Tim Worley, CEO of Powerstax, talks to Steve Rogerson in our series of interviews for CIEonline. A seasoned industry veteran, with 40 years in the power engineering and process control sectors, Worley is CEO of Powerstax. The Farnborough-based firm specialises in high-efficiency power conversion products for demanding operational environments.
Tim has spent 12 years at the helm of Powerstax. He previously held the posts of managing director of Unipower Europe from 1991 to 2001, managing director of Intelligence Power Technology from 1985 to 1990 and manufacturing director of Automation & Power Systems from 1983 to 1985. Prior to this he was production control manager at Eurotherm.
Worley studied electrical and electronic engineering, as well as industrial management, at Worthing Technical College. He also has a post-graduate diploma in management studies from the University of Brighton and is a member of the university’s Momentum programme, which pairs industry professionals with university students looking to gain some of the skills they will need to develop before leaving academia so they can improve their career prospects.
He is a keen cricketer and attended a training event where he received tuition from test internationals such as India’s Sachin Tendulkar and England’s Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook and Jimmy Anderson.
In the past year, Powerstax has been involved in the power design for a ball tracking system similar to Hawk-Eye that could be installed into county cricket grounds across the country. The company has also recently been involved in a project to control the output of fuel cells for a ferry in Bristol Harbour.
1. Do you think technology is taking the essence out of sports such as cricket?
I do to some extent. I can see there is an attraction in avoiding the howler but the way it is set up has brought an additional tactical element into cricket. This is because you are limited in the number of reviews and the different technologies available in different countries. There is a lack of conformity across the cricket-playing world. Plus there are dubious rules about how many reviews you can use. It has taken away the spontaneity and some of the fun out of the sport. My particular love is test cricket and I don’t think it has added to the game. It has lessened the umpire’s role to some extent.
2. Why are you involved with Brighton University’s Momentum programme?
After a disappointing interview with some engineers, I thought it was all very well to moan about not getting the quality of graduates, but let’s do something about it. I got on with the guy who is running the scheme and he matched me with a suitable student. One of the first things I did with a student was listen to him, and he had a dreadful monotonic voice. So I got him to read poetry and I then read the same piece and he got it. His presentation skills went up immensely. He ended up being the Momentum student of the year.
It is more about showing them how to live in the real world rather than training them in engineering. They may talk about their course options. One, for example, was considering pure physics, pure electronics or project management. I was able to steer him towards the electronics side. But it is more about employability skills than course content.
The project gets a good press and the employability of people is a clear product. We haven’t employed any of them ourselves but that is because they are more into mechanical engineering; it is not a relevant degree. But we have employed two new graduates recently from elsewhere.
3. Why go for a modular approach to power supplies? Aren’t there enough standard product out there to cover almost every application?
It would appear not because otherwise we wouldn’t have a business. I was brought into the company initially to bring a modular product to market, which has been quite successful for us. This became a building block for some quite unusual applications. Sometimes when you step up from low to high voltages in very tight spaces, it is difficult to see how a standard product could do the job.
The modular share of the market is much smaller than for standard products, but there are a lot of people out there who cannot justify a full-custom supply but a standard product wouldn’t do the job. This is about five to ten per cent of the market. It is a higher margin rather than a high margin; it is a niche market. Where it works very well is when you have a project that is not high volume but does fill a market need, say you need a few hundred and want a fast time to market without a large engineering outlay. The modular approach satisfies this need.
4. What did you learn from the international cricketers?
The thing I learned more than anything was the very structured approach they have to training a cricket team. Each area has an expert. They will do things like stick a helmet on a pole to practice bouncers and they will have a limbo pole to bowl underneath to practice yorkers. I hadn’t appreciated the training that goes into perfecting a particular part of a game. You’d think hitting a six was about hitting hard, but there’s a lot more to it.
The great thing was having a go myself. I learnt I used my bottom hand too much when I’m batting. They do a lot of batting practice with just one hand. The bottom hand should be just to guide and I was using it far too much and lobbing it.
5. How did you get involved with the Bristol fuel-cell powered ferry project?
The guy had been asked to build this hydrogen-fuel-cell powered boat. He needed the output of the fuel cell to be a nice clean, isolated, regulated voltage for the control systems and other electronics on board. We were able to give him a wider range. Their output can be higher than traditional DC and there wasn’t a standard product that could do it. And this can be used for other projects using fuel cells. We had a customer here today for whom we are making a 3kW DC-DC for fuel cells to power the electronics in vehicles. It can be applied to anything mobile.