Robert Hallowes Brown

By September 6th, 2011


Robert Hallowes (Bob) Brown was born in Melbourne in 1930 and grew up in Oakleigh, where his father was a GP and his mother was a trained nurse. After school years at Scotch College he obtained a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (BMechE) from University of Melbourne in 1954.

In the final year Brown developed an interest in the mechanics of machining and forming of metals. After graduation Professor Paul Henderson from the Dept Mechanical Engineering, University of Melbourne, offered him an Assistant Lectureship working in this field. In 1956 he became a Research Assistant at MIT in Boston where he worked with Professors Milton Shaw and Nate Cook. He studied the basic nature of surface grinding by mounting a single grinding grit in a dynamometer of his own design, to examine the interaction between type of abrasive, work material, speed, feed and depth of cut ‘ unique work for the time.

In late 1957 he returned to the University of Melbourne where he established a section with expertise in metal processing and consulted with a number of manufacturing companies. With one of his former students he co-authored the book, ‘The Machining of Metals’ published by Prentice Hall which was widely sold internationally with ‘pirate’ translations into Russian and Chinese.

In 1965 Brown moved to Monash University. His research continued in the general area of plasticity, metal forming and metal cutting with a special interest in very high-rate forming and cutting. He created an active group of postgraduate students and staff carrying out research and working with manufacturing industry and researchers in Australia and overseas.

On 12-months study leave in 1968, as Visiting Associate Professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Brown, in collaboration with others, established a much clearer understanding of the elastic behaviour of a grinding wheel matrix. This work was picked up and used by several American grinding wheel manufacturers.

In 1976 as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Western Australia, Brown became active with the Federal Government’s endeavours to expand the manufacturing industry. Apart from input in policy matters he was instrumental in an initiative by the then Minister for Productivity, Ian McPhee, to establish an Australia-wide Technology Transfer Council.

Brown was awarded a Doctor of Engineering degree (D Eng) from Monash University in 1984 for a thesis based on his published works. It was the first Engineering higher doctorate awarded by Monash.

CSIRO Activities

A government ‘White Paper on Manufacturing Industry’ released in May 1977 made a case for increased government support for manufacturing and a report of the ‘Independent Enquiry into CSIRO’ chaired by AJ Birch recommended that CSIRO fill a perceived gap in the research needs of the manufacturing sector. In October 1979 the then chairman of CSIRO, Dr Paul Wild proposed a new Division to work closely with the manufacturing industry. The Division of Manufacturing Technology was formed in April 1980 by transferring 67 staff members from the Division of Material Science and providing funding for 20 new positions. The Division occupied buildings in Woodville South Australia (formerly part of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation) and rented space in Fitzroy, Victoria. Brown was appointed as Foundation Chief of the Division and took up his appointment in August 1980.

Two weeks after starting with CSIRO, Brown presented a keynote paper ‘Engineered Manufacture in Australia’ at an International Conference on Manufacturing held in Melbourne by the Institution of Engineers Australia. In outlining his plans for the new Division he stated:

The approach to be taken in the Division will extend from some fundamental studies aimed at relatively long term applications to quite short-term projects intended for immediate application. At the applied end of the spectrum, it is proposed that the Division will cooperate very closely with the Technology Council and at the fundamental end, co-operation with educational research laboratories is seen as highly desirable. Throughout all of the research spectrum collaboration with industry will be central. The details of this are not yet fully worked out, but the establishment of formal links with groups of manufacturers, possibly by incorporated companies, is seen as possible and desirable.

The problems inherent in any government laboratory undertaking industrial research were examined and it was perceived that:

  • Without a strong link to a market, science push may predominate and commercial potential could remain untapped.
  • Good concepts may wither from lack of ready application.
  • Results may be published and then developed commercially in other countries.
  • A barrier may exist, or be perceived to exist, for technology transfer from the government laboratory to manufacturing industry.

To overcome these and other difficulties, the Division orchestrated arrangements to work WITH and not FOR manufacturing companies. Recognising that technology is wrapped in people’s minds and that transfer is best affected by moving people; policies were put in place to arrange for CSIRO staff to work for periods of time in industry and for industrial personnel to work in CSIRO laboratories. These transfers lasted for a few days to several weeks.

A Divisional Industrial Property Officer was appointed and he was asked to work closely with all research staff from the early stages of a project to ensure that industrial benefits could be acquired by Australian manufacturers, with appropriate safeguards to avoid leakage of innovative developments.

Brown told the staff that his recommendations for promotion would be heavily based on industrial outcomes rather than publication, which had previously been the main performance indicator for CSIRO. However he saw the prime mandate for the Division as fundamental research associated with materials or processes. The strategic research base was established by recognised product or process needs. As is frequently the case, a solution to an industrial problem reveals many matters of scientific interest; where appropriate these were rigorously studied.

In its first ten years the Division made a substantial contribution to the Australian manufacturing industry. Some of the products or processes developed are:

  • A pulse welder system Synchro-Pulse developed by a team led by Dr Graeme Ogilvie. This was transferred to a commercial partner and marketed internationally.
  • A very high-speed vision processing system developed by Drs Miles Harding, Paul Dunn and Warren Gellie. Marketed through an Australian company, this was used in several applications including an implementation as part of the launch equipment for the NASA space shuttle.
  • Diecast design software developed by Dr Ho Siauw, Alan Davies and others, marketed through a spin-off company, Castec Australia Pty Ltd, established by Dr Siauw.
  • An approach to discrete event simulation which has many applications. This was developed primarily by the work of Dr Miles Harding, initially for scheduling flow through the paint shop of the Ford Motor Company in Melbourne and then applied to various scheduling tasks for the airline industry, including scheduling of flight crews and the allocation of airport arrival gates. A spin-off company, the Preston group, was established to market this software. It was very successful internationally. The company was acquired by the Boeing Corporation and now operates as a part of that organisation.
  • The establishment of a computer-assisted cellular manufacturing design technique: this was developed by Dr Alan Wells and a team of CSIRO and General Motors engineers working in the sheet metal forming shop of General Motors.
  • The development of cast bonding processes to achieve very hard wearing surfaces on tough underlying steel substrates. This work was led by Dr Ian Sare and was applied in the mining industry and in the sugar processing industry.
  • A laser system to produce very fine metal screens and sieves: this work was led by Dr Ken Crane who went on to establish the spin-off company, Action Laser, which has successfully applied the technology and exported products to over 20 countries.
  • An intelligent battery tester which can be used to assess the quality of an automotive battery. Mr Tony Schubert used his experience in high-speed switching of large electric currents to develop the system. Collaboration with the RACV and a manufacturer produced a commercial product used as an ‘on the spot diagnosis’ of the long-term status of a flat battery. The technology has now been exploited internationally.

As the ‘Age’ newspaper science and technology writer, Graeme O’Neill, wrote on 3 June 1990, in an article reviewing the Division’s first 10 years: inventors in Australia ‘ amateur and professional ‘ face formidable problems obtaining financial backing to commercialise their ideas

The Division of Manufacturing Technology was reviewed in August 1990 by a committee Chaired by Dr John Stocker, then Chief Executive of CSIRO, with Dr Colin Adam, Dr Bob Frater Dr Alan Reid and Dr Tom Spurling, as members. The report of the review committee includes the statement:

A common theme during the course of the review was praise for Dr Brown’s role in building a highly capable team with an impressive skill base, in developing productive interactions with industry, in initiating successful R&D programs and in raising the profile of CSIRO’s manufacturing technology effort. It was noted, inter-alia, that under his leadership the division was one of the first in CSIRO to collaborate effectively with local manufacturing industry in short-medium term R&D responding to the perceived needs of companies.


Australian and international Cooperative Research Activities

In 1990, after leaving CSIRO, Brown was invited to join the Physical Sciences Panel of the newly established Cooperative Research Centres committee and was also given a consulting contract to assist the formation of cooperative research groups in a variety of science and technology fields. In 1993 the CRC for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems and Technologies was formed and Brown was appointed as the initial Executive Director for 12 months.

In 1992 a group from Europe, USA, Japan, Canada and Australia considered the feasibility of cooperative research in Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS). Brown was asked to chair the Australian delegation. A feasibility study was commenced with five international collaborations and the program was ratified internationally in 1994. Australia’s involvement in IMS continued until 2004, with Brown acting as CEO of the Australian group.

One IMS project ‘Globeman 21’ had been commenced as part of the original feasibility scheme with Dr Laszlo Nemes from CSIRO as a key initiator and a major researcher. In 1995 Brown was appointed as administrator of this project involving some 20 companies and 10 research groups in Europe, Japan, USA and Australia. The project developed a number of software tools for managing cooperative international enterprises. The project continued in various guises and with some changes in participants until 2000. The prime outcomes were software tools adopted by most of the industrial partners and research opportunities continued by the research partners.


Brown has published 47 refereed research papers, many conference, seminar and magazine papers and articles on manufacturing and research. He co-authored the following two books:

The Machining of Metals, EJA Armarego and RH Brown, Prentice-Hall Inc ‘ 1969; reprinted 1972.

Research, Development and Innovation RH Brown, AR Carter, RS Davie and JG Ogilvie, Engineers Australia Pty Ltd, 1997.

Honours and awards


2000 Emeritus Fellow, International Academy of Production Engineering
1996 Honorary Fellow, Institution of Engineers Australia
1986 Fellow, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, USA
1986 Fellow, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering


2001 Centenary Medal
1995 Kernot Memorial Medal University of Melbourne
1995 AGM Michell Medal ‘ Mechanical College of the Institution of Engineers Australia
1992 Alan Burns Memorial Lecturer, The Institution of Engineers, Tasmania
1990 Member of the Order of Australia (AM)
1987 James N Kirby Medal ‘ the Institution Of Production Engineers
1982 Albert M Sargent Progress Award ‘ Society of Manufacturing Engineers, USA
1981 The Blackall Machine Tool and Gauge Award, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Professional and Industrial Committees

1987 – 89 Member of La Trobe University Council
1986 Member of the Joint Industry, Union, Government Study/Trade 3-week Mission to 6 countries to review Heavy Engineering
1984 – 90 Member of the Metal Fabrication Industry Council ‘ Federal government
1984 – 90 Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centre, Victorian Government
1983 – 86 Member of the Board of the Faculty Of Engineering, University of Melbourne
1981 – 83 Member of the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board
1983 – 84 Chairman of the College of Mechanical Engineers, Engineers Australia
1977’84 Board Member of The College of Mechanical Engineers, Engineers Australia
1983 – 84 Director, Technology Transfer Council
1977 – 80 Chairman of the Executive establishing the Technology Transfer Counci


  • O’Neil G, 1990, Business Age newspaper, 26 April 1990, ‘CSIRO Working with private sector to advance industry’ and 6 June ‘Selling an idea whose time has finally com’.


Further reading