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Knowledge sharing is key: An interview with Dow’s Leading Materials Expert David Barber

In addition to his role as Global Improvement Leader Materials Engineering Discipline at Dow, the world’s largest chemical company, David Barber has taken on the challenge of Chairing Duplex World 2018. With a wealth of hands-on metallurgical experience built up over nearly 30 years, David is as at ease solving corrosion issues on-site as he is fielding questions on specifications and lifecycle costs. By Joanne McIntyre
 
Since 2013 David Barber has been the Global Improvement Leader Materials Engineering Discipline at Dow, USA, with more than 100 Materials Engineers, Technologists, and Technicians aligned to him within the company. This year he is bringing his expertise to Dusseldorf, Germany in his role as Chairman of Duplex World 2018.

With almost 30 years of experience in the materials discipline David is a renowned expert on the topic and has an undiminished enthusiasm for his chosen field of expertise. He spoke to Stainless Steel World Americas about his role in the company and his passion for his work, “Metallurgy and the challenges of achieving improved performance and efficiencies in the materials discipline have always been at the core of my work. I still enjoy finding solutions to challenges we face in the field and passing on the knowledge I have accumulated over my career to the next generation.”
Duplex to lower overall costs
An important aspect of David’ s work is implementing improvement opportunities for the materials discipline for Dow chemical facilities around the globe. “From a materials point of view there are two ways in which we can achieve improvements. One is by carefully evaluating which materials we use in various processes and the other is by improving the supply of materials to streamline costs. When we talk about reducing costs, there are two key aspects to achieving this: the short term aim of having the lowest capital costs when acquiring materials, and the long term aim of achieving the lowest cost of ownership.”

“Duplex stainless steels fit very well with our objective of achieving the lowest cost of ownership. One of the most attractive reasons for specifying duplex is that it doesn’t require painting. This lowers both the short term investment and long term maintenance costs over the lifetime of the equipment.” “Historically, the processes that we are working with and the climates we tend to operate in have required us to paint 316 stainless steels to avoid external chloride stress corrosion cracking. Therefore it’s easy to understand why duplex- es are an ideal replacement material. We have steadily increased the use of duplex stainless steels since the early 1990s. It has proven to be an attractive alternative to nickel alloys in certain processes due to its superior corrosion resistance and higher strength, which translate to lower cost.”

USA a large user of duplex
Although there tends to be a perception within Europe that there is proportionally less duplex being specified in the U.S., David is quick to challenge this. “It is certainly incorrect for Dow anyway, as we use a significant amount of duplex and have had internal specifications for the material for around 25 years. I don’t feel that this is unusual among American end-users; other chemical companies also use duplexes and it’s not an uncommon material for our fabricators to be working with. Welding was considered something of a challenge back in the early 1990s but those days are long gone for our fabricators.”

Trends in the discipline
When asked if he has seen any recent trends in the use of materials David replies, “We are certainly bolder about using titanium than we were in the past and we now use a lot more of that in our processes. As a result of several acquisitions in the company we have also gained a lot of knowledge about using zirconium and tantalum and are now specifying more of both these metals. However that is only a trend within our company.” “Personally I think that one of the most significant challenges that end users face in the materials discipline has been the reduction in the number of technical staff employed by many companies. While we operate within a lean business model, Dow has worked hard to reverse this trend recently with increased hiring taking place. I’m now seeing that happen- ing in other companies as well. However across the industry in general I think it’s fair to say that experience with materials is not as broad as it could or should be in the end-user community.”

Sustainability
Sustainability is a hot topic in the materials industry and David explains that Dow is also doing its part to operate sustainability. “For example within the materials discipline we aim to select materials that will last the lifetime of the plant as we design it. This means that we don’t use more material than is needed. In addition, using the minimum quantity means that that we can lower the weight and cost of the materials used, which is also a sustainable approach.”

Challenges
Considering the supply of materials across the global materials discipline, David was quick to identify availability as one of the main challenges he faces. “Getting the material you need, when you need it is crucial. This is particularly important when sourcing suitable components at a specific location.”

“If there was one message that I’d like to pass on to materials manufacturers it would be that as an end user company we are not an R&D facility for materials; we must rely on the manufacturers to carry out corrosion tests to determine the best materials for certain environments. That materials data needs to be available to us in literature and on line at all times. While this is the case to a certain degree, I would encourage manufacturers to continue investing in their capacity and staff to carry out corrosion testing in-house. It’ s something that end users simply do not have the staff or budget to do themselves. ”

Importance of face-to-face events
Given that I was speaking to David during the Stainless Steel World conference I asked him how important this type of technical event was for his profession. He was quick to answer, “In my job it’s becoming increasingly important to attend conferences. Events like this fulfill an important role because face-to-face communication is key; you simply can’t do it all through email. It is essential to be out in the market meeting people and building relationships. ”

“Looking ahead to Duplex World in October, I am looking forward to learning more about developments in the use of lean duplex both in terms of new uses for the material and the increased commercial availability of the material in more components, different product forms, etc.”

All photos courtesy of Dow

 

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