History of Electric Induction Heating


By James Farol Metcalf

Rowan Wrote in His Book

Several more weeks passed, with no further action from either government; then, in February 1985, after having told Metcalf three times to proceed, the British government passed an emergency regulation blocking the sale of the rest of the equipment. In the seaport town of Hull, England, a team of British customs agents swooped down on the docks where they seized and destroyed a shipment of Consarc goods destined for Russia, most of it a consignment of standard insulation in which to wrap furnaces, and steel parts for the bottom of the isostatic presses.

Shortly thereafter, finding themselves with a multi-million-dollar vacuum melting facility for which they had not paid a cent but couldn't get to work, the Russians cancelled the contract, a move that cost the British national insurance company $9.9 million. They paid Consarc the amount due.

Consarc and Inductotherm hadn't heard the last of the Soviets, though. "We're going to sue you, Mr. Metcalf," said Nikolai Ivanov, head of the Khotkovo operation and a man whose own future was probably riding on getting the plant running. "We know who owns your company and that company is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. So if you don't get our plant operational, we'll take you to court."

The Soviets knew the law; both the British and American governments permitted engineers to work on equipment in the Soviet Union, even when those products were embargoed. But now, even Metcalf seemed to suspect he was getting in too deep. In April 1985, Metcalf wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, advising them of the Russians' demands, and expecting that, under the circumstances, the government would forbid him to work on the plant. This way, he could go to the Soviet Union, drop the letter from Commerce on his client's desk, and say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Ivanov, it's out of my hands. The American government won't let me do what you want me to do."

Only, much to his surprise, in June 1985, the Department of Commerce wrote back saying, in effect, "Sure, go ahead." Could it be that the Pentagon, the CIA and the Department of Commerce had discovered that the Khotkovo plant was harmless, and that the Soviets really were making electrodes there, as they had claimed all along? Why else would Commerce permit Metcalf to go back and get it running?

Back in England, Metcalf stopped off in London, where he showed an official at the British Department of Trade and Commerce the letter of authorization he'd received from that department's American counterpart, hoping perhaps that now the British would provide the taboo he sought.

The Englishman, remembering the intense pressure from the Americans to stop the project at all costs, almost fell off his chair. When he had composed himself, he dashed off an irate letter to Washington, prompting another stream of angry correspondence between the American and British governments. Still, though it was now clear that neither the U.S. nor the British governments wanted the equipment started, neither would issue instructions or a document prohibiting it.

I was now out of patience with Metcalf, the Russians, the British Department of Trade and Commerce, their Customs Department, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the CIA, and the Pentagon. Somebody had to protect Metcalf from himself; and I didn't want Consarc or Inductotherm to get in any deeper, even if just by association.

When I decided what to do, I didn't expect that, years later, Metcalf would leak a copy of my memo to Newsday, which reprinted it two years later in a lengthy, 11-page, two-part series on the affair:

"By now, Henry Rowan, president of Inductotherm, was becoming increasingly annoyed at the indecision of both the United States and Britain.

'Apparently no one in the U.S. government or the British government has the authority, power, or inclination to order us not to send personnel to complete the contract or to start up the equipment,' Rowan wrote to Metcalf on October 4, 1985. 'On the other hand, they seem very anxious that these activities not go forward. In view of all this confusion, it would appear that we have to make a decision.

'No Consarc personnel are to do any further work on the contract in Scotland or in the Soviet Union and nothing is to be done that will contribute toward the operation and startup of this equipment.'"

It wasn't long afterward that Metcalf resigned and any association between Khotkovo's alleged carbon-carbon plant and Inductotherm or Consarc came to an end.