Friday, January 30, 2009

Woody Manner and His American Dream Car

Flashback: 1986: Bethlehem Steel, Burns Harbor Plant, Indiana, USA

Woody Manner was a retired cold rolling mill operator of Bethlehem Steel and was working as a BIEC/USX consultant. (Bethlehem International Engineering Co./ US Steel Consultants). Standing at over 6 feet and well past 60, he's from Baltimore who spent the best and the longest years of his life in a steel plant.

We met Woody Manner in spring of 1984. We were sent by our company, National Steel Corporation to train on the operations of Bethlehem's 5std cold rolling mill which we bought. From March to May, daily except on weekends, we would meet Woody in a mobile house converted to training center inside the steel complex. He was our lecturer, trainor and mentor.

Woody drives a big American car, a Chevy 6 cylinder (or was it 8 cylinder?) with wood grain dashboard and interiors. He loved this car---big, long, spacious, but most of all, fast and powerful. He would brag to us about this to which we would always sneer and reject. "But Woody, it's gas muzzzler. And why would you like a fast and powerful car when you can't run it at top speed because you have speed limits. Bring it to the Philippines and you can run it to your heart's content. The limit there is just according to you to your limit."

But Woody then would not budge. To him, Americans love big American cars.

Woody's story somehow reminds me of the crisis American car companies are facing today. His attitude in fact sadlly reflected why the Americans lost their grip in the automotive market to the more efficient and convenient Japanese cars. Moral of the story? Well, look up continuous improvement and what does this really mean.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pittsburgh and Iligan: A tale of Two Cities

They were once called the steel cities, Pittsburgh in the US and Iligan in southern Philippines.They were cities built by steel. Iligan started in the 1950's and Pittsburgh a century before that. As steel is considered the backbone of the nation, they have contributed tremendously to the progress of their countries and heavily impacted on the lives of many citizens. People from all over flocked and migrated in these cities. They were then the boom cities. Sadly, not anymore today.

I was part of that history. I spent the best years of my life in Iligan. We lived and breathed steel then. Like many who came before and after us, I was a migrant hooked up to the world of steel. I joined National Steel Corporation in the mid 1970's right after earning my chemical engineering degree. I thought I would eventually retire there. We were then the toast of the company. We dominated the social and economic life of the city by our sheer number and financial capability and our youth's adventurous activities. True, there were other major industries there: cement plants, coconut mills, refractories, power plants, chemical industries, etc. But Iligan was National Steel country. When NSC sneezed, Iligan caught pneumonia so to speak. That was the roaring 70's and the 80's, our time.

Is there life after steel? While Pittsburgh is undergoing a successful transition from its fabled steel past, Iligan seemed to live still with its past. Now owned by the Ispat group of India headed by the "other" Mittal, NSC was renamed Global Steel. But it is only in name that it seemed global. It is only a shadow of itself; a far shadow in fact. Gone are the hustle and bustle of men, machineries, equipment, transport both land and sea, etc. Hundreds of its best and brightest are now in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the Midlle East. A significant number settled in Manila and neighboring cities and those who remained in Iligan can do only so much.
It was a lost glory.

Sadly, its present state reflects the state of the steel industry in the Philippines. Instead of moving forward like what our neighboring countries did, it went the opposite. The dream of an industrialized Philippines via iron and steel integration appeared hopeless and lost. The steel industry in the Philippines is and had not been a priority in the country's state of affairs. Quo vadis?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Russia-Ukraine Gas Row and My Russian Diary

The recent feud on gas supply between the Moscow and Kiev governments which threatened and affected Europe's own gas supply amid the cold winter season evoke memories of my unforgettable experience in this once mighty superpower called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). I once attended the 27th UNIDO (UNDP) Training for Iron and Steel engineers in Zaporozhye, (Ukraine), USSR from March to July 1984. I was with a group of 17 other engineers from 10 developing countries and one of the two Filipino engineers representing our country.

It was post Brezhnev and pre-Gorbachev time. Glasnost and Perestroika were then unheard. It was Tavareesh(Comrade) Chernenko's era. When I arrived Moscow on a cold freezing day of March in 1984, I couldn't forget the voice of the stewardess of out Aerofloat flight originating from Singapore with New Delhi as stopover.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have just landed at the Shereyetmevo International Airport. Ground temperature is 10 degrees below zero.Welcome to Moscow."

In our taxi to our hotel, (the Rossia Hotel, just overlooking the Red Square, at that time was reportedly Europe's largest hotel with 3000 rooms), I was complaining to Oleg, the UNIDO guy who fetched me. "Mr. Oleg, but I thought it's already spring as per the aide memoir!" His answer was strikingly remarkable, as it dawned on me that not all people in the USSR were Russians. "Mr. Delid, to the Ukrainians, it's still winter time. To the Muscovites, it's now spring."

We were based in Zaporozhye, a large industrial city in the southwestern part of Ukraine, with Zaporohtahl Iron and Steel Works as our base plant. This was an integrated steel complex with about 20,000 workers. All throughout our 4-month stay however, we traveled far and wide the soviet territory to such cities as Kiev, Krivoi Rog, Zdhanov, and Odessa, all parts of Ukraine and Moscow, Liepitz, Cherepovets, and Leningrad, all parts of Russia. Many of the largest steel mills in the world were found in these cities. In all of these visits, one of the things that stuck to our minds was the abundance of gas and minerals. So abundant that even in our written and verbal reports and informed discussions, we would then report that there was no such thing as energy conservation there. There was no need for it. They had lots of it; excess in fact. And we were not referring only to our usual enercon programs of shutting down lights and airconditioning when not in use. We were talking about energy usages on big and various reheating furnaces, etc.

I bid goodbye to Russia on a warm sunny afternoon in July 1884. But as I looked out of the plane's window, trying to catch a last glimpse of this beautiful city by the river, I could then sense that in not too far future, something big will happen that will transform again this country, something in the scale when the October Revolution of the early 1900 took place. Finally, when all I could see was a blurred vision of the city, I closed my eyes, took a long deep breath, and silently told myself; "Doshbedanya, Russia. Spaseeba. Spaseeba Bolshoi." (Goodbye, Russia. Thank you. thank you very much.")

That was 25 years ago. Now they have split up into two different nations under different leaders. Obviously, they have to split up too these resources. But they are still interconnected with pipelines that stretch far and wide to Europe. Fortunately enough before the dispute erupted into a full blown crisis, diplomacy worked and the situation hopefully will return to normal as before.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Philippine National Standard for Galvanized Products for Roofing

There is now a new director in charge for the Bureau of Product Standards (BPS) in the person of Atty. Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba who came from DTI's Consumer welfare and Protection. He replaced long time BPS Director Eng'r. Jesus L. Motoomull as a result of reshuflling of assignments at DTI.

Last January 21, Atty. Dimagiba convened the industry representatives and technical committee ( TC 64) members for a get-to-know-you session, at the same time discuss the status of the product standard for galvanized steel for roofing application. For a long time now, this standard was not yet settled, hence implementation and enforcement apparently is also on hold.

Last June 28, 2008, the former BPS director already signed the standard recommended by the TC 64 but implementation was put on hold since no implementing rules and regulation (IRR) among others were promulgated.

During the meeting, discussions were again made especially on the issue of total coated thickness (TCT) vs. base metal thickness (BMT), mass of coating and service life on the instance of Steelcorp which persistently endorses the BMT approach , as contained in their recent memo ( dated last week) to the the new director in charge.

As a long time member of the TC 64, this seems to me a repeat of the many and countless instances in the past years that this was tackled and agreed upon by the TC members. Nevertheless, the meeting ended with a positive and promising note as clearly proclaimed by the new director.

The new director wants this product finished, approved, promulgated and implemented in 2 months time. He therefore instructed the TC 64 to immediately convene next week to proceed and finished this long overdue product standard.