28 November 2022

Obituary – Dr Michael (Mick) May FIMMM

Mick May made significant contributions to high temperature creep research and fracture toughness, whilst later in life, co-ordinating European research funded by the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Mick was Honorary Treasurer of IOM3 from 2008 until he stepped down from the role in 2020.

Dr Michael (Mick) May FIMMM
11 November 1935 – 14 September 2022

Michael John (Mick) May was born in Sheffield, UK on 11 November 1935. He was educated at King Edward VII school where he became a prefect and perhaps began honing his management skills which were to be useful in his later employment.

Mick moved to The University of Sheffield to read metallurgy, graduating in 1957 with a Bachelor in Metallurgy (BMet). He then studied for a PhD concerning the effect of temperature on fatigue in metals, an area of considerable importance with relevance to failure of magnesium fuel cans in Magnox nuclear reactors.

His first job was with the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research laboratories in London, UK, but the attraction of Sheffield and steel proved too great and he joined the British Iron and Steel Research Association (BISRA) laboratories at Hoyle Street. Mick was a strategic thinker who could see the ‘big picture’ when working on problems, and the Hoyle Street laboratory was ideal for someone with his talents.

Mick rose to become the manager of the Physical Metallurgy section. His early work was on high temperature creep involving assessing large volumes of test data, which he attempted to speed up and automate by introducing electronic calculators. This data was vital in the design of power stations with improved generating efficiency. His other important work was to assemble the team developing procedures for assessing fracture toughness of steels, which was later to become important in the development of materials allowing the extraction of North Sea oil and gas.

In 1972 the Physical Metallurgy team moved to Swinden Laboratories in Rotherham, UK. Both the work on high temperature creep data and fracture toughness continued. Mick moved away from direct involvement in these areas and became responsible for co-ordination of European research funded by the ECSC, the forerunner of today’s European Commission.

The funding came from a levy based on the steel output from each producer. British Steel were generally very successful and obtained more than their juste retour based on their contributions. The system ensured excellent collaboration between steel companies across Europe, enabling researchers to build up strong networks between research groups. It remains in existence today.

In 1988 Mick moved from Swinden Laboratories to South Wales where he took over as manager of Welsh Laboratories and Strip Mill Products in Port Talbot, Wales, UK. During this period car manufacturers, who were major customers, moved to galvanised strip to improve the corrosion resistance of car bodies. This required the laboratories to be more focused on process and product developments and required the strip business to develop a range of new products to satisfy the requirements of different customers. One major problem with coated steels was their weldability.

To improve service, an investment of £12m allowed the Tin Plate Product Applications (PAC) Centre to open. It contained press facilities capable of forming substantial car body parts, hot dip galvanising simulator, laser welding and cutting facility and an electron beam curing process line for research into alternative curing technologies for polymer based coated steels.

During this period links were strengthened with universities particularly in Swansea. In 1992 this resulted in a joint venture with Swansea to develop an Engineering Doctorate Scheme. In subsequent years this gave Strip Products access to postgraduates with a good knowledge of the steel industry and helped make up the shortfall which had been a problem for the business over recent years.

In 1992 Mick returned once again to Sheffield to manage the Swinden Research Laboratories, a position he held until retirement in 1995.

He was very keen on promoting collaboration between industry and academia. During his time in Wales, links between British Steel and Swansea University were strengthened and Mick helped promote similar links between the University of Sheffield and major local engineering companies. The latter led to the award of an honorary Doctor of Metallurgy degree in 1999.

Mick was very active within the Institute. He joined the then Institution of Metallurgists in 1972 as a Fellow and won the Hadfield Medal and Prize in 1994 and T B Marsden Professional Medal in 2018. In addition, Mick was Honorary Treasurer from 2008 to 2020 during which time the Institute moved to its current premises on Euston Road, London, UK.

Mick was also a believer in the importance of the social side of work - until recently he helped organise reunions of colleagues from BISRA. He was a keen sportsman and gained a football association coaching certificate whilst still a research student. He was a keen tennis player and until recently an active of the member of the Hallamshire Golf Club in Sheffield.

Our condolences go to Mick's wife Connie and children Elizabeth (partner Jon), Susan (husband Tony) and John (wife Kate). He also leaves grandchildren Emma, Mike, Dan, Charles, James and Harry, and great grandchildren Jack and Maisie.

Dr Peter Morris