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Generous gift facilitates world-class high temperature lab

Robert Simpson A generous gift in memory of one of Australia’s leading furnace engineers, Robert (Bob) Simpson, will provide Swinburne with a world-class research and teaching facility.

Bob founded Furnace Engineering. Through the Jolimont Foundation, his family has given $500,000 for the establishment of the Robert Simpson High Temperature Processing Laboratory within the university’s new Advanced Technologies Centre.

The new laboratory will feature state-of-the-art induction and resistance furnaces; high temperature laser microscopes for observing reactions at high temperatures; special analysis equipment for studying the changes in matter at high temperatures; and a solar simulator for studying the potential of using solar energy for smelting metals.

“The researchers at Swinburne are thrilled with the establishment of this laboratory and the generosity of the Simpson family in creating this world-class facility,” said Professor Geoff Brooks, who leads Swinburne’s High Temperature Processing group.

He said the new laboratory would be invaluable for research into lowering the environmental impact of aluminium production, which takes up 20 per cent of the state electricity supply. Swinburne is heading an Australasian cluster of universities examining this problem.

Bob, who died in 2006, is described by son and partner in Furnace Engineering, David Lloyd Jones, as ‘a passionate engineer’ with a lifelong interest in high temperature processes and the transformation of materials.

When considering the gift to the High Temperature Laboratory, David said his father had always wanted to make a contribution to tertiary education.

Bob gained a certificate of mechanical engineering as a cadet with BHP immediately prior to World War II. Practical work in the BHP Newcastle (UK) steelworks gave him his first exposure to high temperature furnaces and engineering. He studied mechanical engineering by night while working on the blast furnaces in the foundry by day.

After the war, Bob spent 20 years as a management consultant engineer in the UK, Europe, USA and South America before returning to Australia in 1960. Directorships of a number of public companies followed before he rediscovered his passion for furnaces, establishing Furnace Engineering in 1968.

The company continues to thrive today, specialising in the design and manufacture of one-off furnaces for a range of markets around the world.

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