Tag Archives: Mossgas / Mossref

Did I Make a Difference ?

To brutally honest, the answer to the question “Did I make a difference ?” would have to be “Not much” for large parts of my career. Which fortunately is a slightly more positive answer than if the question had been “Did I leave a legacy ?” – the latter would have to be answered with a flat “No”.

During my student days I never raised my horizon beyond getting through the exams without having to resit them – an ambition, low though it may be, that I achieved in all but my first year at university. On the other hand, one could hope that a thesis work had the possibility of having more of an impact, especially since the chemical products used in the galvanising and chromating process were supplied by Oxy Metal Industries, and presumably they would have had some interest in getting feedback on how their products performed. However, no feedback was forthcoming and I can only assume that the thesis was filed away and never looked at again.

My time as a researcher may have made a difference to myself in that it shaped me and taught me more in depth knowledge of certain metallurgical aspects of the job. However, I doubt that even the assistance I provided towards existing and future thesis works in the end resulted in anything but ephemeral value, and the literature surveys I produced would soon be made outdated by new developments in steel products.

As for the Belgian army, it may have shaped me as an individual, however I could not pretend that as a person I contributed in any meaningful way to the success of the Belgian army, or failure thereof. After all, that’s not what’s expected of you, and probably would have been discouraged if you had raised your head above the parapet.

The first time I think I made a difference would have been during my work at Iscor on attempting to correlated the results of the Flex-draw test on DWI tinplate with steel making and casting process, where I dispelled many convenient myths by confronting them with hard data. One can only hope that not too much of these findings got lost in the mists of time.

However, the first time that I really made a difference was through my involvement in the steel selection for the Mossref process. Maybe someone else might have done the same job with the same level of success, but in the end I was the person in the driving seat who ensured that we came through the qualification trials with flying colours. Provided that this ability to produce high-quality pressure vessel steel did not get lost in subsequent years, this could even be an achievement of lasting value. However, since I no longer have any contacts in Iscor, I have no way of knowing whether part of my building stone is still in place after more than 25 years.

See also the second part of “Did I Make a Difference ?” to see what my impact was in the second half of my career.



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.