Obituary - Robson Glyn Davies CEng FIMMM
David Robson Glyn Davies was born in Swansea in 1921 and educated at Builth Wells Grammar School and University College, Swansea, where he obtained a BSc (Hons) in metallurgy in 1943. In 1948, he won a Mond Nickel Fellowship to study at Imperial College London and travel in North America.
From 1945–1952, he was Chief Metallurgist at Richard Thomas & Baldwins, Panteg and Redbourn. Between 1952–1961 Robson worked at United Steel, Workington, as Technical Services Superintendent, and from 1962–1964 he was Deputy General Manager and General Superintendent at Durgapur Steel Plant, West Bengal, India. Subsequent jobs included Managing Director of Millom Hematite Ore and Iron Co Ltd from 1964–1968 and a year out of industry in 1969–1970 as a Director of Studies at Henley Management College. From 1970–1972, he was Director of the Operations and Supplies Division at British Steel Corporation and in 1972 he joined Samuel Osborn (later Aurora Holdings) in Sheffield as Group Director, and Managing Director of Osborn Steels. He retired in 1981 and did research that led to the award of a PhD from the University of Swansea in 1986.
Robson first came to prominence in the national and international press in 1968, as MD of the profitable, pioneering works in Cumbria, The Millom Hematite Ore and Iron Company Ltd. In collaboration with BISRA, Millom undertook the first trials of steel production without a steelworks. The pilot plant was set up in 1965, to test a laboratory experiment on a commercial scale. During the testing process in 1965–1966, the Iron and Steel Board approved of Millom’s spray operation, but later in 1968, it changed its mind. In a letter to The Guardian, Robson typically charmed his adversaries, ‘We have never complained, and do not now complain about the entry of other companies into spray steelmaking. Indeed, we are willing and anxious to help them in every way, but we see no justification for holding up our plans at Millom. These involve the production of steel without a steelworks and primary mill, and provide a technical leap forward towards the goal of one continuous process for conversion of iron ore into steel billet...’ He fought tooth and nail to expand and refine the process, but the Iron and Steel Board gave away the investment in plant to nationalised steelworks, and Millom closed. Robson combined his all-rounder’s talent: academic and practical steel man with the ability to stay in touch with his adversaries, later working amicably with some of them.
Controlled spray deposition (CSD) was another new process in which he participated. It related to the manufacture of highly alloyed tool and high speed steel at Osborn Steels, Sheffield. Research developments continued at the Innovation Centre, Swansea University, where in 1984, Sprayforming Developments Ltd was set up. Robson’s PhD thesis, written at this time, was based on his research at SDL. It was found that spray formed materials produced by CSD, employing metal splatting to achieve fast solidification, had particular metallurgical features, such as fine grain and structural homogeneity.
Robson was Vice-President of the Metals Society in the late 1970s, President of the Historical Metallurgical Society in 1992–1993 and served on the Court and Council of Swansea University. He was a trained baritone, a proponent of clear English, a keen sailor, cyclist, and rugby player, and a family man. He is survived by his wife Kathleen, three daughters and three grandchildren.