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Research, key gear

Since childhood, Félix Echeverría knew that one day he would be an engineer. Today, he is the director of one of the most important corrosion research groups in Colombia and his work has allowed him to establish important alliances with the Colombian industrial sector.

by Vanesa Restrepo

The advantages of the union of forces and knowledge between academia and the productive sector will always be beneficial for any nation. A clear example of this is Colombia, where the development in terms of oil exploitation, industrial growth and expansion of infrastructure has required great efforts in terms of control and prevention of corrosive phenomena.

Leading this alliance is Félix Echeverría, who at 43 years old is the visible head of the most important and oldest research group in the field: the Corrosion Group of the University of Antioquia.

- Publicidad -

Although he does not usually wear a gown, Echeverría spends his days in the middle of metal pieces,  tweezers and test tubes, guiding students and professionals in the development of new materials and study methods for one of the phenomena that cause the greatest damage in the world.

Solving problems
"Corrosion is not a problem that we must live with, but we can solve it with a lower cost," says Félix with the conviction of someone who has helped design solutions throughout a country with special environmental conditions: coasts in two oceans and a multiplicity of climates, ranging from perpetual snows to tropical areas with high rainfall; in addition to a particular geography, in which three mountain ranges divide the regions and steal the limelight.

This diversity requires greater precision when designing and executing corrosion control or prevention plans, as well as the adaptation of international standards, which are mostly raised in regions with seasonal climates and less aggressive geological conditions.

"International standards are designed for countries with stations and many of them do not take into account the special conditions of the tropics," explains our professional of the month, who in one of his last projects was dedicated to studying the map of environmental corrosion in Colombia.

"This is a study with the Energy and Gas Regulation Commission -Creg- (technical body in charge of verifying the quality parameters and tariff ceilings for electricity, natural gas and LPG services) seeks to develop its own criteria to determine the effects of the environment on the country's electricity infrastructure", declares, referring to his most recent project.

In addition to this work, the research group led by Echeverría has participated in important projects such as the analysis of the state of biofilm formation in the main piping system of the Medellín aqueduct, listed as one of the best in Latin America. In this case, for example, actions were developed to characterize and evaluate the condition of the pipes, which allowed the corresponding strategies and action plans to be designed.

A winning alliance
undoubtedly, the academy-industry relationship has advanced a lot and, consequently, there has been an improvement in the results of maintenance actions, as well as substantial cost savings in projects.

- Publicidad -

For Echeverría, the main advance in this regard is evidenced in that "today we understand each other more, Before we talked about the evaluation of materials and entrepreneurs only asked: what material do I put here?. It was about changing the deteriorated parts in a system and putting new ones in. Today it has changed, both (company and university) work in the search for practical solutions that allow saving costs, "he explains.

He adds that the change in mentality has also occurred within the academies: "Universities today work on the development of knowledge with relevance, with respect to what companies do." However, he emphasizes, there is still a need for a massification in the application of this knowledge.

According to what Echeverría points out, not all companies include a maintenance plan in corrosion control. In fact, in Colombia about 2% of the national GDP is allocated to actions related to corrosion. This expense has an indirect impact on the economy, since there is an impact on productivity due to failures in equipment and facilities, not counting the environmental effects that are often generated.

Our professional of the month believes that this percentage can be lowered, if we work on prevention and maintenance actions, which allow us to avoid accidents and failures in systems, equipment and infrastructure complexes.

Dad, I'll be an engineer
When he was still playing in the streets of his native Paipa, in central Colombia, Félix Echeverría knew what he wanted to do in his life, and so he let a father know, who harbored the desire that the little boy, like his brother, out doctor.

I'm going to study engineering!, Felix decided very soon, although when it came to enrolling in university he was faced with the dilemma of which specialty he would take. After reviewing the possibilities and hesitating a little, he decided on metallurgical engineering and thus began to write the professional history of who today leads the most important corrosion research group in Colombia.

- Publicidad -

After completing his undergraduate studies, in 1995 Félix emigrated to England, where he entered the University of Manchester to obtain a doctorate in corrosion. Later he returned to Colombia, but this time  he arrived at the city of greatest industrial development in Colombia, Medellín, and one of the most important institutions of higher education in the country: the University of Antioquia.

There he met fellow engineer Carlos Arroyave, by then director of the corrosion research group who, together with Custodio Vásquez (professor during the undergraduate), became the mentor and role model in professional practice.

Félix, like several of his colleagues, considers that for professionals with research training it is difficult to link to the Colombian industrial sector: "In the business sector, someone with a doctorate is considered overqualified." He recognizes that today companies have improved a little in that sense and are supporting employees to pursue postgraduate degrees in different areas, but the matter is more or less recent.

From his desk, in the most important research center in Colombia, Echeverría assures that Colombia has had an outstanding advance in corrosion  management and prevention, evidenced, for example, in the multiplication of groups dedicated to the subject. "In terms of research and legislation we have advanced, although our conditions demand more care, because a solution designed for one site must be adapted to be applied in others."

With a smile on his face, in the midst of several professionals and students, our professional of the month declares himself satisfied with his work "we have managed to do work as a gown and laboratory, at the service of the community," he says, although with a gesture he shows that he is aware that he still has many things to do.

Author: Vanesa Restrepo

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