PROBLEM solving pupils have been highly commended for their work on an engineering project which could save the County Durham manufacturing base of global giant 3M up to £100,000 a year.

Four sixthformers from Teesdale School, Barnard Castle, worked alongside 3M engineers at the Newton Aycliffe factory, which produces dust masks.

The problem facing 3M was what to do with waste material from the process.

Iain Clyde, director of science at Teesdale School, said the waste comprised two materials and the sixthformers looked at how to separate and then sort it for recycling.

“3M have been at this for about six years and not got anywhere with it,” said Mr Clyde.

“The team have done a lot of work and identified two possible methods that 3M could investigate further to achieve potential savings of up to £100,000 a year.”

Teesdale School's link with 3M came through the Engineering Development Trust's (EDT) engineering education scheme, which offers sixthformers the chance to work on real problems at local companies.

The four Teesdale students – Edward Harding, Sarah Bedwell, Olivia Stevenson and Matthew Dent – presented the results of their efforts at an EDT celebration and assessment day at Newcastle University.

The students, who called their project 3S (Sort, Separate and Save) for 3M, had to set up a public display outlining their work and give a 15 minute presentation to a panel of engineering experts.

They have now been invited to make a presentation to senior managers at 3M in Newton Aycliffe.

At the assessment day, Mr Clyde was named EDT teacher of the year for his contribution to promoting engineering as a potential career for students.

Mr Clyde, who said the award had come as a complete surprise, has been involved in organising various EDT programmes for pupils at Teesdale School for about six years.

He spent 20 years as a mechanical engineer in the Army before turning to teaching and said the country was crying out for more problem solvers.

“Graduate and chartered engineers will solve the problems of the future, but we have a skills gap in this area," he said.

“You name a problem we face and the person who brings the solution is the engineer, but there is a misconception about what an engineer does.

“Through this programme I am hoping the students get an idea of what an engineer really does and see engineering as a potentially rewarding career.”