The Die is Cast Part 9
I would like to remind my readers in advance that this submission is a total work of fiction, a pure fantasy written as part of a series at the request of my Casting technology students. The idea was to interweave an element of foundry technology into a harmless love story… I humbly suggest, it almost works.
I do appreciate my attempts at fiction and humour are not to everyone’s taste but with little else happening on the site I thought I would share my ramblings with friends. Although they are ultimately intended for a different audience than the Stickman fraternity, they still have sufficient Thailand content to warrant inclusion on the site.
Many of my friends on this site also know I tend to write after returning from the pub in a state of mild inebriation merely for my own pleasure and do so to keep my brain active to ward off impending dementia. So as always, I beg your indulgence, take it for what it is but please don’t take it too seriously.
Chapter 9. An Issan connection
Alan and Rose returned to England to see that summer had finally arrived. This was pleasing as their wedding day was only a month away. Alan felt the arrangements being made by his sister Cynthia and his housekeeper Mrs Brown were progressing well, but this did not prevent a mild panic amongst the females of Rose’s Thai family. The family was due to arrive in the UK the following week to assist in the preparations, Alan was unsure if their assistance would be a good thing or not. Although her mother and Aunt were Buddhist, Rose followed her father’s protestant beliefs, so they would be married in a Christian ceremony. Alan declared himself of the Church of England which in reality meant he was not actually religious but attended his local village church merely through habit acquired in his childhood.
Back in Thailand the oil cooler project for Hirota had been a success, Andreas had delivered the die equipment on time and Woody had invested in a new hot box core shooting machine to make the sand cores. Alan was impressed with Woody’s dedication to making this machine work. The hot box process involves mixing sand with a furan/phenol type resin and a catalyst of ammonium salts which are blown into a metal core box. Using gas burners, the core box is heated to around 200 degrees C. The heat decomposes the salts to form a weak acid that initialises the curing process. Within 10 to 15 seconds the core develops a cured skin sufficiently thick to allow it to be removed from the core box. Outside of the core box the residual heat cures the rest of the core. It is an incredibly productive process and the resultant cores are very hard and give good dimensional accuracy to the subsequent castings that particularly suit the gravity die process.
In the UK the hotbox and comparable Croning resin shell technique had fallen out of favour because of the energy cost of gas to heat the core box. The amine vapour hardened cold box core making process had gained popularity in recent years because no heat is required to cure the core. Alan had advocated the use of cold box processes to replace hot box for Artemis some years ago but felt maybe they should reassess the heat triggered processes for certain applications and made a note to mention it at the next board meeting.
At the Siam Chonburi plant Alan worked closely with the tilt die operator Somchai on the oil cooler die. Alan recognised that Somchai had become an accomplished die caster and as Alan watched him applying his die coating skills and pouring the die, he considered he was now as good as any of his skilled casters back in the UK. The castings literally jumped out the die. Alan was amazed and delighted at the speed they were producing successful parts. He noticed Somchai would often stay long after his shift had finished to build up the numbers produced in his own time. With Andreas’s die and Somchai’s skill and productivity, within the first month they had very quickly satisfied Hirota’s initial production requirements well in advance of schedule. Alan made a note to make sure Somchai received some reward for his dedication and efforts.
With the influx of (unexpected) quality parts so early in the programme Hirota’s first tier OEM customers (original equipment manufacturers i.e. the vehicle manufacturers) were so delighted with the successful and problem free product launch they passed their compliments to the executives at the Hirota corporation in Japan. The subsequent plaudits Makota received from his Japanese bosses in the corporation surprised him and absolved any suspicion of Makota from the episode with Osama. He was clearly back in favour with his masters. He was so thrilled with the kudos he was given he went home, made love to his wife for the first time in six months, then gave the order for prototypes for the next intercooler project to Artemis without any prompting from Alan.
The pattern tooling and development of sand cast prototypes for this group of parts alone would be worth almost £100k to his family business in the UK. But more importantly if an order was subsequently received for volume production it would generate a further £1.5 million for the joint venture. The first decision Alan made on hearing this news was that he would give Andreas the pattern and tooling business for the project.
Alan went to visit Andreas the following day to discuss this new intercooler project. It involved two castings, a top and bottom end tank which were effectively two aluminium boxes with outlet pipes on the side. At 150mm x 80 mm x 80mm high they were a little larger but very similar to the components on the previous intercooler project that Hirota (and Siam Chonburi) had such difficulty with that it prompted their coercion of Alan into getting involved in their affairs some months ago, which began this story.
Alan had established the components would necessitate the use of sand cores to produce the complex outlet connections which was to their advantage as it prevented it being considered for manufacture by the more economical pressure die cast process. Alan had already determined he would produce the volume production parts with a two-impression tilt gravity die and again use the hotbox process Woody had developed for the cores. This was assuming that they actually received the subsequent order for the volume requirement which they were confident of. However, his first task was producing the sand cast prototype and preproduction demand from the customer.
This would entail initial prototype samples, usually just two or three parts that were merely shapes the designers could fondle to see if it matched their design concepts. The next requirement would be for about twenty parts they could use for dimensional examination and to check if they fit against other components in an assembly. Some of the batch would be sent to the Laboratory for Metallurgical analysis establishing the chemical composition and mechanical properties were to the standard specified. Other parts from the batch would be used to design fixturing for inspection functions whilst others used to set up machining operations.
Once sample approval was received the customer would expect a batch of usually 100 castings they could process to prove the capability of their own process operations they had established for the part. Once this phase was complete the customer would need a pre-production batch of around 1000 parts to cover initial sales requirements whilst the full production tooling was being developed.
This was the world that Alan operated in and he was very good at it. He knew the preproduction phase could be extremely lucrative if managed prudently. Although the technical requirements were rigorous it wasn’t as subject to the strict globalised price imperative that volume production was.
Since meeting Paul, one of Andrea’s clients who owned Phet Enterprises, a foundry group in the north-east of Thailand (known as the Issan), Alan had been fascinated by the greensand machine moulding facility that had been described to him. Alan had googled the company and was captivated by their entertaining and informative website. He was also entertained by the link to a BBC series on Architecture which included an episode featuring the celebrated Sir Norman Lunt that was filmed at the foundry and the hotel they owned. Alan suspected the geometry of the end tank castings would suit the machine moulding technique better than his air set moulding system but as he had no machine moulding facility at his UK plant to compare with he sought Andrea’s opinion and advice.
Andreas was intrigued by Alans enquiry, although he felt it would be nice to do a good turn for his client Paul, who he admired, it mattered not which process Alan selected as he was promised the pattern work anyway. He could afford to be objective and offer Alan his best advice without prejudice. Andreas initially pointed out that Alan had customarily made prototypes that were destined for subsequent gravity die production in his air set process because he could replicate the vertical orientation required. He would not be able to do this with the greensand machine moulding which mandated a horizontal moulding orientation and slightly more expensive pattern equipment.
However, Andreas agreed the geometry of the end tanks did certainly suit greensand machine moulding particularly with the techniques employed at Phet Enterprises. Andreas observed that the castings from the machine moulded greensand process made in Thailand could be almost half the cost of an air set casting made in the UK which could be significant over a thousand castings. He explained the piece part reduction could fund the increased pattern cost and the tooling for a metal core box for Woody’s hotbox process which would give them a few weeks advantage for the manufacture of production parts a few months down the line if they received the order for volume production. Alan remained undecided until Andreas with a twinkle in his eye suggested “it may also be exciting to handle the whole project here in Thailand instead of partly in the UK, and I assure you working with Paul’s foundry in Udon Thani will certainly be an interesting experience for you”.
Alan knew from his own experience and anecdote that many foundrymen became penniless because they always enjoyed a challenge which was often the cause of the demise of their business. However, Alan thought for a moment, then exclaimed …. “what the hell, let’s have a go at it”. He explained that as his wedding day was within the next few weeks he could not give any time to the project. He asked that Andreas put the enquiry to Phet Enterprises for 500 parts and would sort the details on his return after his wedding. Alan commented if he could persuade Rose to have their honeymoon in the Issan he may be able to squeeze a visit to the operation near Udon Thani to monitor progress. Andreas smiled at his friend’s optimism.
Alan had an example of a sand cast and a die cast part he had made for the previous intercooler project that Woody’s plant was now successfully making in volume. It was a slightly smaller part than the new project but similar in design. Alan pointed out the 4 mm deep strip running around the bottom of the tanks which he described as a dressing bead. He explained it was where the ingates would be positioned. The bead would serve the purpose of allowing the dressing operator to neatly blend the profile whilst removing the ingate stubs with a linishing belt, a concession he had already secured from Hirota. Andreas was acquainted with the technique but was glad Alan had mentioned it because he would not have automatically considered it and he felt it could make a real difference to the appearance of the part.
As he returned home from Andrea’s workshop Alan reflected that he was also delighted with how Rose had applied herself to her new sales role. She had been successful in bringing in a further £250k of business from Japanese and Thai manufacturers in the Chonburi area. It was clear she was a natural salesman. Also, on her own initiative she went to see a major truck manufacturer in Rayong and procured an order for a die cast aluminium bracket and a small elbow for the joint venture worth £150k.The commission would give their own company an additional £12k that year in addition to the £90k they would receive from the Oil cooler project. This was already beyond Alan’s wildest dreams from when he first conceived the venture. It helped validate his decision to acquire a property in Thailand and commit to funding the cost of splitting their time between the UK and the Kingdom. Alan calculated with their current income and the additional proceeds of £45k commission from the intercooler next year, plus his current (albeit reduced) salary as chairman of Artemis UK they would have no financial concerns for the next couple of years.
They had moved into the house between Baen Sang and Chonburi city. The family had done a great job cleaning and preparing the property but allowed Rose to apply her own personal touches. Alan loved the location for its convenience to his work but being reasonably near the university, they occasionally visited the bars and eateries frequented by students, enjoying the buzz of having young people around them.
There were some lovely walks and visages nearby and the proximity of the lively seaside resort of Baen Sang meant they were never bored particularly at weekends. Despite his age many of the marine and engineering students sought them out to practice their language skills. When they realised Alan was also an Engineer his advice was constantly sought. He also discovered, for some unknown reason there was a significant community of Scandinavians living nearby who were splendid company and occasionally he would meet up with some of their number in the local bars. With the newness of the intimacy of living with a beautiful Thai girl in a home with a (albeit small) swimming pool and the potential of occasional visits to the nearby sin city of Pattaya Alan could never remember ever being so happy and alive.
With the Thailand venture proceeding successfully they returned to the UK. On the day of departure Andreas called him with the quote he had received from Phet Enterprises and confirmed his own price for the pattern equipment. As predicted the casting piece price was almost half his cost to produce it in the UK. Alan was already happy with Andrea’s price so instructed Andreas to begin the pattern equipment and place an order with the foundry for the first 200 castings to get the ball rolling
On their return to England the week passed quickly and before they knew it they were collecting Roses family from the airport. Alan had taken his friend David’s advice and hired a minibus for the collection of the family. On their arrival at the manor house Rose took great delight in allocating their six bedrooms to her family, one for her father Edward and her mother, one for Joe and her auntie, and another for her young cousin Kwan who was thrilled to have her own bedroom for once (as her aged grandmother had decided she was not fit enough to travel).
Rose had also allocated a bedroom for her Japanese friend and intended bridesmaid Mitsu who would be arriving from Tokyo the following week. There was great excitement amongst the family to be sleeping in an old historic manor house and even ignored the cold, although in fact the temperature was quite warm for England. The sixth small bedroom she left for Alans sister Cynthia. Cynthia and Alans protégé David were developing a relationship and it was no secret that Cynthia had been spending every weekend at David’s house nearby.
However, it had been agreed that the night before the wedding Alan could not see his bride so would stay with his best man David. This required that Cynthia would need a bed for that evening and she would be on site to continue her organisation.
Once the family had settled into their rooms, Alan and Rose took them down to the local pub for dinner. Although Rose’s mother and Father had previous experience of an English village pub it was a new experience for Joe, his wife Khae and her young cousin Kwan who were enthralled by the lively ambiance. They all enjoyed a traditional pub meal of steak and kidney pudding with mash and gravy which they initially found very strange. After the meal they repaired to the bar and were joined by Alans friends Mick and Sam. This was the first time Alan had seen his old friends since they had defended Rose’s honour that evening of her ill-fated business course and ended up in jail. So, Alan undertook to pay for all their beer that evening. There was no doubting that Mick and Sam were likeable rogues and they charmed Kanita and Khae all evening with tales of their misspent youth. Edward and Joe were entertained by their ladies’ amusement with these fellows whilst young Kwan as an impressionable young teenager was enraptured at being in the company of such rascals and could not wait to relate their stories to friends back at school on her return to Thailand.
As far as Alan was concerned the plans for the wedding day were settled which allowed the females to just focus on the bride, bridesmaid’s dresses and what he considered other inconsequential fripperies. The service would be in the local village church, but they would hold the reception at the manor house for which the redoubtable Mrs Brown and her friends would arrange the catering. The library was big enough to seat 30 guests around the trestle tables Cynthia and Mrs Brown had organised. Alan was determined to keep the reception modest and low-key. He had given the ladies free rein on their own attire fully expecting a display of ostentatious hats from the Thai female contingent. He felt the popularity of Prince William’s wedding on Thai TV a few years ago had a lot to answer for. However, Alan had been determined there would be no top hat and tails (morning suits) for him or any of the men, insisting lounge suits was the very limit on formality.
Despite his modest demands for the ceremony Alan was not being frugal, he and David had arranged a disco and buffet in the back room of the local pub they mischievously called “The Inbreeds Arms” for the evening after the reception which they had given open invitations to all their friends and the employees of Artemis. They anticipated about 150 people would turn up, promising an eventful evening. This delighted the pub’s roguish owner who was already counting the money he would make.
The next week Alan and Rose drove down to Heathrow to collect Rose’s friend Mitsu. From Rose’s previous description Alan envisaged her to be a delicate light-skinned Japanese flower in her early thirties. Alan could not escape the image of the term Geisha girl from his mind.
When she sashayed into arrivals Alan could not believe his eyes. Mitsu turned out to be a stunning and incredibly beautiful Hafu (half-caste) Japanese girl who could be mistaken for a visiting supermodel. Rose explained that her father was a black American marine officer and her mother a Japanese teacher at the base. Even though Alan was totally besotted with his love for Rose he could not deny how spectacular Mitsu was.
Standing about 5’8” with an unbelievably slim figure, dark mocha coloured skin and a 1000-watt smile, Alan knew the presence of this exotic creature in his local community would cause a significant disturbance amongst the red-blooded males for miles around. He felt he should warn the local constabulary in advance.
Hugs and kisses were exchanged, introductions made and after working their way through the airport Mitsu’s bags were loaded into Alan’s Jaguar and they began the journey back to the midlands. He let Rose and Mitsu sit in the back seat together so that they could catch up on their respective experiences. For the first hour they were so absorbed in their exchange they totally ignored Alan who commented he should have worn a chauffeur’s hat. However, by the time they reached the M42 they ran out of steam, so Alan could join the conversation. Mitsu and Rose had met as youngsters at the massive US Kadena airbase in Okinawa and qualified to be teachers together. Mitsu had only recently left Okinawa to work at a school in the outskirts of Tokyo.
Alan could not believe such a gorgeous specimen of womanhood was still single, he was amazed that she had not been snapped up by some rich and successful young Japanese (or even western) man and expressed his disbelief to the two girls in the back seat.
Much to Alans amazement Mitsu seemed surprised at Alans compliment and expressed she was flattered at his courtesy but had experienced no serious interest in her by any of the Japanese men of her acquaintance. Seeing Alans look of incredulity Rose explained that he would need to understand Japanese culture to appreciate Mitsu’s situation. Mitsu’s English was excellent, but it was Rose who explained that Japan for all its accomplishments was a very chauvinistic nation. Both She and Mitsu were mixed race but Mitsu was dark-skinned so she was considered a second-class citizen to the Japanese male. There was also the situation somewhat unique to Japan, related to the long-term economic stagnation where millions of single people under the age of 40 still live with their parents avoiding relationships because they cannot afford them. They explained there was also the growing phenomena in Japan of what they called herbivore men who preferred playing computer games than interacting with females.
Alan was astounded, he could see this girl was amazing, in his view she was a darker skinned version of Melanie Sykes or Mylene Klass and could also see some similarities to Megan Markle, Prince Harry’s intended spouse.
Alan smiled and expressed the opinion that Mitsu’s world was about to change. He warned her that now she was in England she was about to receive more male interest and attention than she could handle or ever imagine.
When they arrived at the manor house he left Rose to arrange Mitsu’s accommodation and was amused at their excitement. He reflected that he must take Rose and Mitsu around the Artemis plant and arrange an excuse for a photo shoot within the next week or so. Mitsu’s Miss World quality was too good an opportunity to miss even though he was unsure how to use it to his advantage, he was certain there was a business opportunity somewhere. Alan was amused that she clearly had no idea of her loveliness and seemed genuinely unaware of her beauty, but knew that would soon change
That day Rose’s Dad Edward had hired a car to visit the Fairford air base in Gloucestershire to take the family to meet some old friends from his military service days there. So that evening Alan took Rose and Mitsu down to the local pub. It was Thursday with the entertainment a “free and easy night” with Big Louie and his wife, a talented musical duo hosting the proceedings. It was always a lively event usually played to a full house. Alan introduced Mitsu to his pisshead pals Mick and Sam and asked they keep an eye open and act as protection for her that evening. On seeing the exotic Mitsu they both lost the power of speech but agreed with an open-mouthed delight and a nod of their heads.
They had a great night and Mitsu was delighted with her first experience of a lively British pub. As Alan had suspected every lothario there threw their hat at Mitsu trying to chat her up, but she was sensible enough to recognise the inept local Romeos and toothless country yokels for the wasters most of them were. Alan had often commented his community didn’t have an official village idiot as there were so many that met the criteria they took it in turns. When Rose and Mitsu got up to dance there were a couple of cocky youngsters who pushed their attentions but the sight of the disapproving glances from Mick and Sam soon dissuaded them otherwise.
On the short walk home Mitsu declared how wonderful the evening and was inquisitive about the two exciting scary men who seemed to watch over and protect her all evening.
Alan managed to avoid his friend’s intentions for a traditional British stag night, the thought of waking the next morning naked and chained to lamppost in some far-flung city like Edinburgh horrified him. He persuaded them to keep things sensible as they were no longer teenagers. He took a small party comprising David, his brother Peter, Edward, Joe, Sam, Mick with Ray, Jim, Eddie, Chris and Damien from Artemis to the local Thai restaurant thinking the gentle ambiance would keep a lid on his friend’s excesses. Everyone enjoyed the good food and agreeable conversation and Alan thought he had got away with it until the appearance of the ubiquitous stripper gram.
The young chubby but pretty girl dressed as a policewoman performed her duties to which Alan complied to her harmless advances as was expected of him to everyone’s satisfaction. Alan was relieved, at least it was not the blatant ladyboy he had expected from his daft pals. The evening ended well, and Alan was pleased he had returned to David’s house undeniably drunk but without undue mishap.
The wedding day the next morning went well without a hitch. The 15th century village church provided the perfect backdrop and the weather remained fine. Rose arrived at the church in an immaculate white Rolls Royce owned by a friend of his brother Peter who had loaned it to him for the occasion. Rose walked up the aisle to the strains of Wagner’s Lohengrin. She wore a simple low-cut full length white dress with a veil and looked absolutely spectacular as she walked up the aisle followed by her bridesmaids Mitsu and her cousin Kwan. Alan was friends with the vicar and organist so had insisted on an Old-style service to feature the traditional hymns “Love Divine” and “the Lords my Shepard” which is the acknowledged anthem of West Bromwich Albion supporters, of which Alan and his family were lifetime devotees. During the ceremony Rose had answered the responses in her Thai name Kulap which Rose was the English translation of. After the signing ceremonies they left the church to the strains of Mendelssohn’s wedding march to the delight of the traditionalists in the community.
After the universal taking of photos in the churchyard all the quests took the short walk to the manor house for the reception. The intimate marriage dinner at the manor house was a success. The food was old-fashioned, real tomato soup, followed by roast beef and seasonable vegetables with sponge pudding and custard for desert all served by Mrs Brown and her gang of ladies from the mother’s union. It was excellent fayre all washed down with a plentiful supply of quality wine acquired at the right price for the occasion by one of Cynthia’s many admirers in the city of London.
David as best man-made the appropriately embarrassing speech as was required by the occasion, but the star of the show was undoubtedly Rose’s Dad Edward in his father of the bride address. His military bearing and inherent gravitas assured best attention to his speech. As he stood up he looked every inch the image of Ed Harris the American actor. He described how he had first met Alan at the restaurant opposite the Marriott hotel when he was in company, or more accurately the captivity of his Japanese hosts. He admitted he was not initially overwhelmed with his first impression of Alan. However, he listened to his brother-in-law Joe who convinced him Alan was actually a decent cove (to use an English idiom he had learnt). He explained how he had always respected his brother in laws judgement. He continued “As I got to know him I realised Alan was actually the perfect man for my Rose, not a military man as I had always hoped for but a solid guy who clearly loved her and knew how to guide her and control her worst excesses. She clearly responded to his attentions. I am proud of them and their achievements in the business they have created together in Thailand and love them both “. Alan felt a tear come to his eye and considered if Edward ever fancied entering politics he would have his vote even though their nationalities obviously prevented it.
Alan noticed that his brother Peter had positively salivated over Mitsu much to the annoyance of his wife Hyacinth (sorry Victoria). He felt he had not seen the last of this conflict. More photos were taken as the guests had an hour or so to relax before everyone made the short walk to the pub for the evenings reception. Rose’s uncle Joe grabbed Alans attention and declared it was the first real chance they had to talk since their arrival. Alan had a considerable respect for Joe, not only because he had physically saved his ass on a couple of occasions but had offered timely advice to Alan at appropriate stages in his adventure. Joe stated he was delighted that everything had worked out for Alan as he had hoped and predicted. Alan gave Joe a big and expected hug and knew he had cemented a lifelong friendship.
The night ended with only a couple of minor fights which are always par for the course at an English country wedding, so everyone thought the evening went very well. Mitsu was delighted by the attention she received but was comforted that Mick and Sam danced attention on her making her feel safe all night. It was clear she was quite enamoured by these two scoundrels.
The following morning whilst everyone was recovering, Mrs Brown had laid out a late buffet breakfast at the manor house for anyone who had the strength to partake. Alans sister Cynthia had been captivated by Mitsu’s unspoilt charm and obvious beauty and could see an opportunity to exploit it for their mutual benefit. She saw a niche modelling opportunity for Mitsu’s rather unique exotic appearance. Cynthia had been a celebrated dancer in her youth and now ran a successful theatrical agency in London. Alan was amused to observe when over their late breakfast Cynthia asked her if she would be interested in moving to the UK to work. He was pleased, he trusted his sister’s intentions and considered it would be wonderful for Rose if her best friend came to live in the UK as he was conscious that she did not yet have any friends in England. Mitsu was on an extended vacation from her school in Tokyo and it was agreed she would stay at the manor house under Mrs Brown’s care. He was fascinated to see how this would transpire.
Alan and Rose had discussed where to spend their honeymoon and decided to return to Thailand rather than take a beach vacation on the Mediterranean. They had also dismissed Thai seaside destinations such as Phuket or the other Thailand island resorts. Alan had suggested they visit the north East of the country, maybe Udon Thani. He had an ulterior motive to visit the foundry that was going to make the intercooler castings although he didn’t let on to Rose. He was delighted that she agreed with his suggestion little knowing that Rose had already suspected his motive but was happy to accede, she had also seen their website and was a little inquisitive herself.
All the family flew back to Thailand together and Alan and Rose returned to their home near Baen Sang. A phone call from Andreas informed Alan he had delivered the pattern equipment to the Phet Enterprise foundry in Udon, so Alan requested he arrange a visit for him the next week. They spent a few days in the Chonburi Siam plant, but Alan noticed most of their time was spent by Rose describing their wedding day to the obvious delight of everyone especially Woody’s secretary Praew whom Rose had developed a particular friendship.
The following Monday they caught a flight to Udon Thani and booked in at the Centara hotel in the central district of the city. Alan was immediately enamoured with this hotel and felt it was on a par with the Marriott in Pattaya. The first evening they availed themselves of its amenities taking diner in the pleasant restaurant later listening to the excellent chanteuse performing in the lounge just off the lobby.
The next day they took a taxi to Nong Khai less than an hour away. Nong Khai is a charming town on the Mekong River which was the effective border with the neighbouring country of Laos. They found a thriving market and a very pleasant promenade along the river. They took dinner in one of the excellent Vietnamese restaurants along the promenade before taking a taxi back to the hotel in Udon Thani.
The following day they hired a car and a driver to take them to the world-renowned Ban Chiang archaeological site about an hour’s drive to the east of Udon Thani. Alan had read up a little on this site but was surprised how remarkable it actually was. It was well laid out over a large area similar to the celebrated Black Country and Blist Hill museums in the British West Midlands. The exhibition hall was particularly notable. Ban Chiang is famous for its unique pottery, but Alan was more interested in the ancient bronze castings such as axe heads and spears they had unearthed.
The site was originally dated at 5000 years old which would have made it the oldest Neolithic site in the world. This ambitious claim had been since been revised and a more credible 3000-year antiquity accepted with a date for the earliest bronze artefacts found being from around 500 BC which was contemporary with European and middle Eastern tradition. There were examples of early bronze jewellery and ornaments (ancient bling) made by the lost wax process, but it was the examples of axe and spear heads made in stone moulds dated around 200 BC that particularly fascinated Alan. He was no expert but had an interest in the history of castings and Rose was always a patient audience for his observations and ramblings.
He told her all castings could be categorised as either being made from consumable moulds or from permanent moulds. Consumable moulds involved the mould being destroyed for every casting made which included the various sand casting and lost wax processes whereas Permeant moulds could be used again and again, such as the metal moulds employed in their diecasting process at Artemis and Siam Chonburi.
Alan knew casting the typescript in Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439 was arguably the earliest example of diecasting and an impressive and characteristic example of a foundryman changing world events. However, it was a sobering and somewhat humbling thought that permanent moulds hand carved in stone were being utilised almost 3000 years ago. He reflected he would certainly recommend to his friends they should visit the Ban Chaing site on any trip they took to Thailand. Alan was proud of the historical heritage of his craft. Throughout human history, foundrymen had made more contributions to civilisation than any merchant banker, insurance salesman, or media mogul could ever claim.
Their location in the Centura gave them the opportunity to visit Paul’s enterprise which Alan knew was only 30 minutes away. Rose had already cottoned on to his plan, so it was no great surprise when Paul turned up at the Centara the next morning and asked for them at reception. They went down to meet him; hugs and introductions were exchanged. Paul was a distinguished looking gentleman in his early 60’s with a good head of silvery grey hair. With Paul was a diminutive and pretty elfin faced girl who in truth looked about 14. Paul introduced her as Ratana his adopted daughter and personal assistant. He explained despite her youthful appearance she was actually 25, held a business degree from Khon Kaen university and had been effectively running his business for the past few years. Alan had suggested they pack an overnight bag which to his surprise Rose had already done. Paul directed them to a modest Toyota minibus in the car park, Ratana took the wheel and drove them the 25 min journey to their operation on the outskirts of the city.
The site was deep in the countryside and as they left the road and entered Alan noticed a large field to his right laid out with a football pitch and a large wooden building that looked like an old English village cricket pavilion. Paul explained they had regular visits from disadvantaged and orphan children from around the country and that was their club house which Charles, one of their business partners had built for them. As they drove further on to the site Alan could see a modern portal frame structure next to a smaller more rustic building with a large brick chimney on the end wall. An adjacent small portacabin completed the layout. Ratana explained the smaller building was their artists workshop, the larger one the foundry and the portacabin their administration office. She parked next to the artist workshop but knowing Alan was itching to see his castings being made they walked directly to the foundry building.
Alan could see a spacious airy building and saw half the building was occupied by the Lost wax/investment operation that produced art casting and statues in bronze. The other half of the building, separated by a 5-foot-high thermalite block wall was taken by the sand foundry and finishing operations. The building was dominated by a 7-tonne sand hopper which was fed by a pneumatic conveyor from a 30-tonne sand silo outside the building. The day hopper fed the sand muller for preparing the greensand mix, the small continuous mixer for core making and the sand raining process for the investment process. Also predominant were the two jolt squeeze moulding machines and two lengths of roller conveyor. Alan was immediately impressed by the economical use of the space and the obvious organisation that clearly allowed it. He wished he could show some of his own engineers at both the UK and Chonburi operations what could be achieved with just a little application and diligent housekeeping. Paul introduced Nok who ran the Greensand operation and directed them towards the two moulding machines.
Alan was pleased to see the patterns from Andreas were already mounted on the machines. It had been some years since Alan had worked in greensand, in fact it was during his apprenticeship with his father. As he took a handful of the soft clay bonded sand he regressed 20 years and it bought back wonderful memories of working with his late father. He wiped away a tear as Nok placed a moulding flask on the pattern then put his sieve on top and threw a shovel full of sand into it. With a flourish he riddled the sand onto the pattern face and carefully tucked the sand around the pattern with his hands. He then threw a further couple of shovels of sand into the flask whilst activating the jolt mechanism on the machine. This began compacting the sand as another shovel full filled the flask. When he felt it was appropriate, Nok pulled the squeeze head across to complete the compaction.
He withdrew the squeeze head and activated the vibrate for a few seconds to rap the mould then began the pin lift mechanism which lifted the mould flask from the pattern. Alan was captivated by how neatly the mould lifted. At the top of the pin lift cycle Nok rolled the flask mould on his stomach to invert it and placed the mould cavity upwards onto a wooden board on the adjacent length of roller track. Alan was awe-struck with how clean a lift it was with clearly no damage to the mould. He knew this was testament to Andreas’s patternmaking expertise and Nok’s obvious moulding skills.
Nok picked up one of the sand cores, located it on the core prints and as he pressed it into its location he secured it in place with a flat nail which he pushed into the mould and a recess in the hard sand core to secure it in place. Alan was captivated with this technique which he couldn’t use in his air set process as the sand was too hard, having to rely on the accuracy of the core prints or glue for location. Nok repeated this for the second impression.
Nok’s colleague Som repeated the moulding process for the top (cope) mould on the second moulding machine. Having stripped the mould from the pattern he laid it on the roller track, blew it clean with compressed air then lowered it over the bottom (drag) mould Nok had placed on the track. With the positioning of a pouring bush above the sprue to facilitate casting, the assembled mould was ready to be cast in molten aluminium by the third team member Tik who was preparing the metal in a 200 kg capacity gas-fired crucible furnace at the end of the roller track length. Alan watched as they produced another mould which joined a line they had produced earlier.
At that point, to give Nok and his team time to cast the moulds and allow them to cool, Paul directed them towards the other side of the foundry and introduced Pravat as the son of his business partner Chan. Pravat was a large and imposing young Thai man in his late twenties who was indisputably in charge of the investment casting side of the business. Pravat took great pride in showing the various processes in producing an investment (lost wax) casting. He introduced the two local ladies he employed part-time who skilfully assembled the wax patterns onto wax trees which Pravat and his assistant would subsequently invest by dipping in a ceramic slurry then coat with sand from the sand raining station before hanging them in the drying oven. He explained they would have to repeat this several times to produce the required shell thickness, a process that could take up to two weeks. Pravat showed them the steam autoclave which would eventually melt out the wax leaving a ceramic shell mould with a cavity the same shape as the now evacuated wax pattern.
These ceramic moulds could now be cast in bronze which was melted in two modern ½ tonne electric induction furnaces which Paul had recently installed. Pravat waxed lyrically about how these furnaces had replaced the charcoal fired pit furnaces he and his father (and grandfather) had utilised, revolutionising their melting capacity and capability. He however added that they had retained two small pit furnaces in Chan’s studio for occasional demonstrations.
Alan was fascinated by Pravat’s description of the lost wax process a technique that was new to him but admitted to being awe-struck when Pravat displayed their statue assembly area. Alan could see they had a life-sized statue of what appeared to be a Buddhist monk under construction. Pravat explained how they would assemble a statue, which could sometimes involve hundreds of individual castings being welded together and subsequently dressed against a framework or armature in a process they called “chasing”. Alan was captivated by the procedure and would have liked to learn more but Paul and Ratana felt they should move on and see the artist workshop.
As they entered the next building they were greeted by a striking middle-aged Thai man who Paul introduced as his business partner and resident artist Changerong. He immediately asked they call him Chan and with great pride he showed them around his artist workshop. The workshop was a steel frame building about 50 ‘x 30’. At one end of the building there was a large hearth and a tall brick chimney which provided a natural draught which ventilated the building. Beneath the hearth were two charcoal fired pit furnaces which were now covered with a Cast iron plate.
Chan explained that all the equipment for lost wax production had been transferred into the new foundry building leaving this building to be developed as an artist workshop. Along one wall all the clay, wood, wires armatures and general paraphernalia for artwork had been neatly racked. A large bench with enough room for six work stations dominated the centre of the building. A projector was mounted on the ceiling which would throw up images on a large screen on the wall behind. Along the opposite wall all the woodworking equipment had been arranged which included a band saw, sanding disc and a small wood lathe.
Chan described how they only used the pit furnaces for demonstrations on very rare occasions as it was felt it may be too hot to operate in the studio. A bench and equipment for making latex moulds currently occupied the area. The large roof fans actually kept the place pleasantly cool. The layout was impressive, and Alan could imagine sculptors happily practicing their art in such a very collegiate ambiance. Chan explained how the workshop regularly hosted a two-week artists course and occasional visits by renowned sculptors from around world wishing to see their clay sculptures converted to bronze.
They repaired to the office block and were introduced to Pauls girlfriend Phai and Chans wife Pan. Phai was a rather slim elegant Thai lady probably in her late 40s who had retained an ethereal beauty. Alan could definitely see his friend’s attraction to her. Chans wife Pan was a slightly plumper but vivacious lady of a similar age. Phai explained they were cousins and were both schoolteachers at the local school. The third lady, Acheron was introduced as the office manager. Acheron was a lady of similar vintage but with an undefinable exotic air that immediately attracted Alans attention. He imagined she was lively lady worth exploring if he had been on his own. Rose immediately recognised his thoughts and gave him a playful slap on his arm.
Paul suggested they all have dinner at Chey K the restaurant and hotel they owned in a village a 30-minute drive away. They all made their way to the minibus as Ratana climbed into the driving seat. It still amused Alan to see the diminutive Ratana behind the driving wheel of such a large vehicle. Rose had immediately taken to Ratna and admired her youthful enthusiasm and energy.
They arrived at Chez K a modest guest house and restaurant out in the sticks. They were welcomed by Kwan and Kul, two Thai ladies in their early forties who Paul and Chan introduced as their business partners. Alan was amused at this extension to their empire and noted that Kul although a little chubby had an extremely pretty face whilst her colleague Kwan had retained the delightful figure of an 18-year-old but was beginning to look a little ravaged around her face. Alan could not fail to notice the attention Kul and Kwan were giving to Paul all evening and suspected their relationship was as much carnal as business but as Pauls elegant partner Phai appeared totally unconcerned he considered there was probably some agreement in place that only Thais would understand and felt somewhat in awe of his new friend.
The party enjoyed a delightful evening. The food was excellent. A Sea bass and Tom yum soup dominated the table with at least 10 small dishes of various curries and stir fries supporting the feast. Paul was without doubt an entertaining raconteur, but his partner Chan was an equally interesting character. Alan was enthralled that his Rose had appeared to develop an obvious attachment with Phai, Pan and Ratana. After dinner they finished the evening in a bar opposite owned by a massive Australian named Mike. With Mike’s Wife Pong and their friends Alec and Jeneria, they completed a wonderful evening. Alan couldn’t remember ever laughing so much and it was the early hours before he and Rose were finally poured into bed in one of the pleasant upstairs rooms at Chey K.
After breakfast the next day they returned to the foundry to find a line of ten castings for their inspection. Alan excitedly ran the 6-inch rule he always carried over them and declared they looked good. With an even wall thickness he was pleased with the results and noted the surface finish was excellent. However, he noticed a very small pinhole at the junction with the outlet pipe which he identified as a tiny shrinkage defect. Alan was not greatly concerned as he knew the first batch would probably not be subjected to a leak test, but he suspected this would not pass. He was encouraging and suggested on subsequent samples Nok paint some zircon or chromite chill-cote on the core to increase local heat extraction just in that area to address the shrinkage. Alan selected four samples from each hand and put them in a bag to take for inspection by his technician Phanon.
Alan was warming to Pauls company and could see a potential business relationship and friendship developing. On the drive back to the Centara Paul suggested they could either go back to central district and enjoy dinner in one of the bland generic establishments the corporate world offered or let him take them to a more interesting characteristically Issan location. They opted for the latter.
Ratana drove into the city centre and Paul led them all to the UD Town complex. This was an amazing venue with hundreds of tables surrounded by a variety of food outlets too numerous to mention. Alan noticed Chan had secured a 3-litre tower of Chang beer for 499 baht which included a pretty Chang Hostess to serve it. He thought this a wonderful concept and knew they would repeat the exercise a few times before the evening ended.
Whilst Alan Paul and Chan sat drinking the beer and soaking in the ambience, the ladies had all dispersed in various directions to acquire an assortment of comestibles from a variety of outlets. They returned with copious dishes of both Issan and Thai delicacies. These included chicken portions, pork meatballs, snails, frog’s legs, oysters, squid, prawns, crab and the ubiquitous Som tam papaya salad. Alan commented with four Thai ladies dancing attention attendance on them this must be the nearest thing to heaven for a western man. Paul and Chan smiled politely as they clearly took this attention for granted. A competent Thai band had taken the stage and began playing some pleasing melodies. For Alan the evening ended far too quickly. When they were eventually returned to the Centara hotel Rose was in a particularly amorous mood and they enjoyed the best sex they had for some time.
The next morning, they took a taxi to the airport for the journey back to Bangkok with the samples they could submit to Hirota to get the initial payment for the tooling underway. Alan was enthralled with what he had experienced on his visit to the Issan. He knew this was the beginning of a productive association and a genuine friendship that would bring even further pleasure to his life. On the short flight back to Bangkok and the short taxi journey back to their home in Chonburi Rose was unusually quiet but once back in the home she exclaimed how much she had enjoyed their time in Udon Thani, what wonderful people the folks at Phet Enterprises were and she sincerely hoped they could develop a business and a friendship with them. She then went to bed and immediately fell asleep much to Alans surprise as she was usually so full of energy.
The next morning, they went into the Siam Chonburi plant and whilst Alan delivered the sand cast samples to the technician Phanon, Rose made her way up to Woody’s office to tell him and his secretary about their visit to Udon Thani. Although Woody seemed a little distracted, his secretary Praew was enthralled by Rose’s account as her family had originally hailed from that district. They left at lunchtime to return home. That evening they visited a local bar full of their Scandinavian friends, but Rose seemed unusually tired so left Alan with them and went home to bed early. Alan hoped she was not coming down with some illness.
The next day Alan left Rose in bed, went to the plant and sought out Phanon for his observations on the sample castings from the Issan. Phanon as usual had been very busy, he reported they had passed his dimensional checks with flying colours but when subjected to his pressure test they had failed and had leaked in the junction between the body and the corner outlet pipe. Alan had suspected this when he saw the pinhole as he was first presented with the samples, which was why he advised applying chill-cote to the core in subsequent castings to accelerate solidification in that area. Alan suggested to Phanon they put a spot of weld on that area on the samples but carefully dress the part to conceal it just in case some sneaky inspector at Hirota decided to pressure test them. Phanon smiled at Alans pragmatism and promised to do as suggested and submit them to Hirota with all good speed.
By the end of that week they were notified that the first 8 sand castings supplied to Hirota passed their dimensional inspection, so with this approval Alan could now invoice them for the pattern equipment. He knew that until the production die tooling arrived there was little Alan could contribute so he planned a return to UK in time for the Artemis board meeting in a week or so.
Alan and Rose had recognised that they hadn’t given much attention to their Thai partner Woody, so they invited him and his wife to dinner at his favourite restaurant near the foundry. Woody’s wife Pimchan was ten years younger than Woody, a really sweet girl who spoke a little English but was always delighted to be with the exciting farang (western) couple Alan and Rose. This always amused Rose as although mixed race considered herself Thai but Pimchan was in awe of Rose and saw her an exotic westerner who spoke three languages and held her own in a man’s world.
The food was excellent, but Woody seemed unusually distracted that evening. Alan asked if his Japanese customers where giving him grief. Woody gave a big sigh and still not trusting his own English he explained to Rose that from when Alan had arrived he had had no problems with the Japanese since the time with Osama for which he was eternally grateful to Alan for. He opened up to Rose about the influence of the Chinese and Thai-Chinese in his life. “I hate the Chinese and the Thai Chinese who emulate their obnoxious behaviour” he exclaimed through Rose. Alan had never seen his colleague so animated and he continued “All my life they have given me misery but now they see I am making a living, my bank manager, landlord even my metal supplier seems to conspire to make life difficult with their petty corruption and greed. What is worse even the elders at my temple treat me as an inferior person. What the Chinese and Thai Chinese have in common is a total lack of empathy, sympathy or respect for anyone other than themselves”. Warming to his theme he continued” They worship only money and their hive mentality leaves no room for initiative or an alternative opinion.” Alan expressed his sympathy and agreed he had also noticed them to be very self-centred much like the financial elites in his own western culture. This calmed Woody a little. Alan quietly thought many of those characteristics he could also attribute to 95% of Thais he had encountered but kept his own counsel.
Wishing to change the subject Alan declared what a success the Oil cooler project had been and mentioned the hard work that his caster Somchai had contributed. He suggested they should reward Somchai with a bonus and proposed a figure of 10,000 baht. Woody’s feudal mentality baulked at the figure and he refused. Alan smiled but was insistent he be given some reward for his effort and if Woody was so keeneow (mean) he could not pay such an insignificant figure Alan would pay it himself from his own money. As Rose translated he saw Woody’s face drop and reflected that his Thai partner’s attitude and perspective were not so different from the Chinese he had complained about, but once again kept his own counsel. Alan knew despite his initial protestation Woody would comply with his request to avoid losing considerable “face” now Alan had mentioned it. Rose smiled quietly to herself, her husband was finally beginning to understand the Asian mindset and she was extremely proud of him.
The next week they received payment for the pattern equipment and initial samples. Alan insisted that Andreas and Paul be paid immediately. Alan was relieved when Phanon notified him that in the subsequent 100 sand castings received from Udon Thani the pinhole shrinkage had been addressed and they all passed his pressure test comfortably. With the die cast tooling still two months away he felt reassured and placed an order for a further 600 castings with Paul’s foundry to satisfy Hirota’s requirement for the next three months before demand would begin to ramp up.
Woody was ecstatic that he had undertaken two very successful and lucrative projects with Alan. He was making real money since his partnership with Alan. He told his wife Pimchan that this weekend they would visit the temple to make merit and to give thanks to the Buddha for bringing Alan into his life. He also insisted they gave (just) enough to give big “face” to him and sufficient to annoy his hated landlord, neighbours and other Chinese Thai in the community. He also called up Somchai to the office thanked him for his dedication and handed him an envelope containing 6,000 baht much to Somchai’s amazement.
After a few days relaxing at their Ban Sang home Alan felt it time to return to the UK. David had phoned him asking when he was returning as they had received a number of very interesting enquiries that they would appreciate his input on how they should be made. Alan initially felt they were merely flattering him as he could not fail to notice how they were coping so well without him. However, when David admitted that some of the enquiries were from Japanese customers and Ray his sales manager missed having Rose on hand to provide translations and the communication she provided, which his customers had now got used to, Alan understood. That they actually missed Rose more than him Alan could happily accept.
The half-year board meeting was due, so Alan thought it opportune for them to return to the UK. On the flight home he reflected that in their absence there was no one to champion their joint venture. It was not that he did not trust his colleagues and family but as a realist he acknowledged that in a busy operation his requirements could naturally take a back seat to the day-to-day demands. Alan selfishly recognised he needed to employ someone on site at Artemis who would protect his and Roses personal interests in their absence.
When they arrived home Mitsu was excitedly waiting to tell them that Cynthia had found her a couple of minor modelling assignments in London she had just completed. Cynthia had put her up in her apartment for a day or so, but she was principally living at the Manor house with Mrs Brown looking after her. Alan imagined this included Mrs Brown deterring those suitors she considered unsuitable, which in their community was all of the males in a five-mile radius. Mitsu declared she loved living here but acknowledged she would not make a living from the modelling alone.
Alan recognised how happy Rose was to have her friend Mitsu staying with them and realised she had become part of his family. He had thought about how to get Mitsu involved in their business and the idea came to him. He suggested that with their travelling between Thailand and the UK there was an opportunity for Mitsu to join the sales team supporting the Japanese customers in particular. Ray and Rebecca could instruct her, and Alan promised to pay her a (modest) income until she became capable then he would pay her a competitive salary attractive enough to keep her in the UK. Rose and Mitsu were both delighted with the suggestion. Alan was relieved he would have someone protecting their interest in their absence and Rose would have her best friend there when she was back in the UK. At that moment Alan felt like a dog with two dicks and a bladder full of piss in a street full of lampposts.
To be continued
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]