Name – Nick Birbilis
Company – Monash University
Position – Professor and Head of Department
1. What does your role entail and what does your company do?
Working at a University, I am often asked what my role entails – usually in the form of ‘Do you get all the school holidays off too?’ or ‘It must be quiet now that you don’t have classes on?’. The role of an academic these days does include lecturing, but that only takes about 3 hours each week out of what are very long weeks. My role is focused on research, and in my case, research into “innovations in corrosion”. Each day is filled with corrosion related research beyond the cutting edge, and I can’t image a more exciting role. As a Professor, I lead a team of ~30 researchers (comprised of research fellows, PhD students, and professional scientists), who are working on a corrosion free future for all of us. We work on development of new ‘stainless alloys’, intelligent inspection, functional coatings, and most importantly, corrosion education. Awareness of, and education in, corrosion, is the first step in corrosion avoidance. As Australia’s leading university in Engineering, Monash takes exceptional pride in the education of students of all ages, races and backgrounds.
2. What has been your favourite corrosion project that you have worked on and why?
Wow. There are too many to select from. I have been fortunate to be involved in hundreds of projects to date, most of which are industry related, and many of which have been carried out with exceptional teams. It’s hard to select a favorite, as one of the interesting things with corrosion related projects is that they are finite, so the chance to work on many projects keeps a career exciting. Although, if I had to select one project it would be the exterior inspection of skyscraper façade in Melbourne. The inspection was carried out using the ‘window cleaner’ unit, which was flapping in the breeze a few hundred meters above the crowded CBD. As a young engineer at the time, I didn’t confess a prior fear of heights, but that fear was promptly cured from that day. From a technical perspective, the ability to carry out electrochemical testing in such a complex setting was both a challenge, and rewarding.
3. What are the important corrosion related issues facing industry/your business today?
Corrosion is a costly beast. One thing that remains true (at least for the last 50 years) is that the cost of corrosion expressed as the %GDP of a nation has not decreased. In essence, in spite of each “cost of corrosion study” to date (and there have been numerous, from in numerous countries) ending with a conclusion that awareness of corrosion is essential to reduce the cost burden of corrosion, educational lessons are not learnt. Short term financial decisions, cost cutting in the early stages of a project, or simply not calling in a corrosion specialist, are all issues that seem to repeat themselves. Undoubtedly, more awareness and more education regarding corrosion is critical; as is application of responsible lifecycle management and routine inspection. Let’s not repeat the costly errors of the past, and let’s keep corrosion in mind as we design (not only in the designing of new structures and components, but in the designing of a more sustainable future).
4. Why are you a member of the ACA?
The ACA is not only a well-managed professional society, but it forms the backbone of a culture, a history, and a professional family – to which we belong. The ACA is open to all, accommodates all, and its focus is the common enemy, corrosion! I have met many friends through the ACA, and formed many lifelong bonds. The ACA also encourages participation, and I am proud to have served as a former Vic Branch president, also being involved in the early days of the Young Corrosion Group (of which I am now unfortunately beyond the entry age!).