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Robin Churchill Continues to Share 38 Years’ of Metallurgy Expertise

by Daniel Widlund


16 January 2019


For a company with over 100 years’ of design, engineering, and metallurgy experience, sharing the expertise we’ve developed with the next generation is a top priority. Our Principal Metallurgist Robin Churchill has over 38 years’ of experience helping to develop new processes and advance metallurgy, both within our team and for the industry.


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A few years ago, Robin helped developed a unique experiment to share the expertise of his team with the next generation of engineers, scientists and metallurgists in Portland. But before he was brainstorming ways to share STEM technology with the next generation, Robin graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in metallurgy and joined what was then ESCO Corp. immediately after graduation.


Throughout his career, Robin has worked with many technological advancements. He helped update the company’s welding guide with specific procedures, participated in ESCO’s last large electroslag weld project, and helped the company develop a new type of duplex stainless steel – one of only two alloys the company ever patented.


These unique alloys are tailored to our specific needs. We need to know how to make them and how to process them to get the right properties. “That continuous effort toward technological advancement,” shares Robin, “is why we’re the leader in our business.”


Later in his career, Robin spent several years in the Product Test Lab. There he became involved with the use of miniature computers for acquiring actual field measurements of loads, stresses, and strains for our products as if they were being used in real applications. This technology had only recently been developed, making such measurements affordable. The real-world data allowed our engineers to gain a better understanding of the field conditions in which our products dig.


A few years ago, Robin was asked to help with a student group from OMSI.  The students were interested in technology, so they came to the perfect place, the Hank Swigert Center for Innovation. Our engineers gave presentations on Rapid Prototyping, Computer-Aided Design and several other subjects. Robin decided to present on heat treating. 


Robin’s demonstration involved heat treating small chain links made of a type of steel that can be hardened, and using them as examples of how heat treatment affect the metal.


Using a torch to heat up the chain links, the links were heat treated in three different ways. One link was allowed to slowly cool after being heated to high (orange-hot) temperature. Another was rapidly cooled from the high temperature by water-quenching. A third was heated and quenched, but was then warmed up to a lower temperature afterward. The first treatment leaves the metal soft and stretchy, the second leaves the metal hard and brittle and the third gives the metal high strength without brittleness. To show those characteristics, the links were pulled to failure using a hydraulic actuator in the Innovation center.




“With such dramatic differences, I wanted to show them what possibilities there are with steel. To see how you can take the same piece of material and heat and cool it in different ways, and get such vast differences in its properties is fascinating to me as a metallurgist,” said Robin. “I think the kids are fascinated by it too.”


Robin stresses the importance of showing this demonstration to students who may already have an interest in science or engineering.


“It is not necessary for them to want to be metallurgists, but if they’re going to be engineers, it’s good to know about materials,” said Robin.


In addition to the heat treatment demonstration he developed for student groups, Robin regularly helps teach metallurgy classes offered by the Metallurgical Department for the ESCO Division’s engineers.  We are lucky to have Robin on our team and look forward to learning more from his expertise for years to come.