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A blend of creativity, enthusiasm, people skills and attention to detail have taken Derek Buckmaster - the first Director of Carbon Nexus - around the world and back again, in his quest for adventure and new career challenges.
It seems fitting that aviation has always fascinated Buckmaster who, wherever he travels, usually finds an airshow where he can see the latest technology or a museum where he can look back through the history and development of aircraft.
Derek Buckmaster has travelled a long way since he completed Year 12 at Oak Park High School in 1980. Yet he has chosen to return to Victoria to head up Deakin’s Carbon Nexus.
The opportunity to lead a carbon fibre facility on his home turf was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“The timing is perfect,” he said. “The carbon fibre industry is in the midst of a major transformation and many new companies are trying to find ways to use carbon fibre – so they are looking for help. Being an industry-focussed research centre, Carbon Nexus has everything they need to help make this change.”
He also explained that the world’s nine major suppliers of carbon fibre are set to be joined by a number of new players who have access to both the intellectual property to create their own carbon fibre raw materials and the funds to set up new factories. Carbon fibre plants are emerging in countries as diverse as China, Europe, the Middle East and India.
“There are also hundreds of manufacturers looking to use the finished carbon fibre in applications ranging from automotive parts, to aircraft, to construction,” he said.
Carbon fibre’s high strength, light weight and increasing affordability are enabling companies to develop environmentally sustainable products which are helping to make carbon fibre the material of the 21st century, he explained.
“The global market for carbon fibre components was $14.6 billion in 2012. It is expected to be $36 billion by 2020.”
Mr Buckmaster chose to study mechanical engineering after leaving high school because it allowed him to combine his great interest in aviation with more practical - and employable - engineering skills. His first job was in heating and cooling manufacturing where he learnt about stock control and working capital management “quite early for an engineer.”
He then gained work with the Victorian Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Engineering Centre on a project funded by the Aerial Agriculture Association of Australia and the Australian Wheat Board, designing a new aircraft agricultural spraying nozzle and setting up a wind tunnel for testing the product, which was built in Werribee.
From there, he made the life-changing decision to join multinational General Electric, where he spent the next 17 years working his way up and around the world, working in the US, Japan, Europe, China, Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand.
With GE Plastics he worked in sales and product development, becoming Marketing and Product Development Director for the South East Asian Region, and then Global Business Development Director, Automotive, through which he spent a number of years in Belgium and the Netherlands - and helped to generate $200 million of additional revenue.
When one of the world’s largest petrochemical manufacturers - Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Group (SABIC) – bought the GE Plastics business, he made the move to Saudi, where, as General Manager of the Functional Polymers Business Unit, he oversaw the planning and development of a multi-million dollar 3,000-tonne carbon fibre and precursor facility that is still under construction.
“SABIC is an amazing company,” he said. “They will own the whole supply chain, right from the gas which comes from the oil wells that supply the raw material for the precursor, to the manufacturing plants that process the precursor, to the production plants that turn the precursor into carbon fibre.”
Now that the SABIC project is well under way - and having gained an impeccable understanding of carbon fibre - Mr Buckmaster is delighted to be at the helm of Carbon Nexus. His initial focus will be on strategically promoting its research, development and training capabilities around the world, which, he hopes, will attract commercial enterprises and create jobs both within Carbon Nexus and across the Geelong region.
If his track record is any guide, Geelong and Deakin can feel confident that, for Derek Buckmaster, this should be a stroll in the park.