Florian Thébault: A passion for corrosion

28/09/2018 - France
During his end-of-studies internship, Florian found his true calling: corrosion – a little-known and fascinating line of work!

Please describe your career history.

I'll admit it wasn't an obvious path to me! After graduating high school, I wasn't sure what direction to go in. Eventually, during an internship in engineering school, I dealt with corrosion in an industrial situation. In reality, corrosion a highly multidisciplinary concept: in fact, corrosion can involve metallurgy, mechanics... There's always something to learn!

So I continued my studies in engineering school and followed them with a chemical physics doctorate focusing on corrosion at the University of Burgundy in Dijon. Because of my geographical proximity to the Montbard area, I knew Vallourec by reputation. I joined the company in late 2008, immediately after my studies, as an R&D engineer specializing in corrosion.

Since then I have stayed in the department but changed role: I am currently a level-two expert. There are four levels in total; the level of expertise determines the nature of assignments. I am based in Aulnoye-Aymeries.

What does your job entail?

Today, I support R&D in OCTG and line pipe product development in "sour service" grades - in other words, resistant to the cracking due to hydrogen sulphide, a gas present in oil wells. It is different from cracking in the air, which is due to a limitation in mechanical properties. My role is essential to the development of new grades as well as for corrosion tests. The key to gaining new market shares? Constant innovation! Historically, Vallourec has supported the development of the Sour Service market around the globe.

I also have assignments related to my expertise, such as understanding the mechanisms of corrosion through studies intended to capture the cracking process. It is caused by hydrogen sulfide, a gas found in oil wells.

In addition, I speak during conferences in France and abroad to present, for example, new grades of steel or to explain the technical specifics of corrosion. I'm also part of the JIP* and working groups. Recently, I've been working extensively with Serimax, the Vallourec welding subsidiary, on an EPRG project (European Pipeline Research Group).

What qualities are required for your job?

First and foremost: rigor in conclusions and implementation. It is certainly important (and difficult!) to stay on point because my job requires versatility: I need to prioritize the numerous topics which I have to deal with simultaneously, taking into account the different deadlines. Good interpersonal skills are also essential because I interact with many different people.

What are the main challenges of your current job?

Without a doubt, new product development! It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile high mechanical properties and resistance to cracking in the presence of hydrogen sulphide. The higher the properties of a material, the more it is susceptible to corrosion under constraint. Another difficulty is to correctly evaluate the representativeness of our work in the lab, which is very standardized compared to our tubes' real environment and the risks taken by our customers. Our innovations are therefore more and more about customer performance!

Increasingly complex product development is not just a challenge, it's also my main source of inspiration. When you spend your career in the industry, you truly see the fruits of your efforts.

What do you like about working at Vallourec?

My team's spirit is very positive. We're all working towards a common goal and we're all moving in the same direction. Our manager is very invested and tries to help us grow professionally and technically. He pushes us to give the best of ourselves!

Who are you outside of work?

I do not have any true passion. I especially love spending time with my daughter, who is very important to me.

What's the best advice you have ever received?

My mother gave it to me. On leaving high school, she advised me to go to an engineering school. I'd probably not be here without that advice!

*Joint Industry Program