Juan David explains how he’s made the most of ArcelorMittal’s links with universities and its stature as a global company to work his way around the world in a double Master’s, a PhD and two jobs. He currently provides automotive technical support in advanced engineering, to Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda out of ArcelorMittal’s Tokyo office.
In 2001, I landed in Metz, France as a young double-diploma student of a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering between my home university in Colombia, EAFIT, and the National Engineering School of Metz (ENIM, today part of the University of Lorraine). During my studies, I learned that the Master’s doesn’t enable students to get as deep an understanding of the physical phenomena we studied as I hoped to gain.
So, during my last year, I orientated my Master’s toward the research field. During that time, I was lucky to be part of a dynamic and enthusiastic team of people who were passionate about research in mechanics and material sciences.
I really enjoyed my Master’s project and in six months my supervisors and I got very interesting results. To go further, the research team I was part of decided to continue the investigations through a PhD. The purpose of this work was to study the impact of an industrial process, high speed machining, on the final properties of titanium alloys used in parts for the aerospace industry.
During my PhD, I discovered a strong link between the University of Lorraine and ArcelorMittal, with R&D engineers coming regularly to supervise our steel-related Master’s and PhD projects and to give scientific speeches. This is how I realised how dynamic research could be when applied to real life industrial challenges in the steel industry.
Sometimes luck helps in life and after I completed my PhD in 2007, there were vacancies at ArcelorMittal Maizières Research and Development facility corresponding to what I wanted to do, so I applied and was appointed as a metallurgical engineer.
I joined the Automotive Products Laboratory at ArcelorMittal Maizières, where I led projects to develop new steel grades for the automotive market. Starting from scratch to invent and commercialise new steels is a complex process requiring many professional skills and a strong ability for teamwork. Indeed, my task was not only limited to pure laboratory work. I had a great deal of interaction with our production plants, the product portfolio leaders and with the customer teams. Thanks to this experience, I had the opportunity to have a quite large overview of several jobs in our company.
As in any industry, the success of a new product depends on much more than its quality. It hinges on developing exactly the product the market is waiting for and being the first to provide it.
To do this, you need a good understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations. Once the product is available, customers must know it exists, so it must also be marketed well. I had observed both aspects, thanks to my job in product development. Over time, I realized the idea of being closer to the customer so I could promote to them the products I’d contributed to developing, appealed to me, so I decided that becoming a resident engineer would be the next step in my career.
When I’d first joined ArcelorMittal, I’d met a former resident engineer who’d worked in Japan. His description of the kind of job he did there and how rich the personal experience of living in Japan was for him, impressed me. Even though it was too early for me to think about going to Japan, I kept this conversation in the back of my mind. Then, late in the summer of 2016, after a holiday in Japan, I discovered that a resident engineer position was open in Tokyo and I didn’t hesitate a moment to apply for it!
A resident engineer, in case you’re wondering, draws on commercial and technical expertise to advise customers and their suppliers, on how to design and manufacture products to maximise their performance, while minimizing their environmental impact and production costs.
My application for the role was successful and I arrived in Tokyo from France in June 2017. Apart from settling into a new job, a new flat and a new lifestyle, I’ve been enjoying the sights in my adopted country. I’m always impressed by how well the Japanese honour their history while looking to the future.
The Japanese ability to draw from the lessons of the past to innovate for tomorrow is very like the steel industry, it seems to me. Even though steel could be regarded as an old industry at the first glance, the reality is that it is in permanent evolution. Some of the space age technologies I worked with in the lab at Maizières, like the Transmission Electron Microscope which I used to analyse and strengthen steel’s microstructure through a process called “precipitation” is testament to that.