This is the first of four Profile Feature articles on our Steel Research Hub Program Leaders, Academic and Industry, who amongst other things, form part of the Hub’s Research Management Committee. In this article, we meet the Program Leaders for Program 3 - Advanced Corrosion Performance and Manufacturing Efficiency.
Meet Academic Program Leader Professor Nick Birbilis
Nick’s program is principally focused on ‘Coatings’, but more generally, on next generation performance in corrosion resistance and coating technology. “Coatings – thin as they are – have a very critical role in the lifetime and longevity of steel products” says Nick. He is looking forward to playing both a coordinating and research-active role in this exciting topic – which concentrates multiple scientific disciplines into a research problem only a few microns thin.
The Program is unique in that it has been designed to be highly collaborative across university partners, and also integrated with researchers within BlueScope Steel. Nick hopes that it can be a model for collaborative applied research. He will be an active participant in the research, but as Program Leader will seek to maintain a whole-of-system level approach to the program's contributions.
These projects will utilise the possibilities of the Steel Research Hub to their full advantage. As an example within one project, by linking three Partner Organisations (ANU, UOW and Monash), with BlueScope Steel, contemporary state of the art facilities will be utilised in order to better assess existing coatings, assess their life prediction, and the development of new coatings in terms of design and process. Fundamental and mechanistic-based analyses will permit developments that will have both near and long-term implications.
Nick enjoys research that has a direct impact on products. He explains being able to contribute to research that not only has a translation pathway but also impacts the Australian Steel industry, is a big motivator. Naturally, the Steel Research Hub also drives innovation through collaboration and working with – whilst training – the next generation of researchers. The chance to work with the brightest minds is a privilege.
Nick explains experimental research has been a real challenge during the pandemic, and this may remain a challenge in the project launch phase. However, one upside is that remote ways of working have advanced in parallel – so his aim is to have an ongoing connectedness that would not have been possible prior to the pandemic. “We need to adapt to our circumstances as best we can, particularly since the demand for steel continues to rise, and the work in the Hub is more critical each day,” says Nick.
Nick was inspired by many people in his career path. In all cases, it was those that were working with materials for industrial use. He remembers as an undergraduate engineer being fascinated by the materials used in the various transportation systems (and a lecturer walking in with a whole bumper bar). Later in his studies, he was very much intrigued by the area of corrosion – in other words, the disintegration of materials – and how to prevent that. He was fortunate to have excellent mentors at the time, including Professor Brian Cherry and Professor Maria Forsyth.
Nick looks forward to spending as much time as possible visiting the BlueScope i-Labs as he just LOVES the Wollongong beaches!
Meet Industry Program Leader Daniel Parker
The projects in this part of the Steel Research Hub are aimed at improving the corrosion performance and manufacturing efficiency of next-generation coated steel products. The projects will leverage the advanced modelling techniques, materials analysis and characterisation capability within the partner universities, deepening the understanding of coating corrosion mechanisms and advancing the manufacturing processes. As the Program Leader (industry), Daniel will be helping with the coordination of these projects, but he is also looking forward to being involved at a technical level and working out how to best apply the project learnings within the industry.
Daniel hopes he can use some of his experience as a Project Leader in the previous Steel Research Hub to help contribute to the success of this Program. Helping the project teams find the right balance between delivering tangible outcomes for industry as well as meeting the academic needs of our universities will be key to his role. He hopes that his projects, and the Steel Research Hub in general, can deliver some new innovations for Australian manufacturing, helping to maintain its competitiveness into the future.
In these projects, his teams will be looking at ways to be able to develop better products, more rapidly and at lower cost which is key to this goal. He also thinks it would be great if we can also develop a new generation of academics with a strong background and interest in steel, helping us sustain high-quality research in these fields beyond the Steel Research Hub.
One of the great things about Daniel’s work is being able to test, develop and implement new technologies in the manufacturing processes. “We are always pushing the limits of equipment capability, and even minor improvements can have significant benefits when considering the manufacturing volumes in steel and the cost of production downtime. It’s rewarding when we find new ways to push those limits through high quality research and application of new technologies” says Daniel.
One of the key challenges in the steel industry is managing risk when we are implementing changes to our products or processes. “Seemingly small changes can have unexpected and sometimes costly consequences! The better we can model and predict the behaviour of our products or processes, the more confidently and rapidly we can implement improvements that create value for our customers” says Daniel. Through these projects, the project teams have access to some cutting-edge modelling and analytical capability within the universities, and this can help them meet these challenges of innovating in our industry.
Daniel fell into a career in the steel industry out of high school, securing a materials engineering cadetship offered by BHP Steel at the time. He always had an interest in materials science, but the financial independence of the BHP program was really the initial selling point. Since joining the industry he has had opportunities to work with great people, travel extensively and get involved in some significant projects so he has no regrets in his career choice!