A 20-year career in engineering left Charlotte T Hunter tearing her hair out.
Her life on the shopfloor, wrestling with over-complex drawings produced by designers who lacked practical experience, led her to launch her own computer aided design (CAD) service, Grey Cube Design.
She said: “Many CAD designers don’t have shopfloor experience and that can make their designs difficult to work with.
“Their drawings are over-complex with a mass of lines and dimensions, which means people end up losing what they’re looking for on the drawing.
“I can identify if a project needs breaking down into smaller sub-assemblies before being brought together.”
Charlotte confounds the gender stereotype that sees engineering as a predominantly male domain.
Her unconventional career began with a BTEC National Diploma in mechanical engineering in Leeds, where she grew up.
She said: “I opted for engineering because I loved fast cars.
“When I was in my late teens, I had a Mini Clubman. There were five or six of us, all with different types of Mini.
“Instead of going out clubbing, we would go for a drive or go to rallies and events. Our nickname was the Italian Job, after the 1969 film, which features a car chase involving three Minis.”
After college, she spent seven years working as a vehicle technician, then switched to welding, operating as a self-employed contractor.
She has worked on prestigious projects including the Astute Class submarines built by BAE Systems in Barrow.
She was also contracted by TP Aspinall of Heysham, which supplied the structural steelwork for the Flame Fountain, a 30-metre high tapered sculpture installed in a public park in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
And she worked on a revolving- glass lift for Selfridges in London, which gives customers a 360-degree view of the Louis Vuitton department.
Charlotte moved to Cumbria eight years ago and now lives at Burton-in-Kendal.
She said: “My mum was here and my family on my mum’s side are around here, so I’d aspired to live in Cumbria for some time.”
It was then that she decided to launch Grey Cube Design, believing she could fulfil a demand for CAD designs that were practical and easy to follow.
Her knowledge of welding also gives her an understanding of how heat can affect materials, an issue that CAD designers often don’t always appreciate.
She said: “I spent three years going to night school learning how to do CAD.
“Then I started trading as Grey Cube Design at the beginning of 2016 as a sole trader. It’s only this year that I’ve formed a limited company.
“I’m trying to build up a portfolio of regular customers. I hope to get to a point where I can take on an apprentice.”
Clients include Advantage Fabrications Ltd, a steel fabrication specialist in Wigan, Cinders Barbecues Ltd in Lancaster and Van Bodies Ltd in Morecambe, amongst others.
At the outset, Charlotte enrolled on the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme run by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
BSUS offers free advice and support to new businesses including one-to-mentoring from a professional business adviser, and a place on a three-day course on starting a business.
She said: “All my knowledge was technical in making and designing things. I was new to business, which is where the Growth Hub was such a help.
“I was able to attend courses, which gave me an insight into areas such as advertising and marketing.
“My Growth Hub adviser, Frank Roe, was a big help.
“We still meet occasionally for a coffee to talk through how things are going and he will pass on ideas and leads for potential new customers.
“I just contacted him recently with reference to finding a new office. I’m taking space at Clawthorpe Hall Business Park, which is perfect for me.”
BSUS also opened the door to networking opportunities. For example, Charlotte attended a meet the buyer event with Eric Wright Group in March.
She said: “It’s a valuable opportunity to meet businesses and make them aware that I’m here and offer a resource they can tap into.
“Small businesses can’t always justify the commitment of having their own drawing office.
“My Growth Hub adviser, Frank Roe, was a big help”
“A lot of my customers use me as a remote drawing office to supply them with CAD drawings along with three-dimensional rendered images.
“I quite often get involved with the reverse engineering of a project prior to it going into production. This sometimes involves me working a set contract for a company to assist with their additional workload.”
Looking ahead, Grey Cube Design Ltd is preparing to launch two new services – computer simulations to solve engineering problems and flow simulation to simulate fluid flow, heat transfer and fluid forces.
Suzanne Caldwell, Deputy Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “As the thousands of businesses we’ve helped get off the ground can attest, whatever your business idea it’s well worth contacting the Growth Hub. We can offer a package of support tailored to suit your needs and, as Charlotte’s example shows, continue to support you moving forward as your business grows.”
If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.
Our comprehensive package of support includes:
- Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
- Free training covering business planning and self-employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
- Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
- Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
The £1.1m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is supporting 300 new businesses and 750 individuals to start businesses, creating 300 jobs.
For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.