The University of Newcastle, Australia

Engineering a mechatronics career music to Alex’s ears

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

A love of technology and a passion for music has launched Alex Fairclough on an exciting trajectory.

Alex with guitar
Alex Fairclough

Even before he’d completed his engineering studies at the University of Newcastle, the 24-year-old lead guitarist of the band Zappo, became the co-creator of the Vector Drive guitar pedal, a sound effects processor now selling through his start-up company Z² DSP.

Mr Fairclough said he always knew he wanted to do something entrepreneurial, he just didn’t envisage it coming to fruition so soon.

“What it takes to go from having an idea that we talked about together to having a product on a shelf – it’s so much more work than I ever imagined, but it’s been so rewarding,” Mr Fairclough said.

“We’ve been working on the Vector Drive for a couple of years, working tirelessly on our algorithms to make sure it sounds the way we want, because musicians seek great tones from pedals to give them that special ‘something’ that can make them unique.

“Digital equipment never used to be good enough in the 80s and 90s as it always sounded really hollow. Now, finally the quality of digital gear is good enough, and if we create the right algorithms we can make it sound as natural and warm as the vintage amplifiers of the 1960s.”

After initially starting a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, Mr Fairclough discovered a love for mechatronics engineering - the synergy of electrical, computer and mechanical technologies that lead to new solutions to industrial problems.

“I’d always liked building things and my speciality was always with computers and technology, so I looked at mechatronics and decided to give that a shot. I fell in love with mechatronics as it gave me the motivation and drive I was looking for. It was the best decision I ever made,” Mr Fairclough said.

He describes mechatronics as a speciality combining two parts – the ‘mecha’ (mechanical) and ‘tronics’ (electronics).

“Essentially mechatronics is the love child of the two, smashed together to produce exciting new things in the fields of automated robotics and cybernetics. Automation is about asking ‘how can we make some tasks easier to benefit society?’ It’s all about achieving things in the real world,” Mr Fairclough said.

Alex will graduate on Thursday, 27 September 2018 at 10am with aBachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechanical) / Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechatronics) with Honours Class I.

He is now also sharing his passion for mechatronics through teaching new students at the university.

“The content is something that I’m really passionate about. Teaching in this field is equally exciting as trying to think of and develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s problems. I’m considering pursuing a research career.”

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