Lyndon Frearson

FIEAust CPEng NER

Founder, MD and Principal Consultant

Ekistica

Lyndon Frearson is the founder, MD and Principal Consultant for Ekistica, a technical advisory firm specialising in remote and regional infrastructure and essential services. Lyndon has a degree in Electrical Engineering, majoring in Power Systems and Neural Control Theory, and is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Engineers in the Electrical Division and the Management – Leadership Division.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I have been a member of Engineers Australia since 2007.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
Some of my earliest memories were building with Lego or messing around in shed with my dad or grandfather. My grandfather had been a bit of a “mad inventor” and it seeded the idea that you could create stuff if you had an idea and the passion to see it through. When I was younger I wanted to be a pilot, like my dad, however mum and dad insisted that I get a degree and encouraged me to do Engineering based on my interests growing up.

I was not a great student, as I struggled with motivation. Honestly, I just wanted to finish the course and get out. I had started my own business while I was at university and I had planned on continuing to do that once I left. However, through a series of happy circumstances I ended up applying for one graduate position, in one of the most competitive grad programs at the time, Ford, and I got it!

I chose to be based in Geelong in the Stamping Plant, partly because it was close to home, and partly because I didn’t have to wear shiny shoes! I arrived at the plant and it all suddenly clicked – this huge factory with enormous machines (at that time Ford had the largest tool room in the southern hemisphere) and the opportunity to get in and solve problems. It was the moment I realised what an engineer really was: a true engineer is not a scientist, or a technologist, a true engineer is one whom understands the technology, is able to communicate and interpret the needs of the consumer and to appreciate the artistry inherent in creating something.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
In his seminal lecture series at Harvard in the 1950s, CP Snow argued that the great battle for civilisation was not going to be East versus West, but Science versus the Arts. This was built on the idea that as technological development advanced, it allowed technologists to specialise more and more without having to engage within the debates about how the various technologies should be applied – concurrently with this, the increased complexity of the technology meant that those not trained in it were less and less able to understand or manage it.

We are now, I believe, in a position where CP Snow’s predictions seem more and more prescient – many of the greatest challenges we are dealing with in our world today are made all the more difficult to solve due to the lack of a common language for people on either side of the arguments to be able to reach consensus. I genuinely believe that engineers are uniquely placed within society to act as translators – to facilitate an understanding of the how people, communities and businesses are able to appropriate technology to support their aspirations.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
The most technically challenging project I have worked on was an automation project that I was involved in when I worked at Ford. We were attempting to integrate a large number of robots and upgraded 1000ton presses using a combination of technologies that hadn’t been tried before. It was one of those opportunities where you don’t quite realise what you are getting into at the start but at the end you can’t quite believe you did it. A huge learning experience and great people to work with.

One of the most strategically challenging projects I have worked on was the expansion of Waterloo Wind Farm – it was the first 100% equity, 100% merchant, wind farm to be built in Australia. We got the project from concept to financial close in four months and the project was completed 12 months later, on time and on budget.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
I think one of the biggest challenges facing engineering profession is being able to demonstrate and communicate the value of our capability and capacity to the broader community. There is a general understanding that you need engineers to design bridges and tunnels and power stations etc, however I don’t think that there is a broader appreciation of the role engineers can play strategically as problem solvers. I think this stems from an idea that engineering is purely a technical capability, whereas the true strength of engineering is in its capacity to be creative.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
My favourite definition of engineering is “to contrive cleverness”: when we think of the word contrive in its original meaning “to create from nothing”, then the definition has significant meaning. I think the opportunity for the future of the profession is to communicate this more effectively to broader society and create a space for engineers to participate, and indeed lead the great debates that we will be forced to deal with in the coming decades.

Who is your engineering hero?
Isambard Kingdom Brunell: he understood that engineers needed to understand and embrace artistry in their work – he pioneered the use of a range of different technologies including laminated timber trusses purely to achieve a design aesthetic that he felt was important. He also had a very strong view that engineers shouldn’t just be drafted in as service providers to projects, rather, they performed their best work when they were central to the project, acting as though they were an owner and with a full engagement with technical, financial, legal and social elements of their work.

Image: courtesy of Lyndon Frearson