William Henry Robinson

Citation on the award of Life Membership, April 2008

Dr Bill Robinson is Director, Chief Engineer and founder of Robinson Seismic Limited. He has been a member of the Society since 1989.

His qualifications include:

  • ME(Mechanical) (Auckland),
  • PhD (physical metallurgy) (Illinois),
  • Honorary DSc(VUW),
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. (Awarded the Society’s E.R.Cooper Memorial Medal 1994 and the Rutherford Medal in 1999)
  • FNZSEE, FNZIPhysics, Dist FIPENZ.

His work experience includes:

1957—1960 Engineering student, University of Auckland
1961—1962 Masters student, University of Auckland (Auckland University Research Scholarship)
1962—1965 Research Assistant & PhD candidate, Dept Metallurgy, University of Illinois, Urbana
1966—1967 Research fellow in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Sussex
1967—1985 Scientist, Physics and Engineering Lab, DSIR
1980—1981 Nuffield Travelling Fellow at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge
1985—1991 Director first of the DSIR division Physics and Engineering Laboratory and then with restructuring, DSIR Physical Sciences with a staff of 300 and turnover of NZ$30M.
1992—1995 Distinguished Scientist, NZ Institute of Industrial Research

1995—Present Founder, Director, Chief Engineer and former Chairman of Robinson Seismic Ltd, a company with the business of manufacturing, consulting and research in the fields of mechanical engineering, mechanical damping and seismic isolation.

Dr Robinson became involved with seismic isolation in 1970 when he invented the lead extrusion energy absorber. The Lead Rubber Bearing, the device for which he is most well known, was invented in 1976. This device was first used in a government building (William Clayton Building) in Wellington in 1978. Use of the device and concept of seismic or base isolation spread quite slowly with applications in New Zealand (Parliament, Te Papa). With the occurrence of earthquakes in USA (Northridge 1994) and Japan (Kobe 1995), use of lead-rubber bearings and seismic isolation increased markedly. There are now over 5000 seismically isolated buildings worldwide about half of which use lead-rubber bearings. The technique is now used in many countries, including USA, Japan, India, China and Taiwan.

Seismic isolation has proved particularly effective for hospitals, helping to make them functional immediately after an earthquake. Notable buildings that include seismic isolation include: Parliament Buildings, Wellington; Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Central Police Station, Wellington; Rankine Brown Library, Wellington; Old BNZ Building, Wellington; Wellington Hospital; Sacramento State Building, California; San Francisco City Hall and Bhuj Hospital India. The saving in damage to these facilities and the reduction of risk to so many lives worldwide started with the invention of the lead-rubber bearing and was helped by the publication, in 1993, of An Introduction to Base Isolation by Bill Robinson, Ivan Skinner and Graeme McVerry in 1993. In 1997 Chinese and Japanese editions of this ground-breaking text book were produced in response to demand, both translated by prestigious technical committees in the two countries.

Dr Robinson also invented and developed two vibration dampers (PVD & RVD), a new seismic isolation system based on a ‘friction ball’ (Ro-ball). His most recent invention is the Ro-Glider, an isolating device designed to provide more economical seismic isolation than lead-rubber bearings, in a more compact form, with increased movement capacity. Ro-Gliders were used recently for the first time to isolate a hospital building in Wanganui.

In a career spanning more than 40 years Dr Robinson has developed many new techniques and written more than 60 papers in the fields of Antarctic studies (sea ice), ultrasonics (solid state physics), plasticity (metallurgy) and damping devices (seismic isolation).

During his career he has been awarded more than ten awards and honours including the 1999 NZ Royal Society Rutherford Medal for Technology and an honorary DSc from the Victoria University of Wellington.

Bill Robinson continues to play an active role in the company which now has testing and production facilities in Malaysia and work contracts and prospects in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Vietnam.

He was awarded the Queen’s Service Order in June 2007 in recognition of his services to engineering and New Zealand.

Bill Robinson’s contribution to earthquake engineering is immense. The influence of his inventions will continue to grow throughout the world, saving lives, reducing damage to buildings and disruption to communities. He continues to make a contribution to the earthquake engineering community, not least through his role as co-chair of Earthquake Engineering New Zealand, the business cluster formed to promote New Zealand’s expertise overseas.

It is an honour to put forward this citation in support of Dr Bill Robinson being made a Life Member of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering. It is fitting and timely that he should receive this recognition from the Society for his contribution to the field and to the reputation of New Zealand in earthquake engineering.

Graeme McVerry David Hopkins

Wairakei 12 April 2008