#sheffvista 114 Dr John Hinton, Senior Process Metallurgist

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Senior Process Metallurgist; Primetals Technologies Ltd

Since first coming to Sheffield for my degree, I have lived in the city for over 20 years. So I guess the city and me are doing something right. Between 1998 and 2006 I completed an MEng and a PhD. At least in that time I managed to change departments, moving from the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering to the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering. This provided a multi-disciplinary education. During my PhD I focussed on metallurgy and the microstructure evolution during the production of stainless steel. This developed a key understanding between a materials’ structure and it’s macro properties; one which has been an important part of my career since. Following my PhD, I spent a further 5 years in academia; as an Experimental Officer (as part of the then new Sorby Nano Centre) working with local small medium enterprises on a wide range of short, interesting microscopy-based projects and then as a Research Associate (RA) in the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering. A few months after a High Strength Steel Conference I was approached by an industrial contact and asked if I was interested in a new Process Metallurgist position at Siemens MT (now Primetals Technologies Ltd.) in Sheffield. I successfully applied and have been with the company 7 years, progressing to Senior Process Metallurgist and becoming a Chartered Engineer with the IOM3 in 2018.

On reflection the industrial contact came to me at the right time. Throughout working at the University, there was a nagging thought about pursuing an academic career and making the pro-active steps necessary to becoming a Lecturer. It was during the second RA position that I recognised that this probably was not for me. I didn’t have the self-drive and determination to become a Lecturer in a very competitive work environment. Perhaps, a more suitable and interesting career could be found by leaving and applying the knowledge, logic and reasoning gained to industrial problems.

Primetals Technologies (PT) Ltd. in the UK is the Global Centre of Competence for Plate and Aluminium Rolling; specifically plant solutions for the hot rolling of steel plate (typical applications include bridges, ships, pipelines etc.) and the hot and cold rolling of aluminium coil and plate (all applications). I am in the Process and Commissioning Team, part of the Technology group within the Sheffield office. This team provides technical support to pre-projects, projects and on-site activities across the rolling production route for both industries. My role as a Senior Process Metallurgist is primarily concerned with the through process evolution of steel plate during hot rolling; from the as-cast slab to developing the correct final structure property relationships in the finished product. My key responsibilities include metallurgical know-how and technical and metallurgical support for Sales (pre-project proposals).

An example of one of the mechatronic equipment packages from PT is shown below; the MULPIC (MULti Purpose Interrupted Cooling) machine, which cools steel plates after rolling to a range of temperatures and final structures. This example is taken from a steel works in China; steel plates up to 4.3m wide, 60mm thick and 40m in length can be cooled. The Sheffield office design, oversee installation and then commission this machine.

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The Sheffield PT office has a long history dating back to the mid-19thcentury when Davy Brothers Ltd. was formed. In the last 30 years, take over and mergers have led to the current joint venture with the company currently owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Siemens. This means that the workplace is reasonably diverse; a traditional engineering company mixed with one that reflects a global business and workforce. This is also echoed in that most of our business is outside the UK and travel is a given for many employees. I have travelled to a number of countries including China, India, Russia, Turkey, Canada and the United States to name a few. This allows you to experience different cultures, ways of life and see some interesting sights (the photo below is the closest I’ve been to Niagara Falls!). Unfortunately steel works are rarely located in glamourous locations. A trip to Canada sounds fantastic, but a trip to the Great Plains in mid-winter (where I’m currently part of a project supporting a producer making steel pipelines) is decidedly chilly! Depending on the role within the company, there are opportunities to spend several months at a time living and working in different countries.

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As a Senior Process Metallurgist, I am not usually away from Sheffield for longer than a couple of weeks at time. More often than not, short trips, within a working week are normal. The snap shot below from my diary is more typical – a 3-day trip to sunny Belgium starting with a train from Sheffield station at 7.45am on Monday morning. Belgium within a week is fine, travelling to the United States is very tiring!

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Compared to working in academia there are more deliverables in industry; day to day and week to week work is more accountable. This can sometimes be pressured but it also means that work is finished and delivered as a specification, report or presentation creating a sense of achievement. The other major difference is that I now work for a company that sells services and knowledge but does not produce steel or aluminium. This is a change from designing and conducting experiments and analysing results in academia. There are times when I miss having the opportunity to investigate in more detail although that is not to say that I can’t try to collaborate on joint R&D projects with academia and industrial partners where possible.

In terms of skills or experiences to develop, I would look at becoming involved with projects that have an industrial interaction which at the same time will develop good communication and personal skills. In my experience, the core skills developed in academia (self-motivation, self-learning, reasoning etc.) are highly transferable. In my own workplace most employees will have a degree qualification. Apprentices will be supported to study for a part degree. I am not the only PhD in the office, but there are not many. And in my industry, the workforce should be varied; a mixture of those with a good education and practical know-how in combination with those who can provide a greater level of reasoning and understanding. One final tip would be that every day is a school day and that you can always learn something from those around you.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Recruitment agencies, contacts through academics, networking at Conferences etc.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Specific to my role, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining(IOM3) – ther are equivalent accrediting bodies across the Engineering disciplines.

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