If there’s been any time during my days in South Africa that I supported the apartheid regime by doing my job, it’s when I was working on the Mossgas and Mossref projects. The Mossgas project was already well underway, following the discovery of gas south of the town of Mosselbay, and the development of a HSLA steel to produce the steel for the offshore platform needed to extract the gas. I was there in my capacity of superintendent, Plate Mill Technology, my role being to handle all the quality issues that might develop in the production of the steel.
The main issue tended to be “fish eyes”, caused by undissolved niobium carbonitrides in the steel, where residual hydrogen tended to collect, thereby weakening the steel in the transverse direction. Still, I was still there when the last lot of steel was shipped, and attended the party to celebrate the successful completion of the project.
However, from a personal and professional perspective, the Mossref project was far more satisfying: this consisted in producing pressure vessel steel for the offshore refinery where the gas was to be converted into fuel and other petroleum products. The process was going to based on the Sasol process, which gassifies coal and then converts it into petrol, so we had a fair idea that the steel to be supplied was going to similar to theirs.
The added advantage from Iscor’s point of view was that any supplier of steel had to be prove that the steel could not be produced inside the republic of South Africa, which gave us an advantage, provided we could pass the qualification tests. On earlier occasions Iscor had failed to make the grade for supplying the steel for Sasol and Sasol 2, but following the success of the Mossgas project, the decision was taken to go for the full qualification process.
Originally we were told that the steels involved were going to ASTM A387 (2¼% Cr – 1% Mo), ASTM A204 (½% Mo) and a 1% Cr – ¼% Mo steel. Then, when we had already started planning for the production of these steels, the bombshell was dropped that the majority of the steel was going to be ASTM A302, a different type of ½% Mo steel. So it was panic stations first, having to draw up all the quality documents and procedures to satisfy the customer, who I still can’t help but think threw this spanner in the works in the hope that we’d give up and would let them source from abroad.
Still, everything went swimmingly, and within 2 months we had made the test batch and passed all the qualification welding tests across the range of sizes required for the project. Granted that the ASTM spec is pretty descriptive, so it was hard to get our specification completely wrong, but it is satisfying that everything came together as it did.
With this feather in my cap, I had something to show for when I started to look to for jobs in the UK once I had decided that I was going to return to Europe. It’s highlights like this that make you look back at your career with satisfaction, making you realise that the job of a metallurgist doesn’t always have to consist of fire fighting, although in the last fifteen years or so I managed to escape that rat race by going into the IT side of business.