In May 2018, I was anxious and stressing my head off for two reasons: firstly, it was the exam season (the ‘e’ word itself is a real-life horror story for every student). Secondly, it was the internship-application season, and I couldn’t seem to secure a place in any of the companies I applied for. Fortunately, I got an internship offer from a startup that I had worked with during the semester, and I didn’t end up spending my summer rewatching the 10 seasons of Friends. (If you’re interested in reading about my internship last year, check out https://generic.wordpress.soton.ac.uk/malaysiacampus/2018/09/30/internship-18/!)
Anyways… this year was a whole lot different. Firstly, I was much more prepared for the finals than I was last year (hmm… maybe that’s why I haven’t blogged for the last 11 months!). Secondly, I wasn’t applying for any internships to undertake over the summer. I knew I would be busy over the summer preparing for the UK (yes! I’ll be going to Southampton, UK this year!), so I thought I would take a rest over the summer (just like Leonardo with his pizza slice in this picture).
But fate had other plans for me.
Just a week before the semester ended, I received an email from my lecturer who was looking for interns to help him with his research project over the summer. The moment I started reading the email, the content (i.e. the vastness and depth) of his research material made me ponder over whether or not I should change my decision to not undertake an internship during the next 4 months. So I met up with my lecturer, and when he told me that the internship would last 3 to 4 weeks, I decided to go for it. And thus began my internship this year.
Before beginning the internship, my fellow interns and I were required to do some background reading. As part of this, we got to examine the layouts of the circuits that we were going to build over the next few weeks and understand their functions. My internship was split into roughly three parts, one for each week:
- The building of the circuits
- The building of the casing for the circuits
- The wiring of the circuits
For the readers with some technical knowledge, the circuits that we were creating were voltage source inverters which my lecturer planned to implement in renewable energy applications.
Once I had understood the functioning of the circuit, the real work began: the building of the circuit. To start off, I had to to check the stock of components in the lab and identify any components that needed to be ordered online. Once the component arrived, I began to solder them onto the circuit boards that had already been printed. Though I have to done some soldering prior to this, it proved to be slightly difficult given the microscopic sizes of some of the components (I had to use a magnifying glass to solder some of them correctly!). Nevertheless, it was a brilliant learning experience as my lecturer give me constant feedback and tips on how to solder efficiently.
Soldering the components onto the circuit boards took about a week (though it felt waaayyyy longer!). Once this was done, my fellow interns and I had to start combining the boards each of us had soldered, to form a functioning voltage inverter. Since the inverter was planned to be used for high power applications, there had to be a casing around the circuitry to prevent any mishappenings. This was the part where we really got our hands dirty (literally!). Through a combination of drilling, tapping (DON’T ask me how many screws I broke in this process!), screwing and 3D printing, we were able to design a base and heatsinks for the circuitry, and holders for large components such as the capacitors. This was the part of my internship where I learnt the most, as I didn’t have any experience of mechanical work before this.
Upon completion of this, we entered the final, and arguably the easiest, stage of our internship: the wiring of the circuitry. But before we could begin the wiring, we had to test the circuits to ensure that all the outputs from the terminals were as expected. Testing is important as it helps identify any mechanical or electrical faults in the circuit and allows us to make changes to it before the wiring is done. Circuit wiring was the part where the circuit boards that all the interns had designed, were joined together to form the final product. Here I learnt the process and importance of wire management (i.e. how the wires should go around the circuit such that they look neat and do not affect the electrical characteristics of the circuit) through new techniques such as wire crimping and heat shrinking.
This marked the end of my internship: the end to a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking 3 weeks that, had I not chosen to undertake, would have probably been one of the the biggest regrets of my university life. When I look back now, 4 months after the internship, I realise that no matter how many books you study or how you score in exams, an engineer is incomplete without practical knowledge and know-how. It is also pivotal for an engineer to develop team working skills, and I’m thankful to my fellow interns for being excellent team members on this rather short but fulfilling project 🙂