Engineering the future

2019 marks 100 years of MK Electric, a brand which has been responsible for many of the UK’s most ground-breaking electrical product innovations. As the business celebrates its centenary, we spoke to Tony Plum, Product Engineer for wiring devices at MK Electric by Honeywell, who has spent 40 years with the company.

For anyone within the electrical industry, the name MK Electric is synonymous with wiring devices. Millions of buildings across the country – domestic, commercial, industrial and beyond – include MK Electric products. This success has been built upon the work of one man, Charles Arnold, who set up the Heavy Current Electric Accessories Company 100 years ago with just two employees and second-hand machinery.

Today, the business employs hundreds of staff, each with their own part to play in upholding the business’s reputation for quality, safety and reliability. Tony Plum, Product Engineering Specialist, explains his role in keeping MK Electric at the forefront of the industry.

Hi Tony. Can you tell us a bit about your career background?

I joined MK Electric immediately after leaving school, beginning as a trainee draftsman at Shrubbery Road in Edmonton in 1978. Once I had completed my professional qualifications, I undertook a number of positions within the engineering department. During my 40 years with the company, I have been heavily involved in many new product introductions, engineering some of our most popular wiring devices.

What does your current role as product engineer involve?

Essentially, I’m responsible for all performance aspects of the products within my wiring device portfolio. What this means in practice is the maintenance of product integrity, holding product liability and preserving the global conformance of our products. I’m also actively involved in ongoing product development, refining existing products and working on completely new ranges.

How has the electrical industry changed since you began your career?

The industry has evolved enormously over the last 40 years, not least in the electrical engineering sphere. When I began working, there were many more manual processes in factories, which required a huge amount of man power. Automation has gradually become more advanced, and the industry has become more aware of the importance of continuous efficiency.

I was also in the business when PCs became mainstream. The impact this had on the product engineering world and across the board cannot be overstated. As software advanced, more features were introduced to aid development, again introducing an unprecedented level of productivity.

From a design perspective, we’ve also seen a technological revolution. Once upon a time, new products were born on physical drawing boards, and revisions to the design were done by hand. Now, this takes place on CAD stations, allowing us much greater flexibility and functionality in the design process. Later, investment in 3D printing machines enabled us to undertake rapid prototyping for new products, and importantly, manufacturing tooling, greatly reducing project timelines – from weeks and months, to hours and days. The introduction of our independently accredited in-house test laboratory also ushered in a whole new level of quality control, allowing us to conduct high level product testing within our whole facility.

The industry has also become more connected on a global scale. The rise of the internet means I can work seamlessly with my MK and Honeywell colleagues around the world. Being a part of a corporation like Honeywell provides significant benefits, as we have access to a wealth of experience and expertise within the Honeywell Centres of Excellence, which allow us to draw on global resources to explore new technologies. One example of this is the recently launched Integrated USB Socket Outlet, the development of which included specialists from both the UK engineering team and from the wider global teams who supported with their electronics expertise.

What has been your proudest moment during your 40 years with MK Electric?

I’ve been fortunate, in that there have been many exciting times during my career. Though I’d have to say that my proudest achievement would have to be being part of the team which delivered the ‘Plus’ product upgrade, heralding the introduction of numerous features and benefits across all of our wiring device ranges.

For example, after 25 years of market leadership for white plastic wiring devices, MK’s Logic range became Logic Plus, and along with that came a host of extra advantages for both the installer and the user. These included: backed out and captive screws, inline terminals, the three-pin shutter system, and more. Developing the ‘Plus’ platform meant we were able to embed these features and benefits into the DNA of all MK wiring devices, which enabled us to deliver quality, reliability and safety across our whole wiring device portfolio.

What’s your favourite MK Electric product?

As I’m often quite involved in product development, it’s difficult to pick a favourite. If I had to choose, I’d say the K2747 WHI (Logic Plus 2 Gang Switched Socket Outlet). Not only is it MK Electric’s flagship product, it really has stood the test of time, having been launched more than 20 years ago (in 1996). We still manufacture millions of these products every year in our Southend factory for both the UK and export markets, and I expect that it will remain popular for years to come.

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