Forensic Engineering Society of Australia

Please note:  opinions and advice given by speakers at FESA meetings, as well as on this website, are personal to their sources or authors, and do not represent the views of FESA Inc or its elected officebearers.

Dinner meeting - 23 August 2018

We had two first-rate speakers.

First, Dr John LeMarshall from the Bureau of Meteorology showed how geostationary satellite sensors have greatly increased data accuracy and reliable weather prediction.   Professor Le Marshall is a world expert on this subject, and directed a US agency.

Members were much interested in how detection technologies (with GPS) could nail wind speeds, moisture content temperature layers and cyclone tracking.  Prediction accuracy is of huge assistance in deploying emergency services to prepare for flooding and other extremes.  Notably, Australia has no geostationary satellites;  we feed off the data of other countries (Europe and the US).

Next, engineer Tia Gaffney from Hindsight Forensic spoke on the assessment of vehicle hailstone damage claims. 20% of the $712m 2011 Victorian hailstorm damage total arose from hailstones on vehicles, and there have been 11 "major events" in the last decade.


People are quite inventive with the tools and methods they use to simulate hailstone damage - photos tonight included a golfball in a sock.  

Tia explained what we know about hailstone sizes, densities, speeds (assuming 15 degree C ambient temp), and thus the consequential indentation depth and markings made on steel and aluminium panels.  The prevailing weather, dent distribution, bonnet structure and vehicle covering must also be considered.  Not hard to spot the frauds!   Experiments involving firing hailstones at panels are reported in a paper (Tia as co-author) she is happy to share -

These forensic engineers are hungry chaps - these three giant parmas were demolished in no time:

22 March 2018

Ben Harley from FMG explained Environmental Engineering site assessment and auditing – explaining what all property stakeholders need to know to avoid potential environmental pitfalls.  Ben gave a clear overview of the assessment and audit framework for contaminated land, covering environmental guidelines and standards, site assessment, remediation, the role of the EPA, and supportedhis presentation with case studies.  

Next,  second speaker Geoff Fletcher described a structural failure in a road tunnel in the USA in 2006.  It killed 1 person and was followed by a similar failure in Japan in 2012, killing 9.  The failure modes, effects analysis and legal processes around each - as explained and illustrated by Geoff - were very interesting, with implications for all disciplines of applied engineering. 

December 7 2017

We had an excellent Christmas meeting at the Auburn Hotel, Hawthorn, Melbourne, with over 30 guests enjoying conversation, a good meal and two excellent presentations:

Engineers John Dimopoulos and Peter Hart shared the billing .  

John spoke first on Falls on Stairs and Steps - causes, current design rules, slip measurement, investigation methods, the contribution of vision to an incident, and what courts look for in evidence.


Accurate measurement apparatus for stairs:

Peter Hart spoke next on The Great Electrolytic Capacitor Fiasco.  He explained how plastic electrolytic capacitors (of Class P0) have caused many fires (eg in evaporative cooler compressors) by the ignition of gas produced by progressive micro-breakdown of their thin dielectric:  

First, Peter took us back to basics for those of us a few decades on from electrical theory.  Capacitors provide the kick to initiate rotation in a two-coil induction motor:

The so-called self-healing plastic capacitor was developed with very thin electrode layers wrapped tightly together around polyethylene film (the dielectric).  With time, faults occur in the dielectric and arcing happens (self-cauterising the fault), but there is flammable gas produced.  

In time the container may fail, and/or a spark ignites the gas - and where the capacitor is in a hot location (out of the fan's cooling air stream, on a summer roof), trouble follows ...

Peter, who has written about fifty reports on fires attributed to P0 capacitors,  went on to speak of the inexplicable failure of regulators to act.  A very good night, with two practical, interesting and well-presented talks.

October 2017 technical meeting:

A crew of some 20 members and guests attended our Melbourne meeting and dinner on 26 October 2017.

We heard two good presentations:  Darren Cram from ATTAR described forensic investigation and analysis of a metal component from an engine, and then investigation of faulty aluminium milk pods:

Next, Ted Dohrmann from Dohrmann Consulting  took us through several cases studies of product failures, where his firm was engaged as experts in litigation or in assisting the Australian Competition and Consumer Authority with recalls and product bans:

Good conversation and across-the-table discussion followed over dinner:

Thoughtful members conceiving penetrating questions ...

Melbourne 29 Sept 2017

The cladding debacle

Engineer Chris Stoltz outlined Melbourne's scandalous fires involving cheap PE-filled aluminium cladding on highrise buildings.  He explained the causes, the paucity of regulation, how to fix it, what the regulators are now doing.  An animated discussion followed - there were 35 in attendance.  Chris is President of Engineers Australia and the media's "go-to" man on engineering issues.   He spoke passionately about engineers getting on the front foot, communicating clearly, taking a position.


The AGM was also run in near-record time on the same evening.  No changes in the Committee;  a good year for events, attendances, networking and financially -  small surplus, all solvent.  Members were also encouraged to send their details to FESA for adding to the list of forensic practitioners published on this website.

July 2017 meeting -  two presentations - Truck safety systems, and Traffic cameras - the real story

June 2017 meeting : Fire investigation (2 speakers) - Thursday June 8,  Melbourne.  

Member Ian Eilenberg spoke on house fires related to (faulty) chimney designs, emphasising flue size, type, and spacing from flammable members.  Member Peter Hart spoke on truck and trailer fires - addressing the significance of (flammable) polymer wiring sheathing, giving seven main fire causes (see below), and mentioning difficulties in getting a government response to the industry's advice for tighter standards.   Talks were well moderated by Lawrence Reddaway, and a fine meal assisted our networking and discussions.





  Experts in court - presentation by lawyer Henry Carus ... Melbourne, 11 May 2017

Henry is an experienced personal injuries lawyer who applies a highly client-oriented determination to the investigation of claims, the appointment and briefing of experts,  and to assertive efforts to get the best outcomes he can for his client.  He gave a very lively, candid and helpful presentation on how experts should understand their duties to the court, and what a good expert needs to do to prepare, report, and give effective evidence.    A very good talk.

Henry, who has described his approach to his opponents as being "pleasantly aggressive", was very well received by a full house in attendance.  

A copy of material distributed at the talk is here (members only).


Meeting:  5 April 2017

After convivial networking drinks, 36 of us had an excellent dinner at Melbourne's Auburn Hotel - with very good presentations from Robert Francis, a corrosion and coatings specialist with over 40 years’ experience, and Ian Godson of Infracorr (over 25 years in the remedial and corrosion engineering fields, and who has worked on many technically challenging repair projects in Australia and overseas).

Dr Francis' expertise is in corrosion and its mitigation, especially in the area of protective coatings for steelwork for atmospheric environments.  His experience also covers ferrous metals, technical training and quality assurance. He edited the publication “Sixty Years of Inorganic Zinc Coatings” in 1998, which was revised and expanded in 2013.  He took us through coatings, incompatibilities, treatment, effects of humidity, temperature and inadequate preparation, and the steps to take in a forensic investigation of a failed coating.

Ian Godson gave illustrations of a series of investigations into concrete failure in some challenging parts of the world (from the deep Sahara to marine environments), the latest ground-radar inspection tools, and  measures to repair spalling by identifying moisture paths and applying appropriate cathodic protection (impressing the necessary electrical current to a supplementary mesh anode).

Our speakers' Powerpoint presentations are now available on this site (members only page).


Meeting – 24 November 2016

“Traffic accident reconstruction”

25 people attended an excellent presentation by Victoria Police Detective Sergeant Jenelle Mehegan of the Major Collisions Unit and Detective Leading Snr Constable Mick Hardiman of the Motor Vehicle Accident Investigation Unit.  They spoke on motor vehicle accident reconstruction, with excellent video, images and other material.   Dr Mehegan is an engineer with a PhD in accident analysis and a Masters degree in Engineering (by research).   Mick is following a similar path to advanced technical qualifications.   They have several years of practical, hands-on experience at accident scenes and at court, which fact became quite evident during the session.

It was agreed with our speakers that this session would not be videoed or recorded (for posting on the website), so that the presentation and discussion could be frank, candid and free-flowing.  We are planning to ask future speakers to prepare a website-ready summary of their talk, with images, for distant members.

After convivial FESA-funded drinks at the bar, we listened attentively to the presentation. Dinner was served midway.  The material covered ranged across dash-cam evidence (there are many of them in use);  red light and integrated speed cameras (likewise!); when the police special investigation units must attend;  closing roads;  working out directions of travel and impact;  calculating initial speeds from projected damage or bodies;  tyre marks;  vehicle and tyre visible damage interpretation; air bag downloadable data (there’s lots of it); witnesses and their reliability; the weird things some people do; the extraordinary prevalence of methamphetamines in accidents (60% +); obtaining mobile phone traffic data;  use of CCTV footage;  tough times talking to families of victims;  being called out at all hours; how reaction time calculations are being improved;  the high burden of proof for prosecutors (“beyond reasonable doubt”) and the unpredictable outcomes from juries;  what gets admitted as evidence, and what not.

This was an excellent meeting, and we thanked our presenters (organised by Secretary Adrian Grosvenor) profusely – before sending these two traffic accident specialists on their way with a bottle of wine each.  Hmmm!

September 2016 at the Auburn Hotel

AGM and three member presentations

After convivial drinks provided at the FESA bar from 6:30, we held the AGM.  There were short reports on a successful year, reelection of the Committee, followed by dinner and three very good presentations.

These were practical talks by three of our own members , dealing with real-world forensic issues, methods and solutions.   

First up, Barry Clearwater spoke on “Aspects of aviation fuelling, with some Forensic Engineering Aspects”

Bill Contoyannis  followed with  “Risks associated with access paths – good and bad access”  (A case study was used to assess the issues raised when a pedestrian fell and was injured, accessing a path towards her parked vehicle. The expert was asked to comment on the environment where she fell identify the risks associated with the path. The risk of a fall was accepted by the court, however the court ruled that the risk was foreseeable to the Plaintiff, and not necessarily to the Defendant).

Finally, Wayne Baker spoke on "A tale of two chassis - design and maintenance philosophies in heavy vehicle design".

 These talks were well received, and discussion was vigorous.  

18 August 2016 at the Auburn Hotel

Smart Structures

Twenty members attended an interesting 5:30 presentation at Swinburne University's Smart Structures Lab (Hawthorn campus), where two forensic engineers - Prof Emad Gad and Dr Javad Hashemi - demonstrated the facility's state-of-the-art test equipment. More details about the facility are HERE.   We then repaired to the nearby Auburn Hotel (the Geebung Polo Club) for 6:30 drinks, dinner and excellent talks from our hosts.

  • Professor Emad Gad, Acting Dean of  the School of Engineering & Chair of Department of Civil and Construction Engineering, spoke on Damage Detection in Timber Power Poles.
  • Dr Javad Hashemi, Deputy Director, Smart Structures Laboratory (Structural and Earthquake Engineering) spoke on State of the art Testing Techniques for Assessing in Planning or in-Use Structures (e.g. Buildings/Bridges/Vehicles) and Predicting Failure Modes. 

We thank our guests for their hospitality and their very interesting talks.

16 June 2016 at the Auburn Hotel:

Aerial photography and records

First, Patrick Irwin took us through the extensive archival photography resources that cover our world (made before Nearmap and Google).

Patrick provided a summary of a number of aerial photography archives he was able to track down.   Mainly for the Victorian attendance, these included the Victorian Department of Planning, Land  and Environment, University of Melb Baillieu Library, State Library of Victoria and a couple of others.  Archives are of variable quality (HiRes, LowRes, B&W, negatives etc) - mostly images kept in shoe boxes (yep…just like home) and generally poorly catalogued, rarely digitised.On the positive side, he said most collections are “indexed” as is  - generally difficult to then drill down and get a particular item. They also have started the process of digitising in some cases.

Jordan Schreuders from Flightcraft then presented the latest technology in drone photography and its application to investigations. 

This was a great "show and tell" with lots of very nice toys.  Jordan gave a brief history before discussing the types of things his company ( – website being developed) do - mostly building inspections (he does do some advertising and video work as well).

The technology is getting cheaper and more capable BUT – he has the equivalent of a drone pilot's licence -  as well as CASA approval etc.  It is easy to use the gear, but very difficult coordinating its use with CASA, councils and anyone else who needs to provide approval (neighbours, etc!)

You can do just about anything you would think with a drone,  but don’t expect to be able to do it “quickly”, ie without notice.

Other interesting items…you get about 15 minutes' flying time (then replace batteries).

·         Varying types of cameras and lenses (zoom, 4k quality, thermal)

·         Up to 20 kg payload (changing all of the time – I note a 200kg pay load in today’s paper! !?!

·         Full of sensors and smarts.

A sophisticated drone (2-3 kg pay load costs about $10k, then add whatever else you want, for extra $$.

Thanks to Bill Contoyannis for this meeting summary.  Our video man was away overseas so regrettably no videos are available for these presentations.

 21 April 2016 at the Auburn Hotel

Two addresses: 

Document management

Expert evidence

We had an excellent meeting in Hawthorn, Melbourne in April 2016.   Here, speakers Peter Paras (engineer) and Suzanne Kirton (barrister) are introduced by FESA President David Lake:

Peter spoke on his firm's sophisticated document preparation and management system:

Suzanne (below) spoke on the practicalities of being an excellent expert:  

A 27 minute video of her address is available to members - click here.

35 members and guests enjoyed a fine meal, conversations and very good presentations:

Another good FESA meeting on Feb 15:  

Materials engineer Dr Adrian Grosvenor spoke on "Large 4-stroke diesel engines -  design, manufacture, applications and trouble-shooting".

John Lambert, vehicles expert, spoke compellingly on "Police Pursuits:  do they work, and should they be permitted?"

A full video recording of each presentation is available on the members-only page.

Our meeting in November 2015:

John Francescini spoke on industrial forensic chemistry, giving a great account of work done by Sharp & Howells (his firm) and a series of very interesting examples.   See John's illustrated Powerpoint presentation here  (usually members only, but accessible to all now because of the delayed posting).

Mark Dohrmann outlined lessons for experts emerging from a recent case
  • the well-worn advice to "just answer the question" (in examination) no longer guarantees that you will fulfill your duty to the court; 
  • be very careful with draft reports;  
  • before court, check whether your report has been served.


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