Hi Sadegh, tell us how your work in Iran led you to join ATC Williams?
I had almost finished my master’s at the University of Tehran when I started working at Canytec (NICICo’s subsidiary) as a Process Engineer. I was employed to research paste thickening as our company joint ventured with an international paste thickener supplier for Sar Cheshmeh Copper Mine Paste Thickening Plant construction. Paste thickening was a new technology, and NICICo was keen to use the method to save more water as the mine was located in a dry and arid region.
In 2004 I met Paul Williams from ATC Williams. ATC was consulting NICICo in multiple projects, and I got involved working on commissioning and troubleshooting another paste thickening at Miduk Copper Mine for NICICo. A year later, I moved to NICICo and stayed for almost eight years. I was very fortunate to be involved in many construction projects, from paste thickeners, pipelines, and pump stations happening in Iran at the time. Also, ATC Williams and NICICo were planning to fund a joint research project in the area of thickened tailings open channel flow characteristics. However, from 2010 on, the UN sanctions meant funding for research was no longer sustainable for NICICo. Paul invited me to consider moving to Australia to undertake the research project as a PhD thesis and was very encouraging.
When did you arrive in Australia?
In 2011, I travelled to Melbourne to visit RMIT and see the ATC Williams office. It was a big decision to make and one that my wife, Sara and I discussed for another year before we said yes. We were happy and settled in Iran. We both had good jobs, and moving for work wasn’t something either had set as a goal. Many young Iranians aim to relocate early on in their careers, but that wasn’t us.
We arrived in Melbourne on 11 March 2013, which I found out was Labour Day. I remember driving near Albert Park from the airport and seeing a Formula One car race happening! So we’ve been in Australia exactly nine years now.
What was it like working while doing a PhD in a new country?
The first six months in Australia were exciting but also frustrating at times. Sara wasn’t working, and it took time to integrate into the community and find new friends. I worked two days a week at ATC Williams and three days at RMIT on PhD research. To begin with, the PhD was all background reading and research. After six months, we both began to feel more at home. We are very proud to live here and to be Australian citizens.
How did the idea of the Slurry and Mechanical Engineering Group originate?
ATC Williams was delivering a tailings project in South America and outsourcing the majority of the mechanical engineering to another company. I saw that this could be a capability to bring in-house, so I approached Behnam (Pirouz), who I was working with closely. We put together a business plan for the ‘Slurry and Mechanical Engineering Group’. The ATC Williams management was very keen to support us, and we soon had a few clients on board. We began in 2015 and have gradually built the group, taking on a drafter, a mechanical junior, a mechanical designer, and then a senior mechanical engineer for a team of six now.
Why is this in-house mechanical engineering capability important to ATC Williams?
The Slurry and Mechanical Engineering Group provides a direct link between our tailings technology and the mechanical components of our solutions. As a company, ATC Williams can take a complete overview of both civil and mechanical components and their interactions. When one company delivers civil and another mechanical, links get lost, or the design can be misinterpreted. As we are all under ‘one roof’ and communicating continually, our approach prevents those mistakes from occurring. Plus, we have a comprehensive database of in-house testing and materials classification experience, providing another depth of design excellence. We are mindful to capture the complete picture and provide accurate reporting for clients.
Also, with the current industry move toward non-conventional tailings management to mitigate wet tailings dam failures, the Slurry and Mechanical Engineering Group play a key role to develop the most suitable flowsheet for the tailings handling system. Extensive mechanical components (thickener, filters, mixers, cyclone, etc.) are involved for non-conventional methods.
What are your plans for the next five years?
We have plans to develop further our lab testing with the addition of new apparatus for the tailings dewatering and transportation characterisation based on our in-house expertise and the outcomes of the research projects we are involved in currently. We are also sponsoring a PhD student at RMIT who is researching laminar thickened tailings transport as a sustainable option for hyper-thickened tailings handling. We intend to expand to ten people in this engineering group over the next few years.