The Welding Institute

Case Study: Alan Gifford FWeldI CEng

16 Nov 2023 3:00 PM | Anonymous

Alan Gifford was born in the late 1920s and went to school throughout the war. He started working in a small chemical factory laboratory in 1946. Alan did all of his studies as day release and evening classes at the local technical college. After several unsatisfying jobs at small companies, Alan moved to International Combustion Ltd (ICL) in 1950, a large boilermaker, as a chemist/metallurgist. Soon after this Alan decided to focus entirely on metallurgy, which he found more fulfilling.

Around 1954, the company entered into the nuclear age and from then Alan was linked to the welding and testing of welds rather than working on failures and material control, which were otherwise the main activity in the laboratory. When Alan was professionally active, he also held FIM and FIQA but lapsed these when he retired. He was also a board member of the Pressure Vessel Quality board of Inst Mechanical Engineers. Alan was also a member of the IIW committee on welding consumable. However, he held onto his FWeldl and CEng, since these were his strongest attractions.

About You

When did you join the institute?

‘I joined the Institute on 12 June 1958 and I joined the BWRA soon after this and attended local branch meetings, I soon found myself a member on the committee of the East Midlands branch and later its Chairman. I later became a member of the Institute’s Council and Chairman of the Quality Board.’

Intro To You And Your Career In Engineering

Why did you chose a career in engineering?

‘I initially started life aiming to be a chemist, but soon found metallurgy much more interesting, as well as satisfying. I was much happier working within this role and industry.’

Early Professional Membership

How would you say professional membership has helped you throughout your career?

‘In the mid-1970s, I was persuaded to move into quality management, but was able to continue my involvement with welding-based committees. Since welding quality was essential to the company, I knew that benefits of participation on courses at TWI would be beneficial. I was able to ensure that many of my staff went to TWI at Abington for tuition. Quality in welding was, and still is, a key issue and, with Tim Jessop (a colleague, who was a member of TWI STaff), we established a Quality Board at TWI of which I was Chairman. This met regularly and set specific criteria for many aspects of the various processes. During this period I was awarded (with Owen Gorton) the Larke Medal by TWI for a paper on the repair in situ of a huge ammonia converter. Then, in 1992, I received the Distinguished Service Medal for outstanding service to TWI.

‘In the 1980s I headed up a small team of engineers, metallurgists and welding engineers who provided a roving service to all of the 50 or more companies which formed Northern Engineering. The scope was wide, from micro pumps to ship building cranes; help from TWI was always on hand when needed. In 1990, I returned to ICL and re-established the organisation of quality, in all departments, whereby quality was the responsibility of individual directors, rather than a quality department.’

As one of The Welding Institute’s longest serving Members, what are one or two of your fondest memories from being a Member?  

‘My first contact with the BWRA was to attend a meeting in Princes Gate in London, with the laboratories director, to attend a lecture, which was titled something like, ‘Welding at Low Temperatures.’ It turned out to be a lecture on maintaining tractors in the trans-Antarctic for an expedition! This was very interesting, however was not welding of low-temperature steels, which is what I expected. The next visit I went to at the Princes Gate was a 5-day course on, ‘Welding for the Nuclear Industry.’ This included a day visit to TWI’s headquarters at Abington, which was my first (of many) visits, where I witnessed Dr Alan Wells carry out a brittle fracture test on a 3-inch thick plate in a little hut at the back of the hall. I resolved that I never would want anything that I was responsible for, or involved with, to fail in that manner. ICL never had an in service failure of a pressure vessel.

‘In 1957, ICL built a dedicated heavy engineering shop able to handle a plant weighing up to 200 tons. In 1959, I was appointed as assistant welding engineer and, about that time, ICL received the contract to build the heat exchangers for AGR Windscale, which were quite considerably larger than anything previously taken by the company. During this construction the Welding Engineer at the time left, rather hastily. I was then promoted, in 1960, to take over his role as Company Welding Engineer, responsible for both works and site welding.

‘About that time ICL received an order for building the nuclear plant at Trawsfynydd, in North Wales. This involved the fabrication of components for 12 x 450 ton vessels from the works at Derby and assembling on site as well as all the heat exchanger tubing and associated gas ducting. At the same time, we embarked on building the boilers and steam drums for the 4x500MW boiler units at Kingsnorth, quite a baptism for a young man of 30. These were followed by two more 4x500 MW boilers and steam drums and another nuclear heat exchangers set at Dungeness. After these projects were successfully completed there followed a succession of steam plant and vessels for the nuclear and chemical industries, the oil and gas industries and off shore rig.

‘I was responsible for producing the first boiler drum in the UK using electro slag welding and also using submerged arc stainless steel strip for cladding various pressure plant. Perhaps my most satisfying achievement was to introduce argon arc welding on site for the root runs for boiler tubes and having the first ever UK high pressure boiler – over 5,000 site tubes welds - which did not have a single leak on hydraulic test to about 5000psi.’

Future (Membership And Career)

‘Throughout my working career, I was always associated with both the East Midlands branch and at TWI, where I was Chair of the former and a member of TWI’s Council. When I retired in 1992 I continued to be a member of the CEN Committee for Water Tube Boilers, where I specialised in the Manufacture and Testing sections. This was eventually published as EN12952, although the subsequent move away from fossil fuels has limited its use.

‘Over the span of some fifty years, welding dominated my life, regardless of the role in which I was employed. Even now, I maintain an interest in welding as a retired Member. I receive the new magazine, ‘Welding and Joining Matters,’ and I sign in for the occasional Zoom meeting - if the subject matter appeals to me.’

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