Industrial Refrigeration Systems, Services, Plant and Equipment Design & Manufacture - Star Refrigeration

Claire Syme


Where did you study and what qualifications did you gain?

I attended Strathclyde University in Glasgow from 2009-2014 and gained a Masters in Chemical Engineering.

What attracted you to the industry?

During my time at university I undertook a couple of different industrial placements, one in the oil & gas industry working as an engineer and the other in the plastics industry working as a development laboratory assistant. On completing these placements I didn’t feel that I wanted to forge a career in either of these sectors. Therefore after graduating from University, I took a year out to travel. I then moved down to Bristol to start a graduate programme with a consultancy company working within their environmental department.

The work undertaken within the remediation team was interesting but I didn’t feel that I was utilising and enhancing my engineering knowledge. I started looking elsewhere for work but not really knowing what industry I wanted to specialise in. It was only during researching different options that refrigeration caught my eye, it wasn’t an industry I had really come across at Uni. After carrying out some research I identified the fast paced growing nature of the industry and the opportunities that were available to utilise my engineering knowledge. I therefore decided to apply for a position at Star Refrigeration and was successful.

What do you specialise in now? What type of projects do you work on?

I am a Design Engineer at Star Refrigeration and the role is to design industrial refrigeration plant. My day to day job involves ensuring our customers cooling requirements are met by correct design eg sizing pipework and vessels, sourcing the right components, identifying scope for improvements, producing required design documentation and compliance with relevant health and safety standards. I have been involved with a couple of projects where we have supplied our standard packaged ammonia based Azanechiller and Azanefreezer units, these have both been used for industrial food distribution centres including a cold store for JD Wetherspoon. I have more recently been involved with a job for Banham Poultry involving a two stage ammonia refrigeration system, with the low stage serving a freezer load and the high stage serving a glycol cooling load to factory chill stores.  

What excites/interests you about the industry and your part in it now?

ACR industry is a fast paced, innovative, growing industry with a bright future and opportunities to progress your career. There are really interesting and innovative projects happening just now including the development of energy efficient heat pumps providing clean affordable and efficient way of heating homes and commercial buildings through utilisation of renewable sources. Star is currently developing the UKs first water source heat pump on the River Clyde which will remove heat from the river and supply cheap renewable heat to a district in Glasgow.

It will also be interesting to see where the industry is headed in the coming years in regards to the use of different refrigerants due to the phase out of HFCs. Ammonia is highly utilise and is now becoming the refrigerant of choice within industrial refrigeration applications due its climate friendly properties, but could this change, could another refrigerant such as CO2 take its place? It is our responsibility as an industry to make sound decisions in the selection of future refrigerants that encompass safety, environment and affordability. I am looking forward to being involved with overcoming the challenges associated with the industry including reducing our environmental impact and energy usage.

How does your role benefit customers?

As a design engineer you have a very varied role being involved with working with various disciplines including sales and commissioning engineers, project managers and site managers.  I have spent time working on site during my previous roles and now with the Star systems allowing me to utilise my experience on very different sites. The proximity of our production factory which is next door to the design office, allows easy access to see the progress of the system build. As my knowledge of the more practical side of the project increases this allows me and the company to be more adaptable to customer requirements which can often change during the design and manufacture process. These experiences have helped me grow as an engineer developing numerous skills key to carrying out my job to the best of my ability which ultimately benefits our end customer.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what are the biggest challenges you face?

I enjoy the variety that comes with my job working in ACR industry, every day is different with new challenges and problems to overcome. There are many innovative exciting projects to get involved with across a wide range of industries. I enjoy using my engineering knowledge to help improve and come up with efficient sustainable solutions to refrigeration problems. Engineering is about creativity, innovation, hands on practical work and problem solving.

One of the biggest challenges I face is to continually develop as an engineer as it is clear that it will take me some years to gain the experience to become a highly skilled design engineer in this industry. As a female an additional challenge is being a women in a male dominated field but I came into the industry realising this would be the case and don’t feel it has ever been a major issue for me.

Any general career highlights?

One of my highlights was being given the opportunity to be involved in the 2016 Gustav Lorentzen Natural Working Fluids conference in Edinburgh. I attended as a conference assistant where I helped out with the general running of the conference, sat in on presentations from industrial professionals and students, attended networking events and had the opportunity to meet various influential knowledgeable people within the ACR industry. It was an invaluable experience being part of the conference and having the chance to discuss the industry with others and learn about possible future technologies. I have also found gaining site experience working first hand with our refrigeration systems very valuable and eye opening, it is one thing designing the systems in an office environment it is another installing, commissioning and testing the equipment on site. I am also visiting a local primary school to help promote women in engineering, I am looking forward to helping do my part to make girls more aware from a younger age of the various opportunities and the career path engineering can give you.  

How long have you been working at Star now? What do you like about working for Star?

I have been with Star for just over a year now, I feel very privileged to be a part of one of the leading company’s within the refrigeration industry. I work with a really good team of people at Star who are passionate, knowledgeable and ambitious in what they do. I enjoy helping to develop solutions to different problems, working within a team of engineers, learning and developing my skills every day. There are opportunities to enhance your career, help gain chartership, attend industry training courses and events. It is rewarding being part of company that provides top quality products and services to secure a better future for staff, customers and environment.  Star is well known for innovation and pushing the boundaries of environmentally focused refrigeration which creates its own challenges. I like being involved through the whole life cycle of a project from design through to manufacturing, commissioning, installing and maintaining the projects.

Where do you see your career developing?

I would like to continue developing within the Star Refrigeration Design Team and better my engineering knowledge and skills, gaining more experience and hopefully reaching a senior design engineer position. Another goal I am hoping to achieve in the next 5 years is to reach chartership status with IMechE, this will be challenging but I feel I have the drive and the skill to achieve this goal. Reaching this position will show my commitment to my career and highlight the engineering knowledge that I would have gained from my experiences. This recognised status within the industry will also hopefully open further career opportunities and enhancements within the company.

What are the challenges of this industry?

There are some very prominent challenges to overcome in the ACR industry including the future selection of refrigerants with the phase out of HFC refrigerants. As an industry we need to ensure we make sound decisions in the selection of future refrigerants that encompass safety, environment and affordability. Ammonia is currently highly utilised in industrial refrigeration but there is a stereotype associated with the poisonous nature of ammonia in high concentrations. Will ammonia continue to be highly utilised in future or will alternative refrigerants be more highly used. Other challenges involve reducing the overall energy consumption of the industry and reducing the impact of refrigeration equipment on environment.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Strive to be the best you can and always challenge yourself

What are the benefits of being in your role (e.g. travelling, variety, monetary?)

The variety that comes with the job role is a major benefit, opportunities to enhance my career, opportunities to work on various sites across the country and abroad.

What industry associations are you involved with, and what are the benefits?

When I graduated I became an associate member of IChemE but have since changed and am now a member with IMechE as this is more in line with my job role at Star and industry in which I am involved. I hope to become chartered with this body in due course. I am also a member of the IOR. The benefits of being involved with these associations include access to good technical information, details of industry upcoming events, courses and training which is very useful.

What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the ACR industry?

Do it! I would say the same to both females and males considering the industry if you enjoy and are passionate about utilising your engineering knowledge to help solve problems and overcome future challenges then consider this as an industry. This is a fast paced growing industry with varied opportunities where you will be encouraged to get involved. Like most engineering industries the ACR industry is still male dominated and is definitely lacking in female engineers. It can be daunting going into a male dominated field but as a female in the industry I have never been treated any differently and I have been given the same opportunities. Gender has no bearing if you are willing to work hard, get stuck in and give it your all you will have a successful fulfilled career in the industry.