David Gelder – Former Head of Mathematics team at Pilkington Glassmakers

Name: David Gelder

Job Title: Former Head of Mathematics team at Pilkington (Glassmakers)

Number of years in that organisation: 30 (now retired)

Qualifications: BA (Mathematics)

Briefly describe the organisation you worked for.
Pilkington has a long history of producing glass for glazing, optical instruments and other purposes, and has increasingly focused on developing its ‘Float process’ (flat glass floated on molten tin). This requires high quality from the melting furnace and careful control of the floating – and subsequent cooling, cutting and processing.

Explain what you did on an average day at work.
 I was continually developing ‘Mathematical Models’ to understand difficulties found in any stage of the manufacture. Customer requirements may be challenging – or you may think impossible: should you take up the challenge?  I also discussed the implications with the engineering / marketing / quality control staff who needed to know.

What did you like most about your job?
I enjoyed seeing the similarities with earlier jobs where I was concerned with weather forecasting, turbine design, nuclear power station design, and the stability of railway bogies at high speed.  I realised what a high proportion of my degree course was providing material I used on a daily basis.

What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?
A particularly inspiring physics teacher.

What influenced your career choice?
I left university fascinated by the use of mathematics in oceanography and weather – however I didn’t fancy spending months at sea.

Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
It is important to ensure that the mathematics is taking all the key factors into account.  You need to be able to present your recommendations in ways which are appropriate to the ‘user’ and also be able to give warnings when there are still important questions which are open to their judgement.

Any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path?
At some point you might have to choose between still doing mathematics, and following a route where you end up managing a large operation.  If you follow the management route you will be able to integrate key mathematics into your company, but will not have time to do much maths yourself!  It will be an important career decision and will influence your future direction.

Your future career plans?
‘Waiting to see what turns up’! Under the title Mathematics for Manufacturers I advise mostly in situations where long standing practices I am familiar with come to grief using new materials. Sometimes these add to the list of issues I feel deserve a Review Paper of some sort. But a high priority also goes to ‘Community Activities’ and particularly those where I can still enjoy using my professional skills.

What benefits of IMA membership have you observed in your career so far?
The IMA publicises the value of mathematics to the Government, businesses and other organisations – it helps show them how worthwhile maths is. Being a part of the IMA has been important as it has allowed me to share experiences with other practicing mathematicians.