Russians in Scotland
I asked Marino to allow Don Soderstrom to join me in Scotland just after New Year 1984. He had completed the job with me in Chelyabinsk earlier in 1983 and was not needed in Rancocas. It was agreed that Scotland would pay only his salary but no local expenses. I allowed Don to move into my spare bedroom where he would share household expenses with me. He was a good problem solver but his new design work could stray and become very expensive. I needed a problem solver that spoke American.
I told Soderstrom to work quietly because were consultants at this facility and not the managers. I wanted some productive capacity for carbon insulation in a hurry. I told him I would be busy with selling and diplomacy when the customers arrived. His first task was to build a drying oven to remove the water from the filter cake. He converted an old forty foot container by installing a door on the closed end so flat cars could be pushed through. Baseboard heaters were installed along the sides of the container to provide the drying heat. In about one week we had a reasonable tool for the first step of the curing process. One of the Scottish engineers designed the mixing and molding stations. The single retort was moved into position.
The Soviet inspectors arrived in London in January 1984 for their inspection. I met them in London in the Soviet trade offices. Each group of inspectors must clear formalities before they are allowed to travel alone. They were given a reasonable cash daily allowance to cover their meals and social needs. They were also given instructions on how to act in the host country.
We were up to our eyeballs with problems in Scotland and needed time before the inspectors arrival. I decided to take them on a bus tour for a few days to visit the sub-suppliers, including Inductotherm UK. The tour included a stop at the birthplace of Shakespeare.
The group of five included the buyer, Okalnik, and his young female translator. Valerie, and his partner Sasha were the technical inspectors. Valodie was the electrical engineer for the group. They had received their instructions before leaving Moscow. They all may have been communist party members but Valodie was the only one of them that may have believed in the system.
The group was settled in at the apartment in the same complex where I lived. The place was small so it was easy to decide that the lady had the bedroom with the private bath. The person who took the other private bedroom would be the ranking member. The other three would share convertible beds in the area used for living and dining during the day. I did not take part in the assignment of rooms. Okalnik used the private room under protest of Valodie, who thought he was the ranking member. The cramped quarters were much better than a hotel, since they could cook their meals and do their laundry. This meant they would have more cash to spend in shops, buying presents for their families.
Consarc was ready to fire up the induction furnace a few days after the inspectors arrived in Bellshill. We were using this run to cook some unfired material received from Knoxville, Tennessee. The test was a disaster. By a misunderstanding the heating was done in a vacuum, and that caused the resins to boil away before carbonization. The vapors destroyed pump seals and the insulation on the Induction coil.
The workers who cleaned up the mess had some skin burns. The Russian engineers called this coal tar. We were out of business. We had nothing to show on the Isopress and the Calcarb project was late. The factory was in a mess with new construction.
This was not a simple little problem. The whole foundation of my design was gone. We were going to need another type furnace for the first step of the process. I thought I could find a way out of this mess but I shook in my boots when I realized what pitch was going to do to the isopress heater. I also realized that the reuse of the argon gas in the isopress could not be accomplished using the planned design.
I went to Moscow for two days to tell the Marchin about the mess I was in and the necessity for another type of furnace for the first step. I hoped they could build this furnace in Moscow. He asked me to have the technicians in Bellshill write a report so he could decide what and how to do it. He reminded me that Ivanov was a strict buyer, and he had to have paperwork to take up the ladder before he could instruct this buyer. The construction at the factory was moving along well. The steelwork to support the furnaces was almost finished.
They had a large problem because the steel was set two inches higher than drawings required. This was a major problem for them and we had a simple fix.
Consarc Scotland designed and built a very clever handling car. The furnaces were bottom loaded, which required the door at the bottom of the furnaces to be lowered about ten feet. The bottom then was transferred to an unload station and raised ten feet to be locked in position for unloading. The car then moved to another position to pick up another bottom that had been loaded with the item to be heat treated.
Reloading the furnace required the car to be moved to the correct position where the bottom was raised. A clever part of the design was to lift the whole furnace assembly about on inch after the bottom made contact. Heavy steel bars were pushed into place with air cylinders and the unit was lowered. The weight of the furnace made the seal without any bolts or fancy clamps. There were sixteen positions and all the bottoms, including the extra ones were interchangeable.
All this interchangeability required absolute precision at all sixteen positions and flange interfaces. The only precision required was the adapter flanges between the furnace and the bottom. These were all made at the same time and were exactly the same, without plus or minus specifications that cost fortunes. The other items that required precision were taper pins and steel blocks with cones that matched. The only tolerance was that they all be alike.
These blocks had to be welded to the floor at the factory in Russia and underneath the supporting steel. The construction workers that were installing the steel could not imagine how to place their steel beams with centerlines held to less than one thousandth of an inch. The construction boss asked me for a template to simulate the car. I told him that the car was finished and inspectors could test it before it was shipped.
They needed the car to position the blocks and the steel beam centers. They also needed the car to set the exact distance between the rails and the beams. The construction people report up a different ladder and could provide the documents that would force Ivanov to allow at least one part shipment. If I got one shipment I could get more and the terms of insurance paid if we were embargoed.
The change on the "Star Wars" strategy had me worried that the politicians would cause export rules to change very soon.
TR Dick Esq.
Consarc Engineering Limited
Date 23 February 1984
Attention: TR Dick
VACUUM ARC REMELTING FURNACES TO CHELYABINSK METALLURGICAL PLANT, USSR
Further to our telephone conversation of 16 February concerning the above, I confirm that if the equipment in question had been electrically controlled instead of computer controlled its export to the USSR would not have required the issue of a U. K. export license. However, I must also confirm that HMG considers the export of your equipment, whether computer controlled or electrically controlled, to this end user presents a significant strategic risk; hence the denial of an export license. I also confirm that our CoCom partners were informed of the reasons for this decision.
As I said when we spoke, you are quite correct that the current regulations enable you to ship up to twenty ton vacuum arc furnaces. I cannot comment on the practices of other CoCom member governments except to say that they also apply the same export controls and, particularly as they now share our information in respect of the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant, would undoubtedly have the same concerns over similar proposed exports to this end user and others in the Warsaw Pack countries engaged in militarily related production.
CoCom had decided that the Chelyabinsk factory was a major security risk. Consarc installed the best vacuum melting furnaces in the whole world in that plant. It appeared to me that we should stop our attempts to sell that type of equipment and concentrate on the heating furnace business. Dick and Wilson did not agree that we should stop the marketing of casting equipment that was planned to make compressors for the Soviet gas lines.
When I returned from Moscow to Scotland I discovered that the buyer had a single objective. The contract had a large block of money set aside for spares to be determined. This method of writing contracts left us in the driver's seat. He was trying to find catalogs with price lists for everything he thought we might list as spares. I had another objective and that was to avoid giving him price lists. During the winter of 1983 I had sold his client on the idea of a tenth complete furnace as a spare part. We really needed this furnace to process his materials at Calcarb to avoid being late. We also needed to establish a selling price for one unit for the grants program rather than using the costs.
The buyer was there to write an approved change order. This change was based upon protocols already signed by the technical people and cleared through his legal and accounting group in Moscow. He also wanted to tie down the prices on the spare parts that were still open. He tried to get detailed price lists from our suppliers, but one way or another we were able to keep him busy until his time ran out.
The buyer was dead set on getting his ten- percent penalty for late delivery, and I was dead set he would not. The buyer returned to the Soviet Union in February with his amendment and a bag full of western presents for his family and friends. Vera was useful to him when it came time to buy his wife western clothing. She was an expert shopper in the Glasgow area by that time. He also had a sheepskin coat that Dick gave him as a good-bye present.
A few hours before Okalnik departed Scotland, instructions from his trade group in London told him that Ivanov had agreed that we could ship the transfer car. He signed an amendment that allowed partial shipments to fit construction schedules, with the provision that no payment was to be made until everything was shipped, including all documentation.
On March 2, 1984 the transfer car and some other items left the port of Glasgow. The invoice value was about $300,000.
The failed induction coil was removed from its chamber and replaced with another one for continued tests. We needed to repair the damaged coil in a hurry in case it was needed again. I convinced the Russians to do this work with the argument that it would be good training if they had to do it in Moscow later. The following Sunday the Russian group, my wife and myself dressed in work clothes and with sharp knives we started peeling the insulation from the damaged coil. This was hands-on training on how to repair the coil in the future. The Russian electrical engineer found a clever way to speed up the project by using steam inside the coil while peeling. This saved us many hours and became a method of testing the quality of electrical insulation.
Inductotherm had a quality control problem on these large coils. Sand blasting was done some distance from their plant and they allowed the coil to become damp before coating the steam test spotted bad spots and we were able to repair. Consarc set up a clean room and repaired the coal tar damaged coil in Bellshill.
Nothing was going right at Calcarb, which now became the only hope for getting through the project. Since the Russians were carbon specialists they were asked for technical assistance and hands-on efforts to help me in this task. They were not hands-on types and were afraid they would break Soviet law if we paid them. Work for nothing was out of the question.
Then there were cries of eureka. Using our first load of fibers, produced in the retort from chopped rayon, we had just produced our first six inch thick, seven foot round piece of rigid carbon insulation. This was truly an advance in technology that has not yet been fully exploited.
The very moment I saw seven-foot round board I was sure that most of my problems were solved. I knew, and the Soviet inspectors saw, that we could make a full cylinder as spacers between the fabricated graphite susceptor rings. More than that, I knew we could control the electric resistance of the Calcarb cylinder and make it the susceptor without the carbon rings. I kept my mouth shut on that topic. Ivanov would have gone berserk if I had eliminated the item that sold them on Consarc in the first place. This new cylinder also could be impregnated to take care of the cold tar problem and decrease the resistance so it would need more voltage to take care of the regulation problem. I did not have the time or equipment for this step so the retort furnaces had to be sold to the customer.
On February 22, 1984 amendment number 2 was signed in Moscow. Wilson and Dick signed this document. This change agreed to the tenth furnace as a spare and removal of a cold bottom from the isopress, with a sales price of $60,000. We never made this item but it was to become very complex after the embargo.
Soderstrom had the project of designing the argon cleaning system. We did not know what was to be removed in the reclamation process. Valerie told him he had no idea. Soderstrom decided that the only way to clean the argon from the isopress operation was to make it liquid argon again. This was the blind leading the blind because none of us knew what impurities would be in the gas. I gave Soderstrom the go ahead to buy the smallest unit he could find for testing.
We had all sorts of trouble with the inspectors. They wanted temperature uniformity at every point of the furnace at 1100 C. The contract specified the total size of the hot zone. They finally realized that an oven had different temperatures top to bottom and was only uniform when the fan was running.
The inspectors were busy translating the documentation. They were also reading the files we had on the subject of densifying carbon. Valerie told me he found nothing new in the files, and noted that many of the papers were from Soviet authors.
The technical specialists were convinced that a plasma adaptation for one of their furnaces could be obtained in a horse trade. There is no published information that plasma is used in the carbon production process anywhere in the world.
We had a plasma nitrider on test, and the blue glow inside the furnace was beautiful.
There was a motive for the plasma unit. The Rancocas group was attempting to market plasma coaters, with little success. Roberts hired Kovacs, an expensive salesman and his sidekick Brown as the technologist. They later went to Moscow to present a seminar on the use of plasma.
Roberts told me about a pulse unit power supply he could buy from a small new company in the business. The price was right, so our purchasing group ordered two units. The idea was to use the British grant system so we could set up a test unit in Scotland to learn how to plasma coat with this method. The price was set at $150,000 for this simple 30 kW power supply, again for grant purposes. We could make a profit if we gave one to the Russians in a horse trade and kept one for our tests and sales purposes.
I traveled again with Vera to Moscow to visit the customer. The buyer was really confused when we wanted to change the contract to get around the coal tar problem we had just seen. I spent the last several visits to Moscow arranging for a change that would give them a tenth chamber as a spare part. The best I could do this visit was to sign a protocol.
Using Polaroid photos and my enthusiastic words; a technical protocol to combine the susceptor and large reaction zone was signed in late March 1984. Agreements between engineers are not contracts until the buyers agree. This opened up many possibilities for trading, and the problems were behind me as far as the furnaces were involved. Selling retort furnaces would not be so difficult.
The change of the argon cleaning system to converting the dirty gas to liquid was welcomed by the specialists in Moscow.
Marchin wanted to stick me with the difficult step of coal tar removal in the induction furnace. He wanted a sealed system that would do the job in one step, and reminded me that the contract called for both large and small sealed reaction zones that would work in the open susceptor system. I tried to get into the process details but it was like talking to a stone wall. Marchin was not a technical man and all his technical staff was in Bellshill at the time.
Vera and I departed from Moscow to Sophia on the end of March. Vera did not need a visa because she had a Soviet passport. But Bulgaria had changed its rules and no longer allowed me to purchase a visa at the border. After a few hours the local contact was able to obtain a visa for me. The job was being installed but it was clear to me that we had not delivered a workable system. It was agreed that the Bulgarians could continue to install the equipment without our engineers. This would be a problem later, but my hands were full for the moment. The project group took us to lunch at a restaurant on the high mountain overlooking Sophia. We had a ball and the lunch lasted into the evening. The official line of Bulgaria was to praise the Soviets, but the people did not like them at all.
When we returned from our trip the inspectors were ready to pull my hair out due to lack of activity on their Calcarb parts. Calcarb was producing some items Consarc needed for the Clamshell line and orders that were behind in the USA market. I came up with the idea of steaming the carbon fiber cylinders to set the resin before stripping them from the mold. That was the only way to handle the very large pieces we needed to make. Moving the parts before curing was like moving a sandcastle from the beach. These large cylinders were a totally new technology. The inspectors observed that we were making a little progress on the carbon project but could not make a useful product because our production equipment was not complete.
As part of the contract with Carbon Technologies we were entitled to the services of Dan Hensley as a consultant in case of difficulties with the process. We did not want Hensley to see the process but had no choice in the matter because we needed him to help us with other steps of the operation that were causing failures each try.
Dan Hensley arrived in Scotland on May 10, 1983 as a consultant, as required in the contract signed with his company. He brought his wife along. She became ill from the trip and possibly had a miscarriage. This cut his trip short. I planted the seeds in his mind to purchase Carbond, the rigid carbon company in Knoxville, from the owner and merge with Calcarb. He was receptive but did not know where to start. I really wanted a first class selling operation in the American market with Hensley in command and part owner.
British Caledonian Airlines were running an advertising campaign on TV and in the press featuring their "Caledonian girls" dressed in Scottish garb. I decided to use even prettier Scottish girls in our sales brochure. We had two uncured seven-foot diameter rings, three reaction zone cylinders and some flat rigid carbon board. These items were taken to a photo studio that was fitted with white carpet. The pretty models, whose normal job was to model clothing and perfumes, were a little squeamish as they handled the dirty carbon parts. The pay was good, and they could wash their hands and clothes afterwards.
These photographs along with a sales pitch were placed into a very attractive folder. We could not avoid the temptation to show possible aerospace applications in our sales literature. These photographs opened the eyes of our customers and competitors. They were seeing products never before produced. Our Moscow customer was impressed. A color picture of the carbon beside the pretty girls was worth a million words.
The owner of Carbond wanted a fortune for his little company but the only way out was to buy the company and then close it down. The much needed inventory could be transported to Scotland so we could make our schedule. Hensley then could assist us technically and set up a sales company in the USA. I made an offer, and we agreed to agree on some terms for the purchase.
We desperately needed their inventory of scrap to mix fifty-fifty with 4500 pounds of scrap panex carbon fabric we received in May. We only had one retort furnace operating and could not afford to use it to cook rayon fibers into carbon. The panex carbon fibers were high strength and required a license to import. We had to certify that we would destroy the physical properties of the carbon fibers when it was converted into rigid carbon insulation before exporting it to Moscow. We were under penalty to deliver the reaction tubes by 31 July 84, which was less than three months away. This mixture was not going to produce the best quality, but we could replace it under warranty later.
Rowan sent his son-in-law, Manning Smith, to Scotland. He was in charge of new investments at that time. Roberts did not allow him to visit me alone, so he came along. Smith and Roberts observed the havoc coal tar products could have on induction coils, human skin and vacuum pumps. I also let Roberts in on the sad news that the curved sections of fiberboard planned for insulation did not and could not work.
Manning Smith and I spent almost four hours at the bar at the Rodeway Inn near Oak Ridge, Tennessee the night of April 15, 1984. I learned a lot about his life and his relationship with Rowan. I learned about his feelings on sales to the Eastern Block. We had some lengthy discussions about his and my knowledge of the CIA after I had too many Martinis to remember much.
At the breakfast table the next morning Smith and I structured an agreement with the owner of Carbon Technologies and Dan Hensley. The price was too high, so I structured the offer as a consulting fee for the amount over the actual inventory value. When you buy "good will" it can not be depreciated.
In order to buy the company approval of the board of directors was required. Rowan would not allow me in his office until my beard was shaved. Hank had strange rules at times. For a moment I considered telling him where to go, but quickly decided the damned hair would grow back.
Rowan had a razor in the private bathroom attached to his office. He was always easy to deal with after calming down from one of his little fits. With a clean-shaven face, the rest was easy. I announced to the assembled group, as I reappeared from the bathroom, "I went into that room as a Private but now I am a five star General." When Rowan realized that we were already in the carbon business in a big way and had no other path open, he asked why the board meeting. The purchase was arranged so it was all expensed for tax purposes.
I did not have time to think it through or to follow up the carbon business, but I knew it could be something big. I envisioned a team using Dan Hensley and Dr. Robert Froberg to build up and go after a market that could exceed $100 million per year. Pfizer was ready to sell their carbon division and Hensley was already on board. Roberts did not fight hard enough and had blinders that saw only his area of expertise. We had to make these new carbon gentlemen founding members. Rowan nipped that in the bud using clear and demanding words. We already had a twenty percent stake in Consarc, and purchasing anything with minority ownership of twenty percent would mean that Rowan's stake in that operation would be sixty four percent. A reverse pyramid! Hotchkin told me that Wooding had attempted to do just that when he and Rowan were equal partners, and that started the fight. His orders to Hotchkin were "never again". Calcarb was doomed to grow under a management that did not understand the manufacturing process. I had been down that road before.
Roberts concluded the paperwork with Carbon Technologies and appointed himself to the board and the president of Calcarb. He did not allow me to be a director or officer of the company. Roberts was afraid this would allow me to make an end run on his position. A deal to split the profits on a net 50/50 basis was not understood by the Scots, who thought they were being cheated in the whole affair. The Scottish group never gave Hensley a chance to succeed.
Calcarb was named for Caledonia. This is the name Rome gave to Scotland during their occupation. For years I had read a plaque on Rowan's office wall that was the speech given by the Roman consul, Lucius Aemilius Palaus, in BC 168 to an assembly gathered in front of the Roman Senate. The speech fit my situation with Rowan and Roberts to a T. The famous quotation from this letter was: "Come with me to Macedonia". I replaced that quote with, "Come with me to Caledonia" in error during the time of the Calcarb startup.
My bet with my Russian customer was lost. Rowan's secretary typed the following memo from my telephone dictation on April 18,1984 The final date for shipping the contract was two months away: We were going to be late and costs were going to be high.
The great Caledonia forests were cut down by the English to make charcoal. This charcoal was used to fire the furnaces for iron production for the British Empire and become the fuel for the industrial revolution of the world. In terms of material progress for mankind, these forests were a small sacrifice, however, the cost of rebuilding these forests is many times more than they yielded due to the fact that barren soil was left for many years prior to the start of rebuilding the forests.
The rebuilding of the forest is further complicated by acid rain due to current methods of producing energy in America and Europe. Calcarb is again using wood from Sweden and Brazil in the form of rayon to produce a new kind of charcoal to save calories which can reduce the energy requirements of furnaces, reduce acid rain, which will allow the Caledonia forest to be rebuilt while Calcarb is making a profit. Calcarb is the calorie saver from Caledonia.
The forest which we cut down in your room is on fertile ground and away from acid rain and therefore is now re-growing. It must re-grow because I have a bet with our honored customer who has delayed receiving his special charcoal and has agreed to remain in Caledonia until we finish the project, providing the pair of us celebrate the New Year in Moscow as Santa Clauses.
I will keep you informed as to the progress of all the jobs and as to the growth of the forest prior to attending the shareholders meeting.
With love and respect,
On April 26,1984 I signed amendment number three to the contract. This one gave them seven combination large reaction zones for free. This allowed me to offer them the pulse power supply for 102,000 pounds and arrange the pumping system for the isopress to pump liquid argon, which I thought would be much cheaper than gas compressors.
We needed cash to meet payrolls and pay other bills. We arranged to borrow eight hundred thousand pounds from Inductotherm England with Inductotherm's backing.
The value of the dollar against the pound was falling like a rock. At one point it reached one to one, a fifty percent decrease in value. I avoided paying any dollar obligations that were mainly to Consarc USA for fees for my services and for Scotland's share of the Carbond purchase.
City Bank opened new offices in Glasgow and was seeking commercial business without solid backing behind their loans. Cooke was amazed to see how easy it was to borrow two million pounds on his signature. His bank manager was Godlike in his mind. I convinced him that bankers were just vendors of money and that he should never again need to say "yes sir" to them.
City bank allowed me to buy three hundred thousand pounds six months forward on my private name at one to one without any cash deposit. This was pure gambling, but my downside risk was minimum and the upside made me thirty percent.
We found that the coal tar problem could be licked by the first step being carried out in a simple retort furnace. We should have known from the literature all along. The Russian engineers in Scotland saw that this was what they required, so a grand plan was started to exchange furnace 10 as defined by amendment number two for three retorts, and change in the reaction zone concept was started. There was no way to sell this without a major effort.
The price was set at three hundred fifteen thousand pounds for three retorts. The cost was about sixty thousand, but we needed to set the price high to get the maximum benefit from the British government. Calcarb needed six more retorts for my plans and needed them right away to make the insulation for the contract. To sell anything an offer must be made. The following Telex was a surprise for Ivanov.
9 May 1984
We have discovered a serious flaw in the planned operation of the nine furnace complex. Products with pitch impregnation cannot be heated in vacuum for carbonization unless they have been heated to at least 750 degrees to boil off the coal tar. We have made several attempts to operate the induction furnaces with by-pass burning lines and have reached a conclusion that this method will require a metallic reaction zone to assure that the complex tars are not condensed on the induction coil.
Our carbon firm (Calcarb) has solved this problem by using a low powered, 900 degrees C furnace with excellent insulation to heat a metallic retort of the same size as the large reaction zones. The use of this method has more than doubled the output of the induction vacuum furnace. In addition, this unit is more efficient in the low temperature region.
We propose urgent action to exchange some scope of supply to add a unit to each of three induction furnace units for the purpose of removing the coal tars before processing in the induction furnaces. It is good fortune that the space and communications of the project will allow this addition to the network of the project without changing any of the existing plans. The main transformers have adequate capacity and the transfer car has six load and unload positions. Three of these positions will be used for these preheating furnaces.
We propose the following:
- Remove the tenth furnace from the contract
- Revise the scope of supply for the insulating packs
- Add the plasma adaptation
- Add three preheat facilities
- Add three furnace bottoms
- Reduce the spares to their original scope of 500,000
The proposed amendment to the contract along with drawings can be hand carried for discussions on 28 May 1984. We will hand carry a proposed engineering protocol and the comments of your specialist at our plant.
The list of spares, consumables and tools required for the project has been proposed up to a value of approximately 250,000 pounds. We expect the optimum list to be increased to 400,000 pound., prior to our next meeting which will leave approximately 100,000 pounds to be determined during the construction and start-up phases.
We are sure that the above changes are in the best interests of the customer and in fact, must be accomplished to ensure the success of the project.
An extended stay for your specialists for additional testing is recommended to at least the end of June.
Soderstrom had two assignments besides the argon cleaning system, which we had put to bed for the moment. The first was to find a way to speed up the production of carbon fibers from chopped rayon. The second was to find a way to make a heating element for the isopress that would be made of carbon and fit within the small space already fixed by the size of the forging.
We did not have the staff to tackle his first problem. Our staff was talented in the art of building furnaces, not using them. We decided to take advantage of a new government program to train the youth of Scotland to put new blood into the project. This might have worked if we had provided adequate technical supervision. The Calcarb process required round the clock seven day efforts. Scotvac was a company that worked nine to five on a five day basis. In the end we were not able to light a fire in the Scottish lads and had to replace them with older workers.
We had already constructed a simulated isopress for heater tests. Soderstrom was living in my spare bedroom at the time so we could continue work after we left the office. I drew sketches of the carbon element heater that he correctly considered to be unworkable. The problem was a matter of space in which to install the heater that would not be too fragile and to connect it to a single power inlet at the bottom. I came to the conclusion that the only way out was to use thin, high strength carbon elements connected to thin high strength carbon flanges at the top and bottom. Soderstrom did not believe that even that would solve our problem.
The problem was that this material did not exist on the open market in the UK. If it could be found in the USA the material would require a license. A heating element for an isopress made from this material did not require a license.
The only road open was to make the material. We had enough material that had been legally obtained without license. There was no person in the Inductotherm group with the knowledge to tackle this massive task. I thought our customer had the know-how and would teach us. That turned out to be idle wishful thinking. The contract was in trouble, but I blindly led on with enthusiasm. This method of leadership had served me before and would serve me again.
Vera did not like the idea of me spending so much time in the black hole. She screamed at me each time I did a resin experiment using her kitchen stove. Don moved out of our spare bedroom, to Vera's delight.
Our welding shop was full of steel chambers and other equipment needed in Russia for the next phase of construction. We had to get the equipment to the site to save the company from bankruptcy. We had to have that space to expand the carbon activity to meet our delivery commitments, which were less than three months away.
We could not pass the parameters for the inspectors. Consarc did not have the ability to take on this large task while building a carbon company from scratch. We needed the retorts for Calcarb and the price had to be high enough to get good grants from the government.
The ship was on its way into port and I was going to load the equipment, come hell or high water.
In connection with your Telex dated May 9, 1984 we are compelled to insist on holding up shipments of furnace chambers as well as furnace internal elements unless positive results of complete tests of furnaces in conformity with contract have been achieved. Please acquaint our inspectors with content of present Telex.
I sent a Telex explaining we had excellent quality and good vacuum test results on the items we were loading and the ship's master had reserved the space.
Attention Metcalf 16 May 84
Your Telex of 84-05-15 once more confirmed motivation of our position on necessity of completion final tests of furnace at your works. Machinoimport will be able give release for shipment only after decision all problems occurred within process of preliminary tests and achievement of positive results.
We had to remain positive to keep the ship coming to Scotland. As it turned out the ship was going to pick up a load of pipeline related equipment from John Brown Engineering anyhow. John Brown was one of the companies using American technology to build compressors for the pipeline. Reagan tried but failed to stop this business.
The following Telex the next day was for the purpose of telling the buyers that we were determined to solve the technical problems despite what the contract said. This had always been my method and this buyer was not going to stop me.
17 May 1984:
I AM SORRY FOR THE CONFUSION CAUSED BY MY TELEXES. WHEN A PROBLEM OCCURS THAT CAN BE SOLVED BY A SIMPLE CHANGE OF DIRECTION AND WORDS ON PAPER, IT SEEMS TO ME STUPID NOT TO TRY. IF WE DO NOT REACT TO A SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM THEN WE SADDLE THE CUSTOMER WITH SOMETHING WHICH WILL BE WITHIN THE CONTRACT, DULY AGREED BY BOTH PARTIES, BUT CAUSING DIFFICULTIES FOR MANY YEARS TO COME.
WE ARE OFFERING THAT SOLUTION BY BRINGING TO YOUR ATTENTION IN A BLUNT MANNER. WE HAVE DEVELOPED A SYSTEM TO REMOVE THE COAL TAR AND SAFELY BURN IT.
THIS PROBLEM WAS NOT FORESEEN BY THE PARTIES AT THE TIME OF SIGNING OF THE CONTRACT, BUT IS COVERED IN THE CONTRACT APPENDIX 5. I AM ONLY TRYING TO ADJUST TO AVOID A PROBLEM.
THE FURNACES ARE BETTER THAN THE CONTRACT IN SIZE OF HOT ZONE, TEMPERATURE UNIFORMITY AND EFFICIENCY. ALL THAT REMAINS NOW IS TO CONCLUDE THE LETTER OF THE CONTRACT WITH REGARDS TO TEST AND THEN TO OPTIMIZE THE INSULATION AND COATING OF THE GRAPHITE.
THE EQUIPMENT IS AT PORT GLASGOW AND THERE IS NO CONTRACTUAL REASON IT SHOULD NOT BE SHIPPED.
The buyers saw that we were getting the equipment to the field without having solved all the problems. It is very rare when a Telex is answered in one day. The normal practice for Soviet buyers was to pass the papers through the translation and legal departments before a reply is approved. The buyer did not want me to win this round.
Roberts wrote Rowan a letter in May 1984 about our pay. Haubenstein had resigned leaving only two officers. Roberts proposed his salary and bonus be set at $108,240 and mine at $97,640. I was busting my butt in Scotland. I should have received the same or more pay in this situation. I had lost my right to set my salary and this was the beginning of the end of my stay at Consarc. Vera could not understand why and I was too busy to explain.
We needed a little paid vacation, and the inspectors needed to be distracted from the current problems. The company arranged a five-day trip through the north of Scotland using a deluxe tour bus. This was an intense selling time for me. The three specialists in Scotland were the staff that was going to operate the facility and were impressed with my hard work. I was not hiding our problems, but rather teaching them that mistakes were the ladder to success. Valerie and Sasha were resin specialists who had worked in a laboratory in Chelyabinsk until they were assigned this project. They were not carbon people by experience. Valodie was an instrument man by education and experience and had a reasonable understanding of electrical equipment. Their leader was a politician with no technical education in the carbon field. The inspectors in Scotland lacked faith in their boss. I was able to calm them with the fact that they lacked understanding of the maze of regulations and other items required and a political type was absolutely necessary.
Vera continued to tell them in the Russian, about her hard working and clever husband. She assured them that everything would turn out fine and they would be heroes.
We visited Loch Ness to see the monster. A picture of the group was taken with the lake in the background. It was later published in Newsday and shown on prime time television by ABC News.
The isopress forging and yoke tests were completed under the direction of Stansted. The whole setup was equipped with electronic stress devices connected to readouts and recorders. This test was done with cold water for safety purposes. The yoke showed a failure stress in the corners at 10,000 psi. Mild steel is forgiving, and a little grinding to change the stress concentrations allowed Stansted to increase the pressure to 15,000 psi, which is three times the hot operating pressure. The corner stress was above acceptable safety limits. The round forging did better, but it did yield in the center a few thousandths. We were furnished with a detailed test result report by the engineers from Stansted. The test certificate shown to the inspectors noted a completed cold test at the required pressure per the contract.
I was not just working on the Soviet job and the carbon business. On May 22,1984 a patent application was filed for a metal refining process. US Patent # 4,557,757 was assigned to Consarc Scotland with inventors Dick and Metcalf. Dick had nothing to do with the process, but politics is politics.
By June 15,1984 I was able to get a $4,000,000 shipment approved. An embargo by American rules would not bankrupt the company.
The buyers were shocked at the musical chairs I was playing with the scope of supply. We had already ordered the nine retort furnaces. These furnaces were so crude as to never be considered for export controls. Our fancy furnaces could not do the customer's job and just might be listed for export controls.
Soderstrom built a simple press for the Soviet inspectors using a steam heated mold. They soaked fibers and cloth in resins and starch-like materials before heating them in this mold, under pressure to just under the boiling point of water. This process looked very much like the one I had seen at Bendix three years earlier. Tom Dick, together with his son, Callum, and Soderstrom, used the same procedure to make heater strips. The first parts were as fragile as glass.
26 June 1984
Attention: Mr. Ivanov
The status of the project is as follows:
- Equipment which has been inspected and now packed for shipment is in full conformance with the contract.
- Serial No. 3 isopress chamber liner failed in mechanical properties. The replacement has passed tests and is now scheduled for 27 July 1984 for high pressure tests. We are offering extra payment to our suppliers for overtime work to improve this schedule.
- Heating and low pressure tests for the isopress are in progress with minor design problems being corrected at this time. We expect this work to be completed next week but will not be able to test the final version at high pressure until early September due to schedule and government regulations which require documentation and inspection of our completed facility prior to exceeding 166 Atmospheres.
- The 3000 degree C. runs on the furnace will be in progress until 1 July in order to determine the optimum system of insulation
- The coal tar problem has been avoided with the preheat furnaces, however, since some residue of pitch will remain, we plan to provide large reaction zones which will seal the interior of the working zone from the induction coil. Two of these units are being built for additional testing. We continue to suggest that high risk items be delayed in Scotland until they are required after cold tests at the site.
- We have received approvals to build and operate equipment which is the same as we are supplying you and expect to have a minimum of three months of full operation at our facility prior to start up at the site.
Will arrive Moscow BA710 on Sunday 1 July 1984. Expect to clear customs about 17:15.
I wanted to be met at customs because I had some goodies to pay off some people for their help. On this trip I was carrying two custom-designed silent alarm systems that would send a radio signal to the apartment of the automobile owner. I also had two VCR players that could use American and European style tapes. The British tax law saw these items as gifts; the Soviets would have called them bribes.
I had carbon cloth and fibers to allow them to make a test piece that I would carry back to Scotland for final testing by their inspectors. The main things I was hoping to get was rigid carbon strips for heating elements and a flange for our isopress heater. It would be impossible for me to take out this carbon-carbon product unless it could be certified that I had brought it into the country. They would not allow me to contact the necessary people to produce the product. Instead, they tried to make a non-fired product, and I returned to Scotland with nothing but a protocol to supply them with a burn-off system for the furnaces and retorts like we were using in Scotland.
I was trying to sell them a larger furnace so we could produce the larger rings needed for the current contract. It was a chicken and egg situation that reminded me of the 1960's situation with NASA.
The technical staff in Moscow found a company in the USSR that could heat treat the larger size but this company wanted to extract a pound of flesh. I was in a horse trading mood. We needed rayon for the long term, so I wanted to sell the Russians a furnace for heat treating the large rings at a very high price so we could use the grants to have one for free. The Russians could pay for this equipment by shipping us rayon. I was working behind Ivanov's back with customers who did not have approved projects. He cut me off at the pass and caused a lot of problems for the people I was dealing with at the time. The barter scheme did not work, but I did get specifications for the larger furnace.
I gave up on the fancy high strength carbon heating element for the isopress and started working on another idea. This time I wanted to use a simple metal heating element for the isopress. This simple metal element heater would look like the wires in a toaster. I started my selling effort with the technical people. To my surprise, they did not offer too much resistance. I think they had already recognized that this process would require a retort or muffle inside the heater to separate the nasty products of cooking pitch from the heater.
I had to find another way to high fire the large pieces. The only road open was to install furnace #10 at Calcarb. We would need nine runs to cure the large parts, which meant building and tearing down the furnace internals each time. The turn-around time under best conditions would be five days times nine. We needed the furnace time to process the existing backlog of parts so this problem was postponed and never completed.
After the cold test on the forging and yoke for the isopress, I attempted to have these parts shipped directly from the forgers to the site. As of July 9,1984 we still had no idea how to complete the heater. The inspectors wanted to go home no later than the last of August. The following Telex was sent to the buyers.
9 July 1984
Attention: Mr. Ivanov
As a result of the tests on the isopress heater today, your inspectors have informed me they cannot sign the shipping release for the isopress shipment until they are satisfied the internal system is complete.
Due to the fact that this geographical area has a holiday with most of the transportation and packing facilities closed the last two weeks of July, we are forced to notify the shipping agents that the next shipment, including the retorts, will be delayed until the later part of August.
We will continue the testing programme with the aim to complete all tests required by your inspectors prior to their planned departure date.
Tests of the isopress in actual operating conditions at higher pressures cannot be scheduled until we receive our isopress, including its installation and approval of local safety codes, which are scheduled for late August.
Ivanov was shaken when he read that we were planning to ship retort furnaces he had not ordered yet. He also did not understand the difficulties we were having with the isopress heater and gas cleaning system.
The Department of Trade issued a change in the regulations in mid July 1984 that covered the composites of high strength fibers. I now know they were reading the secret Military Critical Technologies list prepared for CoCom by the Pentagon. I thought the regulations had hit us dead on and prepared for the embargo insurance. Roberts convinced that the header item was high strength fibers and our equipment surely was not covered. At that moment I was prepared to come out of any embargo with a carbon company and a profit on the job.
At this time I read the existing regulations very carefully. The export control regulations as of that time listed:
1312A Presses and specialized controls, accessories and parts.
(a) Presses specially designed or redesigned for working or forming of metals, alloys, or other materials with a melting point exceeding 3,452F (1,900C);
Carbon is a material with a melting point above 3,452 F.
The regulators did not intend this for carbon with pitch processing. We were not working or forming the material. A customs official could decide that the equipment was covered by these regulations. I asked Roberts to read this part. We both concluded that it was meant to cover equipment for an isopress forming ceramics, metal-ceramic composites, uranium, and other metals in this class. I was aware that one of our customers used an isopress to make precision forming dies from powdered molybdenum.
(c) Isostatic presses, as follows (isostatic presses are capable of pressurizing a closed cavity through various media (gas, liquid, solid particles, etc.) to create equal force in all directions within the cavity upon a workpiece or material):
I read the above later and concluded that we were not building an isopress. We were building an autoclave or pressure cooker, since the intent or need of the process was not to create equal force in all directions.
(1) Capable of achieving a maximum working pressure of 20,000 psi (1,406 kg/cm2) or greater and processing a chamber cavity with an inside diameter in excess of 16 inches or
(2) Capable of achieving a maximum working pressure of 5,000 psi (351 kg/cm2)or greater and having a controlled thermal environment within the closed cavity, except those possessing a chamber cavity with an inside diameter of less than 5 inches (127 mm) and which are also capable of achieving and maintaining a controlled thermal environment only between +176F (+80C) and -31 F (-35C):and
In the very beginning of the contract I was concerned about the problems we could have with the regulations on the isopress. We had to build a unit that was designed for 5000 psi hot and 10,000 psi cold without crossing the line. Normal design codes for industrial presses used 6000 psi for maximum stress on the tie rods of the press. Mild steel does not yield until at least 36,000 psi. Soviet norms were 1.8 on high pressure equipment, so the failure mode could be 17,000 psi. I agreed to a cold test of 15,000 psi and a hot test of only 1,500 psi due to safety considerations in the Scotland plant.
The process of curing pitch produces hot hydrogen that could penetrate into the walls of the isopress chamber. The literature was full of failures of large turbine shafts due to the residual hydrogen level in steels. This was the reason vacuum degassing of steel became necessary. In these circumstances the limit of 5000 psi seemed reasonable. If Customs became suspicious they could rule that we had stepped over the line. I was heading for trouble and had to find a way to solve the problem.
The gas lines that would remove the bad gases from the retort had not been designed or built and no system to filter the gases before cleaning had been designed or built. The final retort and heater had not been built or designed. I asked Soderstrom to use standard 3000 psi fittings for the gas pipes for the test unit. Soviet safety codes would allow these fittings to be used up to 5000 psi and liability laws did not exist in the Soviet Union. We never completed any of this work. I was going to walk the bright line of the law in those changing political times.
I was in a real hornet nest. The British had ruled our furnaces in Chelyabinsk were a national security risk. This had to be based on what the American government was telling them. American regulations did not allow us to sell pyrolytic graphite producing furnaces but these were allowed under British law. If we sealed the susceptor to eliminate the coal tar problem the furnaces could be used as pyrolytic furnaces. The solution of the problem of the moment could not be offered to the customer.
Consarc UK had some positive things working at that time. The Scots had developed a very interesting heat treatment furnace they called the "clamshell". This was a vertical round chamber with a door that was one third of the chamber. The fixed portion had two of the three phase heating elements and the door had the third element. A post on the bottom of the fixed side supported a graphite table on which the load to be heat-treated was placed. When the door closed the heating elements surrounded the part to be heated including the top and bottom. This scheme provided remarkable uniform heat. You can imagine how much better a normal electric kitchen oven would work if heating elements were on the side walls, the back and on the door so that heat to cook came from every direction.
The problem with this design was that it was too expensive and used very expensive graphite felt with a complex system to mount the thermal insulation. I spent a few mornings with the draftsmen to change the design to use Calcarb rigid insulation. This furnace was the perfect tool to finish the brazing and final heat treatment of a jet engine that had been repaired after the required number hours were put on the engine. British Airlines and British Aerospace were buying these furnaces. Aeroflot was very interested and they were the world's largest airline.
The only way to make good profits with this furnace was to mass produce and market them. I wanted Lona and Marino to tackle the cost side and the sales group in Rancocas to stir up the market. With Haubenstein gone the remaining sales team was technical and Roberts was leading the company in the direction of electron beam melting. Profits were down with the only real profits being generated was interests on our cash mountain. Roberts was allowing Inductotherm to borrow our cash at reduced rates. Each time I challenged Roberts to obtain a better rate he answered that it was a "quip pro quo" with Rowan so he would not demand that Consarc pay a dividend.
Rancocas sent us local newspapers to Scotland for a little hometown reading. The article confirmed the reason why the DTI was changing their minds on exports to Russia. Times had changed with the "evil empire," so it was not a good time to be selling to the Russians.
The next chapter records the efforts before the embargo.