Tom Malandain – How I became a theme park ride design engineer

Checking sizes with the vernier gauge

02 Dec Tom Malandain – How I became a theme park ride design engineer

The Garmendale team is full of talented engineers, many of whom came through different paths to reach their goal. So, in the hope of inspiring a whole new generation of young engineers, we thought we’d share a series of interviews with them, starting with one of the youngest first.

Tom Malandain, 23, joined Garmendale as an apprentice engineer back in August 2014, but his path to the job had started many years before. In truth, almost as soon as he could walk.

“When I was little, I loved Kinex, Lego, Go Karts and anything mechanical that I could make or take apart and rebuild. As I grew up, this progressed to bikes and then motorbikes. Design and technology was the one constant throughout my life. I knew that some element of this was where my future lay.

At 13 I started part-time in a machine shop sweeping up and just watching how things were done. As I got towards 15/16 they began to trust me to use some of the machines and when it seemed like I was okay, they let me loose on them. Soon I was quite confident on all of the equipment and had developed my own specific way of working.

The real turning point was probably my Design Technology A level however. I had much, much bigger plans than the school was prepared for and had ever seen before. My plan was to convert a standard motorcycle into a trike that was fully modified to be operable with hand controls. The school didn’t have the equipment I needed, so I fabricated everything in my own time and assembled it in class. It worked perfectly and is still used as an example by the school of what can be achieved. What’s more exciting for me now is that when I went back to the school recently, the scale of projects their students are taking on are all much bigger and more ambitious. I’m not claiming that’s from me, but I do think that when they saw what could be achieved, the way they teach became more ambitious and as such is inspiring more of their students to challenge themselves.”

Project Trike build by sixth form Tom

What brought you to Garmendale?

“I’d seen Garmendale at some of the steam rallies where they were showing their Fowler Ploughing Engine and I thought they looked interesting. I did some research and liked what they did, so I applied, had my interview, met David (the Managing Director) and he brought Chris Hurt, one of the design engineers in too. It just felt right, much more relevant to me than going to university. At that stage I just wanted to get out and support myself to take the pressure off my Mum, as my dad had recently passed away.”

And then final check before sign off

You’re currently studying for a degree. Tell me a little about it.

“It’s at Derby College, but accredited by Sheffield Hallam University. It’s part-time and a two year integrated engineering course. Next year I complete the top-up, to obtain my B(Eng). I spend one day per week at the college and the rest in work. The time there is very practical and we are given a lot of work to do in our own time. There is a LOT of maths, but overall the degree feels very relevant as there’s a focus on materials sciences and we are allowed to follow projects right through from drawing board to production. I’m working on one at present in ride safety, but because of the sensitive nature of what I’m working on I can’t say much about it.”

On the turning machine

So now you’ve seen all sides of the job, from shop floor to actually designing the systems, what skills do you think it’s allowed you to transfer?

“The main thing is that when I design something I start from the bottom up. When you start on the computer, the inclination is to start from the top down and that will always store problems up for later when it comes to actually making what you’ve designed. So yes, I think it’s made me more sympathetic to the production process. It’s like many of the cars on the road at the moment. They’ve been designed as a whole first and then broken down to be engineered afterwards. That’s why you have to take half the car apart to change a bulb.

Mechanical Design Engineers at Garmendale

Now, out of work, I believe you have a pet project and an interesting sideline

“The project is a 1963 Series III Lambretta LR150. When I was about eight years old, I travelled with my Dad down to Cambridge to collect it and it was in pretty poor shape. We named it Lucy. It got taken out every summer for a few days and then put away again. When I was about 13 I stripped it down and rebuilt it. I got it running quite nicely. Some years later, when my dad was ill, I rebuilt it again so he could see it and ride it one last time.

It then sat in the garage at my Mums in Sheffield for a few years until I started on it again. I’ve since completely restored it to be concourse. The finishing touch was when I found the original paperwork that my dad had signed the name Lucy on, and I asked a signwriter to copy the style of the writing exactly onto the front leg shield. The plan is now to show it at a few events next year, when the weather gets better, as it’s never going to see rain or a wet road.”

Meet Lucy the project by Tom Malandain

And your interesting sideline?

“Last year I signed up for a course to learn to be a stand-up comedian. After six weeks training we put on an event for Cancer Research and around 20 of us did five-minute slots at the Glee Club in Nottingham in front of 280 people.

Tom Malandain during his stand-up routine

The adrenalin hit from it was amazing and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I still work on shows every third Monday of the month at the Jam Cafe in Nottingham with some of the people I trained with.

Going out live after all of his training, it's Tom in full flow

So what’s next?

“The project I’m working on is great and it’s challenging. I’m certainly occupied for the next few years. I’ve just bought a house that’s got a double garage which is fast filling up with my own projects, I’m enjoying life and I’m happy.