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08 October 2020

RILEM Industry Endorsement

This interview took place in the morning of Tuesday, 6th October 2020. Dr. Fragkoulis Kanavaris, or Fragkiskos, like everyone calls him informally, kindly dedicated 30 minutes of his time to speak with me, the RILEM Implementation Manager (RIM), Daniela Ciancio. He connected from his house in London, UK, where he has worked remotely since March this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Even though I kept pronouncing his name wrongly during the entire length of our online meeting, Fragkiskos was a true joy to talk to! Fragkiskos received his PhD from Queen’s University Belfast (Northern Ireland) in 2017, with a thesis on “Early age behaviour and cracking risk of concretes containing GGBS.” Since Jan 2018, he is a Concrete Materials Specialist in the Department of Specialist Technology and Research - Advanced Digital Engineering at ARUP in London. Fragkiskos has been a member of several RILEM TCs and is Deputy Chair of TC 287-CCS : Early age and long-term crack width analysis in RC Structures. This testimony of the reciprocal benefits for RILEM and its industry members is a precious gift. I hope you enjoy it!

 

RIM: Thank you so much for your time, Fragkiskos! I did my homework for this interview: I know that you are very young, that you graduated with a PhD in 2017 and that after a short experience in the academia as a post-doc you joined ARUP as a concrete specialist. This makes you a “RILEM industry member”. Could you please tell me more about your first RILEM encounter?

FK: Sure! I first heard about RILEM during my PhD years. Maybe it was around 2014 or 2015, when I was doing intensive research as part of my PhD studies. I stumbled upon all the very well-known papers and recommendations from RILEM. Furthermore, my PhD supervisor, Prof. Marios Soutsos, was involved in some RILEM Technical Committees, and this is also how I got to know more about RILEM. He was always speaking highly of that organisation. As time progressed and I became more involved with my research, I found out that RILEM was a very well-established organisation with very respectable outcomes and researchers over its course of life.

RIM: Did you join any Technical Committee as a PhD student then?

FK: Yes, but rather unofficially at that stage. I collaborated with TC 238-SCM : Hydration and microstructure of concrete with supplementary cementitious materials  members and we produced several research outcomes together. I got to know more researchers, young ones and those well progressed in their careers, and significantly enhanced my network. Then in 2016, after the 70th RILEM Annual Week in Lyngby, Denmark, I attended the EAC doctoral course organised after the conference after which two things happened: 1) RILEM offered all participants of the doctoral course a free membership and 2) I had the opportunity to meet most of the members and in particular the Chair and Secretary of TC 254-CMS : Thermal cracking of massive concrete structures. My presentation at the conference was noticed by the TC Secretary, Prof Miguel Azenha, and I was invited to join the committee. That was very nice of him and of RILEM. This is how I officially started my involvement with RILEM.              

RIM: I assume Prof. Azenha’s connection is behind your move to Portugal as a post-doc! Why did you leave the academia to join the industry after that experience?

FK: For the fourth and final year of my PhD, I was a research associate at Queen’s University Belfast. Then I moved to Portugal for about 4 months to work with Prof. Azenha. Then I understood that I wanted an “industry job” but with the element of research in it, in order to get to use all this amazing knowledge we are accumulating through research in actual engineering projects. That’s very difficult to find because there are few positions and that too only for very specialised people. From my perspective, I guess I was lucky enough to get one of those positions.

RIM: So now you have a “hands on” job in real construction projects but at the same time you continue your “fun activities” related to research and development.

FK: Exactly but not only that! The information drawn from any research activity that I do with RILEM is then used into my work with ARUP.

RIM: This is very interesting! I have a tricky question for you now. I would like to know how your supervisors at ARUP see your engagement and commitment with RILEM. What do they think of RILEM?

FK: As you know, industry companies and firms are very much project and income driven. RILEM is based on voluntary contributions from self-motivated members. This does not bring any profit to a firm but it does bring prestige, credibility and knowledge. Now… there are firms that appreciate that and there are firms that do not. I was lucky enough, again, as ARUP is at the forefront of innovation in the civil engineering business and in my department these values are highly appreciated.

RIM: This means that you do not have to hide from your supervisor the fact that you work on RILEM activities.

FK: No, I don’t! But it is not always like that. You still have to devote voluntary time outside your office hours to deliver outcomes, but my supervisors support me with time to travel and to attend committee meetings. One of the main reasons this occurs is because during my job interview with ARUP I expressed my desire for such activities to be supported. ARUP said “yes, this is an important feature for your work, please feel safe that you will be able to do it”. And that is only one of the several reasons why I consider this firm to be special and unique.  

RIM: Great! Did your boss know about RILEM?

FK: The Head of Department at ARUP initially didn’t know about RILEM. Then I explained what we do there, who is involved in the committees and which are their expertise, she was very excited about this and appreciated the fact that one of the employees was part of this. My concrete specialist colleagues were/are very well aware of RILEM and its activities. Generally, in the industry RILEM is not so well-known though…

RIM: Unfortunately this is true. And when RILEM is known, it is not known in the right way!

FK: Absolutely! RILEM has a lot of very useful resources. I advertise RILEM all the time, for instance by posting RILEM news about useful recommendations or an interesting conference or any worthwhile research activity, in our global forum so that everyone in my firm can see it. For example, at the moment ARUP is involved in the design of several underground tunnels using fibre-reinforced concrete/shotcrete. Many colleagues have questions about the calculation of crack width, and I can direct them to some very helpful RILEM publications on this matter.

RIM: What is your point of view about the concerns of some RILEM members about the presence of industry members (like you!!!) in the RILEM TCs? I heard some members are worried that the outcomes of the TC could be influenced too much by the interests of the industry.

FK: It is very beneficial for RILEM to have industry members inside the TCs, as long as they are objective and there are no conflicts of interest. I haven’t experienced any of that in RILEM and I have been in around 5-6 TCs so far. This is probably due to the fact that most of the associated members in RILEM are research-based. Unfortunately, I have seen the opposite happening in other organisations, where industry parties try to promote a product or a technology they are developing or putting into the market. I personally do not necessarily represent the view of ARUP inside a TC, I represent the engineering community and the desire to see how things could be done better in a holistic way.

RIM: It seems I am playing the devil’s advocate here because I have another tricky question for you. What about the issue of the time frame of RILEM TCs and the pace at which TC outcomes are published, compared to the much faster pace at which the industrial sector normally acts? 

FK: In the industry, you are often pushed to produce an outcome. In a RILEM TC you do not necessarily work under pressure. You are given the time to develop something following a group’s pace which will satisfy the needs of the current engineering challenges and the practical time commitment, which is voluntary, of the TC members. You cannot apply pressure on TC members who are not paid to develop the outcomes of a TC. Also, it always comes down to group dynamics as there can be TCs that are more fast-paced than others productivity-wise.

RIM: Where do you see yourself in the next future?

FK: Probably in a similar position as I really enjoy what I am doing: high profile engineering projects and practice-driven research work combined in a nice ratio.

RIM: Would you have any update to share about the “International RILEM Conference on Early-age and Long-term Cracking in RC Structures” https://crc2021.org/, that you are co-organising in Paris in April next year?

FK: We have received a fair number of abstracts, that will allow us to make the most of a 1-day conference. I think this is due to the topic of the conference, of high interest for both researchers and practitioners; but also due to the low registration fees, a very symbolic ticket to pay.

 

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