Materials Blog
Passion in all its dimensions Print E-mail
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Passion in all its dimensions

My heart was beating in my throat. Many forms of art stimulated my retinas and, even though there was no musician, cd-player, computer or i-pod around, the wonderful music of harp player Anneleen Lenaerts delighted my ears.

Harpiste_Anneleen_Lenaerts_copyright_Lieven_Dirckx

I was overwhelmed by a mix of positive emotions as I saw this photo. First of all because of the pleasure I experienced in seeing how Anneleen went from a modest little girl that could make amazing music from her little Irish harp to a winner several times over of many competitions and to an even more delightful solo artist in the Brussels center for fine arts, resulting in a leading lady, first harpist of the Wiener Philharmoniker. This track has been possible thanks to her talents and a healthy portion of joy of living, but as well thanks to her golden hands and … an amazing musical hearth.

I have to admit, however, that this picture also moves me for certain other beautiful reasons, details that cannot compare to Anneleen, but which cannot be neglected by my engineering soul. The picture - a work by Lieven Dirckx - is a masterwork of composition, lighting and photographical talent, as well as an illustration of the different parts that materials fulfill in our society, both in the past as in the present. The solidity of a steam engine from the old coalmine of Winterslag – now cultural center C-mine – is in contrast with the subtle elegance of the harp. But in spite of the contrast, they also have a lot in common: the steel, the castings and a sound box.

ChainsThe steam motor consists of many steel parts… The strings in the bass register are partially or completely made up from steel,

The steam machine has sound dampers… The music of the harp is formed and built up by the beautiful wooden sound box.

And the steam motor has many cast iron parts… Inside the harp you can find a superfine mechanic that works with pedals which is made up of different metal and mechanical parts.

Am I trying to hard? No way.  The knowledge of materials can create intense emotions. It is thanks to the knowledge of materials that we can live, that we can produce music, that we can make instruments that let us generate beautiful music. The knowledge of materials is even vital to manage our society. But being honest, the knowledge of materials is not the answer to all the problems. The harp is without meaning when it is not being played, plucked and caressed by people like Anneleen, by many musicians that put their hearth in it and that move their audience. There are many people like Anneleen that give all it takes to share the most beautiful thing in the world with us: their smile and their passion for life.

 

Frans Vos

Director of Materials Consult

 

With a special thanks to Anneleen Lenaerts and Lieven Dirckx for letting me publish the picture of Anneleen.

The picture of Anneleen and the text are protected by author’s rights and can only be used and/or reproduced with the explicit written permission of Anneleen Lenaerts and

© picture: Lieven Dirckx

© text: Frans Vos

 

 

 

 
Secrets of a coffee filter Print E-mail
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Kop_koffieWhat’s common for one person, can be an inspiring climax of intense joy for another. I notice the cup of coffee that I’m about to drink, coffee that was created by pouring boiling water out of my electrical water heater, through a coffee filter, into my cup. This particular coffee filter is not such a paper one in a common coffee machine, yet one out of a box of 10 plastic jars, each with some flat filter papers on the bottom, between which grinded coffee beans are waiting to release their titillating aromas.

Once the jar is filled with slowly percolating water, an energy conscious gastronome is also considered to place the plastic cap onto the jar in order to obtain a delicious and ‘hot’ coffee. Now, what the heck could be fascinating about a plastic cap?

Recently I changed my brand - I preferred a slightly milder taste – and a few minutes ago, when I was trying to clean the cap, a desire to study its user friendliness was overwhelming me. I particularly noticed that the new cap was equipped with a considerable higher amount of hooks and edgings in which humidity and foam found a safe habitat; even after flushing twice with fresh water, it remained a challenge to thoroughly clean the cap by means of my towel. Not that I’m a freak on hygiene – bacteria also have their rights – yet there are limits in what I tolerate. I become slightly nervous when too many hooks and edgings decorate household goods that have to pass manual cleaning or my dish washer; not all residues that remain behind in hooks and edgings will be completely removed. Just give me household goods that are not too rugged and edging.

However … sometimes hooks and edgings also fulfil a (more) important role, such as providing additional strength, stiffness and a steady position; I have to admit that in this respect my new caps are clearly dominant. Not only my new caps are proving their superior sturdiness, also the correspondent jars show a considerably better shape stability compared to their former competitors. Where pouring hot water forces my former jars into an undesirable oval shape, my new jars perfectly remain in their circular geometry. This way it’s much more easy to place the new plastic caps on their jars compared to when the same action is performed on their predecessors; in the latter case a superior handiness was required to accomplish the gastronomical task.

My conclusion is crystal clear. My new filters – sudden source of delightful fascination –  surpass their predecessors in a clear and distinct way. Their user friendliness in the place-the-cap-onto-the-jar action ample compensates the hooks and edgings of the more-difficult-to-clean design.

Or how a cup of coffee can be fascinating in a completely unexpected way.

 

I wish you a great coffee time, and please don’t forget the most important … spoil yourself with a delightful Belgian chocolate at the same time.

Here’s to you !

Dr. ir. Frans Vos

 
I take off my hat for Carl Print E-mail
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Hat_offSipping from a delightful cup of coffee, I listen to the story of Carl, quality manager at a logistics company. He fulfils this duty already for many years and without notable accidents, yet suddenly fate has struck. During the lifting operation of a container a chain has broken and heavily wounded a workman. The delightfulness of my cup of coffee suddenly becomes a minor detail.

The consequences of such accident are enormous. An obvious first action is to take care of the workman by means of medical and moral support for himself, his family, his co-workers and all employees who require support.

Subsequently the cause ... or causes of the accident have to be found and remedial actions have to be taken; insurance companies, labour inspection, security services etc. are visiting the accident site and talk to all people that were present at the fatal moment. However, what struck me the most during our conversation was that Carl did not ask for the technical cause as such – “that one we would certainly find”, he said – yet particularly the openness and courage of Carl, who dared to point to the limits of the human being – in all divisions of the company and far outside its perimeters – as the primary cause of the accident.

“How you use and handle a chain is at least as important as the technical quality of the chain as such”, declares Carl. And he’s damn right. A chain can perfectly comply to all technical specifications, yet when you use it under load angles for which it has not been designed, when you use a hammer to ‘knock’ the chain in the correct position, when you try to shift it with abrupt shocks or when you lift more weight than is allowed with that type of chain, in all those cases – and this are just some examples – you’re acting in a dangerous and irresponsive way. It’s not surprising that on a daily base many chains are failing, exactly by this type of actions. It’s not the chain who’s to blame, yet those who use the chain in a wrong way, in some cases even an intentionally abusive way.

Do these situations sound familiar to you? In that case it’s probably not only the time – here and now – to check the quality of your chains, yet also to evaluate your operational procedures and their execution, to supervise them and, if necessary, to modify the procedures and to take the necessary remedial actions. Again this is the reasoning of Carl, and Carl is damn right again. The thoughts of Carl are not only on the internal procedures and their supervision, yet also on procedures of external organisations to which internal procedures sometimes have to comply. If certain habits show an inherent and proven safety risk, wouldn’t it be logical that those habits change? Not if it would have to be decided by some organisations and people. Those organisations and people act as if social and economical power are more important than people’s safety and health. When for the sake of economical profit a blind eye is turned on clear or eminent chain overload, when with the argument of efficiency a chain is abused and when you consider ‘going home in time’ more important than the safety and health of colleagues and employers, again you’re acting in a dangerous and irresponsive way. Sounds familiar again? Than it’s really time to act towards those responsible or … maybe on yourself? And to be clear … the latter five sentences are not Carl’s, yet those of yours truly, the author of this blog.

“Safety and health above all” should be a sacred rule, always and everywhere.

People and organisations who think otherwise are kindly invited to put forward their alternative priorities, yet only when reasonable arguments are provided. Maybe you can convince Carl and myself of your truth or …

Maybe we can convince you of our truth?

I wish you all a tremendously safe and healthy environment, at work, at home and everywhere you go.

And please … take off your hat when you meet Carl !

 

Dr. ir. Frans Vos

 
A solution to the traffic arrest Print E-mail
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“The port of Antwerp and the port of Rotterdam are preparing investments in additional pipeline facilities, including pipelines between both ports”. “In the delta of Eems (The Netherlands) a pipeline zone – containing 20 or more underground pipelines – is planned to connect the port of Eemshaven with Delfzijl, the latter being an area with growth potential for chemical industry”. It were promising promises that were recorded at a gathering of pipeline professionals of the Pipeline Industry Guild.

Yet, I was astonished when I understood that these pipelines would be exclusively attributed to gas and liquids transport; no square millimetre was foreseen for the transport of bulk goods such as containers, coal, ores, powders etc. The said (sad) reason: “not profitable”.

Did I hear “not profitable”? When studying the profitability of underground bulk transport only from the point of view of port management, they are possibly right. However, when considering that the road traffic around and between the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam is an almost continuous traffic jam, it appears as if the ports management doesn’t take into account the economic consequences of events that are influenced by the port’s activities, yet are situated outside the port’s borders. The economic cost of traffic jams in Belgium and The Netherlands is dramatically and rapidly increasing since a few years. And what about the ecological and social costs? “That’s are costs to be supported by the government and related public authorities” is the indifferent response of the port management. However, isn’t there something as a shared responsibility? When ports are growing – which is obviously to be supported – it is unavoidable that traffic roads, railroads and waterways are congesting when no capacity increase is foreseen. It seams as of the ports are only focusing on railroad and waterway investments, yet the economic consequences of traffic jams, the related ecological burden and social stress, hence people’s health, are willingly ignored. Is that what’s called “sustainable entrepreneurship”?

Nevertheless … I’m not a transport specialist and regional planning is not my cup of tea, yet as a materials specialist I know for sure that pipelines are capable of transporting much more than only gasses and liquids. Let’s consider for instance the “Scheldelaan”, one of the main road arteries of the Antwerp port. The Scheldelaan requires an urgent restoration; here and now is the moment to construct a concrete tunnel underneath the Scheldelaan, equipped with automated systems to transport containers and other bulk goods. And what about underground shuttles that would transport the personnel from the Antwerp rail station and car parks – to be situated outside the port and the city – to their work station in the port? When at the same time traffic above ground would be limited to the strictly minimum, more space would be available for new companies or company enlargements – hence economy – and … more nature.

Dear port management, dear public authorities,

When you would not only consider the economic cost, yet would also take into account the ecological and social costs in your analysis, you would be able to inform the public on a much more correct, well-thought and socially responsible way. Underground bulk transport is offering much more economic advantages than you actually admit. An increased sustainability and our improved health – hence economic activity – will be your profit.

 

Dr. ir. Frans Vos

 
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