Q: What did you do before you co-founded Advanced Electric Machines?

JW: Oh, that’s a long story! Before I began my journey with Advanced Electric Machines, I actually had two different careers. Firstly, I worked for about 12 years in the aerospace industry with some big defence programmes for BAE Systems, which I found really interesting.

I then had a real change. In 2009, I decided to go back to university to do a PhD. So, I had about another 10 years working as a PhD student and then as an academic – as well as running a research centre – at Newcastle University.

Q: Why did you choose to start Advanced Electric Machines?

JW: So, Advanced Electric Machines is trying to resolve a big problem. This is a problem that the car industry and other industries that are looking to electrify transport are going to be facing over the next few years.

The car industry, for example, is starting a journey which will see us build something like 130 million electric vehicles a year by the mid 2030s. At the moment, the leading motor technologies that will power those vehicles make use of these things called rare earth metals. The problem with rare earth metals is that they are simply not sustainable. So, what Advanced Electric Machines is all about is providing the industries which are using these – the car industry, the electric truck industry, marine, rail, etc. – with an alternative to having to use those rare earth metal materials in the motors that they’re using them to propel these vehicles.

Q: How did you develop the technology that is used by Advanced Electric Machines?

JW: Well, that’s an interesting story. When I left the aerospace industry to go back to university I was lucky enough to have a pretty free rein over what I wanted to study. I was looking for a challenge, something that I could tackle for those four years of my PhD which I thought would be useful to the wider world. I thought that making the electric motors that go into vehicles genuinely environmentally sustainable seemed to be a really good area to start. So, I developed that technology over a number of years, both as a student and then also through leading a research team and running research projects.

The reason that we decided to form AEM is because what we had was a new technology that could be brought to market. Large global companies are always a little bit nervous when it comes to using new technologies, so we felt that we had to develop it to the point beyond what is really possible within a university framework. After all, universities are all about research. What we needed was to go and develop this product to prove that it worked and and to bring it to market, which is what we’ve now done. In doing this, we’ve proved to everybody that this technology is a real credible alternative to the less sustainable technologies which are currently being used.

Q: What would you say is your proudest achievement so far at Advanced Electric Machines?

JW: I think for both myself and Andy Steven, our other co-founder, building and testing the first electric motor here was probably our proudest achievement. When you spin out from a university and start up any business, it’s not easy. In this case, it was just a pair of us with a dream. Actually getting to the stage where you see a physical incarnation of that dream has been a genuine source of pride for both of us.

Q: What makes you excited about Advanced Electric Machines?
I like that we have the opportunity to do things differently. There is a tendency at the moment across the world to be very excited about sustainability, but it is only every really paid lip service; there never seems to be a genuinely sustainable solution. This is the goal of AEM and the reason that Andy and I started the company in the first place: to actually do something that is genuinely sustainable.

At the moment, 80% of the electric cars out there are using motors containing rare earth permanent magnets. That’s simply not sustainable. We think our technology is good enough for the future and we want to see 80% of the world’s electric cars using our technology, driving that transition. That’s what gets me up in the morning excited to go to work.

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing PEMD at the moment and how is Advanced Electric Machines helping?

JW: The biggest challenge facing PEMD at the moment, certainly in the UK, but also actually globally, is finding people with the right skills to make it happen, as the skills that are needed are really complex. You need people who understand what PEMD is and you need people who understand the markets that want to use PEMD. In our case, this is the truck market and the electric car market. We need people who understand how to develop products and how to test those products, as well as people who know how to write software which is extremely safe.

There are a massive number of different skills involved, with a lot of different talented people that need to come together in order to make these things happen quickly enough. The big challenge is finding enough people to do those roles, so as well as running Advanced Electric Machines, I’m also a professor at Coventry University. In this role, I’ve commissioned some research to get students to look at look at how many people are needed in PEMD versus how many people we are currently training. In 2021, there were 5,000 vacancies and yet we were only training about 500 people per year. In order to scale up to what we need for the electrification of the car industry, I’d say we need about 250,000 people, but we’re only training 500 a year, so it’s a big challenge to get the right people with the right skills into the industry.

Q: Where do you see the company going in the next five to ten years?

JW: We’re very much a company which is based in the northeast of the UK. That will be our heart, but Advanced Electric Machines is going to expand globally. We have a product which has already sold across four continents, and the next stages are to expand what we’re doing here in the UK and then also expand overseas to take our fantastic technology into new markets.

Q: What are Advanced Electric Machines’ core values?

JW: Well, our primary value is sustainability. Everything we do has to be sustainable, from the motors and the systems we design through to the way we use energy in our manufacturing processes.

Secondly, we place a huge amount of emphasis on integrity. Our focus is to tell the truth and do the right thing whilst ensuring that we work closely with our customers.

Finally, a large part of what we’re about is the people that we employ. We want to give them the best possible opportunities to support themselves, the company, and the development of our fantastic technology.

Q: Why should people choose to work at Advanced Electric Machines and not elsewhere?

JW: Well, I think there are two really good reasons. Firstly, we’re trying to do something here which is genuinely sustainable, and this makes Advanced Electric Machines a fantastic place to contribute to a better world. The second reason is that we’re doing something genuinely sustainable out of a genuinely British company. So, we offer the opportunity to change the world whilst having a real UK base and focus.

AEM is looking for people with a wide array of skills. We need people to work in operations and manufacturing, through to HR and finance. What we’re really looking for is people who really share our vision for a sustainable future, so anybody that is interested in a future and a career like that should look us up and come and join us.

Q: How does Advanced Electric Machines support professional development and people’s career growth?

JW: What we do is offer people the opportunity to develop. We offer our team the chance to undertake some fantastic internal courses, but we’ll also actively encourage them to go and expand their knowledge and skills more generally through external courses. Enabling professional development is something that we really believe in – we want to help to make sure that the best people we recruit get even better over the course of their careers.