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Structural Integrity (SI) has been defined by Dr Steve Roberts (University of Oxford) as the science and technology of the margin between safety and disaster.  As noted in the paper entitled Engineering Materialism and Structural Integrity, drivers in the quest for structural integrity have been primarily financial, involving the desire of manufacturers and investors to maximise return on investment, the desire of insurers to have a pre-defined risk, and the possibility of litigation in the event of a failure.  One can loosely translate the title in terms of financial drivers as:

The desire to make money through, and by, engineering has led to greater structural reliability.

Its engineering import can be summarised as:

The application of science and artful working in order to stress materials such that the arrangement and mutual relation of parts of complex structures remain in an unimpaired and complete state.

The 'application of science and artful working' is essentially the role of engineering design and of structural integrity research.  Engineering design plays a key role in the creation of wealth by maximising the value of engineered products to both purchaser and supplier.  Research into structural integrity provides the data, models and tools necessary to performing statistically reliable life prediction.  At the University of Plymouth, structural integrity research focuses on the areas of fatigue and fracture of materials, with current emphasis on weldments (MIG welds in high strength steels aluminium alloys, friction stir welding and friction taper stud welding), fatigue crack growth, fatigue crack shielding, synchrotron and neutron strain scanning of residual stresses (particularly as a function of process conditions in welds), crack initiation and early growth, multi-parameter fracture mechanics modelling  of stresses and strains around fatigue cracks, and finite element numerical modelling.  Much of this work is cross-disciplinary and collaborative with international partners.

Current activities of the group are outlined below.  A full publication list and other details can be found on my University staff page


Academic Staff


M Neil James - Professor of Mechanical Engineering

DSc(Eng) (Witwatersrand) DTech (Honoris Causa) (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), PhD (Cambridge), BSc(Eng) (Witwatersrand), CEng, FIMMM

Tel: +44 1752 586 021 Email:

Career Résumé

Jan 2010-                              Head: School of Marine Science & Engineering

Jan 2010 – March 2016    Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Science & Engineering

Apr 2007 - July 2008          Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Plymouth

Jan 2003 - July 2009          Dean of the Faculty of Technology, University of Plymouth

Aug 1996 -                           Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Mechanical & Marine Engineering, University of Plymouth.

Jul 1993 - Jan 1994           Sabbatical leave in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

Nov 1987 - Jan 1988         Visiting Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

May 1985 - Jun 1996        Research Fellow, Senior Lecturer then Associate Professor in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand. Acting Head of Department July 1992 - January 1993 and May 1994.  Head of Branch of Physical Metallurgy within the School of Process and Materials Engineering from January 1995.

Oct 1983 - May 1985         Research Associate in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science, University of Cambridge.

Jul 1978 - Aug 1980          Industrial experience with Rhodesian Ministry of Water Development as a Mechanical Engineer then the National Railways of Zimbabwe as an Assistant Mechanical Engineer (AME) with Southern Area Motive Power (including 2 months running Steam Traction from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls.

Jan 1977-Jun 1978           National Service with the Rhodesian Police Force (BSAP) as an armaments technician.

Other Significant Activities

2010     Honorary Membership of the Gruppo Italiano Frattura in recognition of “outstanding achievements in the research fields of Material Science, Fracture Mechanics and Structural Integrity”.


2008     Invited to be the John Orr Memorial Lecturer for the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering.  The lecture is intended to celebrate the achievements and contribution of Professor John Orr OBE, Hon. LLD (1870-1954) to engineering and engineering education in South Africa.  This prestigious lecture is given by an engineer of international standing.  My chosen topic was ‘Reliable Products and Structures’.

2008     Appointed Professore di Chiara Fama and Docente at the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy (founded 1391) in the Department of Engineering from January 2008.

2007     Appointed Honorary Professor of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa in the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering for 5 years from August 2007.

2005     Appointed Advisory Professor of the Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu, PR China from September 2005.

2003     Honorary award of title of Visiting Professor to the Materials and Engineering Research Institute (RAE 5-rated in 2001) at Sheffield-Hallam University for 3 years from June 2003.  Extended for a further 3 years in September 2006.  Invited to join the Advisory Board of the Regional Development Authority designated Centre for Industrial Collaboration and the MERI Policy Board for 3 years from March 2004.  Re-appointed for a further 3 years until 31 August 2009 in the Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences.

2008-   Co-Editor (Europe, Middle East & Africa) for the International Journal of Fatigue an Elsevier publication. Regional Editor from 1999-2007, Acting Editor in 1998.  Member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Elsevier journal Engineering Failure Analysis.

2000-2015 Invited to join the EPSRC Peer Review College.  The Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council draws its referees and panel members from this College of experts, nominated by those active in the appropriate research areas.

1999-2001 Invited by the Higher Education Funding Councils to serve as a member of subject panel 30 Mechanical, Aeronautics & Manufacturing Engineering for the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise in the UK.

1998-2002 Chairman of the Devon & Cornwall Group of the Institute of Materials.

1994-1996 Chairman of the Central Branch of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering.


2003   LT Campbell-Pitt award of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering for the most meritorious paper published in their Research & Development Journal during 2002

1995   Ingham award of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (also in 1989 and 1988) for the best short technical paper published in their journal.

1989   Research grant from the Richard Ward Foundation, University of the Witwatersrand.

1986   Silver Research Medal of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering.

1984   Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the University of the Witwatersrand, tenable for 2 years.

1981   Overseas Research Students award from the committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom, renewed in 1982.

1980-1983 Beit Trust Postgraduate Fellowship to support PhD study at Jesus College, University of Cambridge.

Consulting Work

Professor James has a strong record of successful failure analysis consulting work, having dealt with more than 140 industrial failure analyses over the last 26 years.  Much of this work was commissioned by lawyers (in both South Africa and England), as part of litigation, or by insurance loss adjusters.  He has also given expert evidence in legal cases, and in official government enquiries into failures.

Information given on a hyperlinked web page illustrates the range of failure analysis undertaken by Professor James, often commissioned by loss adjusters or lawyers.  Examples cover fracture on a walking dragline, stress corrosion cracking of a Grade 304 stainless steel pipe, and liquid metal embrittlement (during galvanising) of a ferritic steel carburettor bolt.

He established a Close Corporation in 1991 to handle consulting work on a professional basis and this ran very successfully until 1996, when he moved from South Africa to England and closed the business.


He has a keen interest in teaching undergraduates, and in short courses to industry, particularly related to design, failure analysis, fatigue and fracture mechanics.  He has developed a web-based fracture mechanics tutorial, which allows structured learning of problem solving skills in the area of linear elastic fracture mechanics.  It provides a complete, self-contained package (with 24/7 availability) of industrially focussed problems, applicable and directed theory, hints, and solutions, with interactive graph plotting and calculation.  The hints are based on 15 years’ experience with the areas of difficulty students find in tackling imprecise, crack orientated, and open-ended fracture mechanics problems, from the standpoint of a conventional fully specified, stress orientated, continuum mechanics background.  It provides an excellent practical introduction to applied linear elastic fracture mechanics.

He has also developed web-based learning material for a first year module entitled Design as a Generic ToolThis page provides a portal into a managed learning environment aimed at assisting in teaching the philosophy of generic design problem solution, and enabling innovative, thoughtful and ethical analysis of engineering systems and their impact on society and the environment.  This internet resource draws together structured information on: module administration; important diagrams; illustrative case studies of innovative design; learning from case studies of engineering failures (either structural, technological, market assessment, or management) arising from inadequate consideration of one, or more, aspects of the overall multi-facetted design process; techniques available to encourage inventive problem solving; ethics and sustainability.

In 2001 he was awarded one-of-ten Teaching Development Grants by the UK Centre for Materials Education, part of the Learning and Teaching Support Network funded by the HE Councils for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  This grant was used to develop an interactive learning package in failure analysis through industrial case studiesThis package is interactive and illustrates a number of applications of some techniques widely used in industrial failure analysis, e.g. metallography, fractography and simple fracture mechanics.  The examples were chosen and presented so as to guide the learner through the analytical steps and thought processes used in solving such problems.


Associated and Collaborating Staff

Dr Colin Christopher - Computing & Mathematics

Professor Eann Patterson - University of Liverpool

Professor Danie Hattingh - Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa

Professor Luca Susmel – University of Sheffield

Professor Roberto Tovo – University of Ferrara, Italy

Dr Mark Newby – ESKOM, South Africa

Research Interests


An outline of current and some of the past research projects can be found on the hyperlinked web page.  It includes information on recent publications, including some conference papers and reports in PDF format, and also details principal research equipment.  As noted above, a full publication list is available on the University of Plymouth Staff page