-rounded understanding of a system:

“To be an expert on a product, you need to understand everything. The environment it sits in. The reason why it’s there. Everything.”

He learned a lot from his former engineering manager:

“He was very strong at all the bits that surround the steam turbine. The oil systems, the control systems, all the individual components on the periphery and within a turbine installation. He passed on a lot of that to me and gave me a lot of responsibility. And that added to my understanding of the product as a whole.”

Opportunity knocks

When he started his master’s, Sam had moved into an office-based engineering role. Midway through his degree, however, he had the chance to work on an exciting but challenging project:

“We had installed two new turbines in two separate power stations in Pakistan. I went out there to commission them and get them up and running for handover to the customer.”

That was a proud moment. Others came when Sam held leading roles on several new build power plants in the UK and when he became a Chartered Engineer with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and finally becoming a father to his daughter.

By now, Sam had become a key performer for his employer:

“I was a bit of a problem-solver within the business, because I’d done a lot of hands-on work. So I understood from first-hand experience how these things work and the problems you face. And I also had the academic back-up for it.”

With his boss moving toward retirement, Sam was gradually taking over his responsibilities. But in 2021 Sam was approached by EthosEnergy. For someone who’s always looking to challenge himself, the opportunity to join EthosEnergy’s steam turbine business as Technical Operations Manager was too good to turn down.

The perfect platform for a problem-solver

What was it about EthosEnergy that Sam found so appealing?

“The fact they operate worldwide and would expose me to global markets with a diverse customer base where I could help them develop solutions. They’re far-reaching as a brand. The possibilities are almost endless. Nothing was off the table in terms of capabilities. There’s not much we can’t do.”

And what, in Sam’s view, sets EthosEnergy apart from its competitors?

“It’s our ability to find a solution to even the most obscure of scenarios. Our depth of engineering expertise. Within our engineering base, there will always be someone who can help in a sticky situation and come up with a solution that gets your equipment back up and running again.”

Sam Drinkwater

Sam Drinkwater

Steam Turbine Application Engineer

Sam Drinkwater is an experienced mechanical engineer, product leader, and subject matter expert in industrial steam turbines. A natural-born problem-solver, Sam is committed to finding solutions for his customers, no matter how unusual the circumstances.

Experienced in all aspects of engineering, he serves as a Steam Turbine Application Engineer at EthosEnergy and provides expert technical guidance during all phases of a project – from concept through to execution.

With nearly two decades’ worth of experience in the rotating equipment sector, Sam has particular expertise in the industrial steam turbine market. Now based at EthosEnergy’s Worcester facility in the UK, he has worked on many projects around the globe. Indeed, there are precious few countries that haven’t benefited in some way from Sam’s practical know-how and well-rounded understanding of steam turbines.

Sam has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Open University. His undergraduate dissertation focused on exploring how and why deposits form within a steam turbine, the resultant consequences, and potential solutions to prevent this and any eventual damage. He has also studied the history of the steam turbine market, focusing on the emergence of two different technologies—reaction and impulse—and their respective strongholds in different regions worldwide.

Sam is registered as a Chartered Engineer through the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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