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The Die is Cast Part 10

  • Written by Phet
  • May 13th, 2018
  • 33 min read

Author’s note

This is almost the final chapter (other than an epilogue) in my little fantasy piece. The series was penned with the intention of interweaving some educational material with a simple love story in the format of a novel. To my pals on the Stickman site I apologise that this missive contains a lot of technical content about the casting process, but it is almost the final chapter so bear with me.

I remind you the intended audience of these ramblings remains my foundry students, but I continued to post the series on the Stickman site as there was not a lot happening here and felt there was sufficient Thailand content to warrant inclusion.

I have suffered for my art so now it’s your turn.    

 

Chapter 10. A few doubts and a challenge

Alan was enjoying his time back in the UK. Mitsu had begun her sales training with Ray and Rebecca and although it was early days she was progressing well. She was an intelligent girl and with her natural charm and beauty she certainly had no problem gaining cooperation from all the red bloodied men in the company when she inquired about the more technical aspects of the operation.

At weekends Alan, Rose and Mitsu explored the delights in their local area. The county of Shropshire is one of Britain’s hidden treasures with many beautiful spots often overlooked by most tourists to the UK. That weekend for example they had visited the nearby Weston Park, an impressive stately home and gardens that was the location and inspiration for PG Wodehouse’s Blanding’s Castle stories. Alan loved the attention (and envy) he received from being seen in the company of two beautiful and exotic women. Mitsu was delighted to be in the UK with her best friend Rose and still could not believe the warm welcome she had received in her time here.

On the Friday Andreas phoned Alan to report he had delivered the die equipment for the new intercooler parts to Woody’s plant on the previous Monday but tipped him the wink they were having a few problems and had yet to make a decent casting. Alan was unconcerned as it was still early days but asked Rose to phone Phanon the technician at the Thai foundry to get the full story. He knew Rose would get an honest account from Phanon he would not necessarily get if he asked Woody their Thai partner. Alan knew Phanon was enamoured by Rose. Phanon admitted there were some dimensional issues with core location and some misrunning problems. He added when they had increased the pouring temperature to address the misrun they then experienced severe shrinkage defects. Alan was not particularly concerned at the news as they still had 300 castings from the Udon Thani foundry with another 300 on the way which should cover requirements for another two months. Alan asked Rose to relay to Phanon there was no need to panic but that he should stop production, take the die off the machine and concentrate his efforts on addressing the dimensional issues with the help of Andreas back at his workshop. He promised that once he had got next week’s UK board meeting out of the way he would return to Thailand the following week and help them address the problems with casting the dies.

 

xxx

 

Alan attended the company’s bi annual board meeting with his brother Peter, sister Cynthia and new MD David in attendance. It was Alan’s insistence that although David should continue monthly operational management meetings with his own team they could dispense with the monthly board meetings they held under Alan’s uncle Arthur’s chairmanship and only hold board meetings twice a year with Alan as chairman to discuss strategic issues.

The reports on business activity and profitability confirmed the company continued to be well run and successful. The first few items on sales performance, productivity, and cash position passed without too much comment or argument. Alan presented a report on the Thailand operation, in particular their success with the oil cooler programme and progress with the current intercooler project.

In the agenda item on future developments David explained his idea to examine high pressure diecasting and enter the high-volume market. He cited the opportunities in the Automotive sector particularly the emerging demand for structural parts such as shock towers in “body in white “and space frame applications that were replacing the traditional steel frame chassis build in the prestige sector of the industry. Alan did not want to discourage his protégé and could appreciate David’s conviction but desperately needed to dissuade him from this route. Alan accepted that there were not many really competent pressure-die casters in the UK and barely a handful that were respected by the global automotive industry so there should in theory, be an opportunity.

However, he also knew the technical demands from this new sector for structural components would be severe. Alan had a global perspective, he has seen the scale of investment in the operations that produced these parts. Although he appreciated David’s desire he knew the German and Japanese corporations had long recognised this opportunity and with their superior resources, technology and knowledge would (not to put too strong a point) piss all over the Chinese entering the market never mind any half-arsed UK attempts. He understood (and was greatly impressed by) the advances that had been made in the expensive technology of High Pressure Diecasting by the Germans and Japanese in vacuum extraction and die cooling techniques and strongly counselled against any involvement. Alan suggested we let the bigger boys deal with it, Artemis should continue to accept the scraps from their table and continuously explore the opportunities for prototype and low volume work which they understood.

David (light-heartedly?) remarked that Alan had already diverted some of their prototype business to the Thailand operation, so he needed another option for growth. Alan accepted the censure but pointed out his Joint venture only represented a very small percentage of that business, but it had already contributed to the mother company. He reminded them of his brother Peter’s insistence at the beginning of the project that half of any profit made from the Joint Venture in Thailand would come back to the Artemis company. Alan also reminded them they had already contributed to Artemis’s profit that year. His brother Peter was an astute businessman who backed Alan remarking the multi-million-pound investment in a technology, we did not understand in an extremely competitive market was far too big a risk for a family business. David although a little disappointed acknowledged his mentor’s experience.

The next item David proposed was an opportunity for a range of high integrity, medium volume parts that could be worth £2 million over the next three years. His team had established these parts would require a low pressure die casting technology and as he outlined the project he tendered a report from his technical whiz kid Damien in support. Alan again had reservations as he and his father had explored the low pressure die cast process some 20 years ago and had their fingers burnt. However, Alan recognised there had been significant advances in the control of the process in recent years and as it was nearly lunchtime, asked for a short recess, so he could read Damien’s report.

As everyone left, Alan sat in the board room to read the report. He phoned Rose and asked she join him and bring Damien with her. He knew Rose would not understand the technicalities, but Alan had got used to using her as a sounding board for his ramblings and she helped coalesce his thoughts. Rose was thrilled that Alan did this although she only ever understood a tiny portion she was proud he respected her enough to include her.

When Damien and Rose joined him, he could not escape the thought that Damien was still a spotty youth but appreciated his intelligence and technical ability. Alan begged their indulgence but felt the need to express his thoughts on Damien’s report in a broader historical context that he hoped would augment Damien’s knowledge. Rose understood her husband’s ways and as always was willing to listen to his thoughts. Damien was somewhat in awe of Alans experience and reputation so was excited to hear his observations.

Alan expounded that building upon the work of physicists like Reynolds and Stokes in the 19th century on fluid dynamics, the last 40 years had seen some significant research in the fundamentals of casting technology initially by Merton Flemings at MIT in the USA and later John Campbell at Cosworth and Birmingham University in the UK. Flemings research on the growth of pores in metals had contributed to the castings being produced for Boeing and the NASA space programme. Campbell’s work was the slightly more practical study of the nucleation of pores. He speculated if you could stop pores being nucleated they wouldn’t grow. His work resulted in the Cosworth process which initially revolutionised the motorsports sector and eventually the manufacture of cylinder blocks and heads for the general automotive industry.

They had collaborated over the years and had established that there was a critical velocity of 0.5 m/sec for metal entering a mould cavity before turbulence occurred. Turbulence, particularly in aluminium casting created entrained oxide bi-films that generated defects in any resultant castings when they opened up under mechanical load. Their research had confirmed these bi-films significantly reduced mechanical properties often with disastrous results. This was particularly important in aerospace castings, remembering there are no laybys for repair at 36,000 feet.

When you transpose the formula for velocity in a liquid metal (square root of two times gravity multiplied by the square of the metal head height) to height equals velocity squared divided by two times gravity, knowing gravity is 9.81 m/sec you quickly realise that the metal fall/sessile drop before turbulence occurred is only 12.7 mm. Imagine how small this actually is, it is essentially the average length of a Chinaman’s dick.

To put this into context, a typical 1 metre mould height would give a 44 metre/sec velocity at the entry into the mould cavity at over 80 times the critical velocity, destructive turbulence and generation of oxide bifilms was guaranteed. Alan suggested it was no wonder that the majority of aluminium castings made in the world were suspect. Damien had completed an engineering degree and although his tutors had no casting experience he had been aware of Campbell’s work but listening to Alan he confessed it was the first time it started to make sense to him. Gravity was clearly the enemy of the foundryman but kept his feet on the ground.

Alan explained that some foundries (Artemis included) had developed techniques to reduce the velocity entering the mould cavity through use of bottom running systems and employment of ceramic filters to slow the velocity, but they were complicated, expensive and, if he were honest, never totally effective.

Alan knew the future lay in counter gravity solutions. The Hitchenor process in the USA used a vacuum to lift the metal into ceramic moulds from below and the Cosworth process utilised an electromagnetic pump to lift the metal from beneath a sand mould. There was also the low-pressure diecasting technique. This used a permanent metal mould mounted on a machine that delivered molten metal into the die through a stalk from a furnace underneath by applying air pressure to the surface of the metal in the furnace. This would deliver a non-turbulent/quiescent metal flow into the mould cavity. Alan described the failures he and his father had experienced with their attempts at developing the process some twenty years ago but felt it was time to revisit the opportunity this technology represented.

Alan held the strong conviction that within the next twenty years in a global economy the majority of aluminium castings would either be produced as High-pressure diecasting using vacuum assist and sophisticated die cooling methodology, or by one of the counter gravity techniques. Conventional gravity pouring of metals would be confined to making craft castings and cosmetic parts that where not subject to any mechanical requirements. Alan could already see low pressure diecasting making significant inroads into the massive cold end turbocharger market traditionally dominated by the gravity die process.

Rose sat quietly as Alan quizzed Damien’s understanding of the process, his report had expounded the advantages of the technique being improved yield (as there was a minimal running system) and hopefully better-quality castings but he had to humbly admit to Alan it was only after Alans explanation that he truly understood the process and the opportunities presented. Alan was comfortable that Damien now had a better comprehension of the challenges he faced rather than just the optimistic sales pitch the equipment suppliers had given him. Rose smiled to herself at her husband’s man management skills and could see Damien had now joined Woody, Andreas, Somchai and Phanon in the list of Alan’s devotees. She continued to feel great pride in her husband.

Rose and Damien left, and the board meeting was reconvened. Alan declared that having spoken to Damien he now gave his complete backing to David’s proposal for the low-pressure diecasting project. Alan explained his initial reluctance was due to his own failure in the past but recognised David and Damien were smarter than him so now gave his full support. Peter was relieved, he had approved of David’s proposal but wanted his brother Alan’s consent before proceeding. Alan suggested they refer to it in future as the “counter gravity diecasting process”. The initial investment of £100k was approved to everyone’s delight.

On lighter note the final item on the agenda was “Any other business”. David announced that he and Alans sister Cynthia were to be engaged. Alan jokingly thanked David for saving his sister from being an old maid to which Cynthia laughingly threw her substantial handbag at him in reply.

The next day Alan left Rose at home and went into the Artemis works to have a long chat with Chris his foundry manager about the proposal for low pressure diecasting. He wanted to be assured his old friend understood the principles of the process they were about to invest in. Chris admitted his ignorance but after Alans enlightenment he felt confident he could contribute to the project.

 

xxx

 

On the drive home Alan dropped into the Crown and Anchor better known to Alan as the Pisshead arms, a pub he rarely visited but that evening fancied a change. As he entered he spied Bert the husband of his housekeeper Mrs Brown. He approached him and gave him a firm handshake apologising for the demands he was making on his wife Gladys. Even in his early 70’s Bert was a mountain of a man who Alan had always been respectful of. Bert laughed and gave Alan an unexpected hug stating his Gladys has never been happier since Alan had arrived with his Thai bride. He declared she was even more overjoyed since she had recently been given Rose’s Japanese friend to take care of.

He explained to Alan that the tales he and Rose regularly gave of their travels and adventures to his wife was a source of great pleasure to her. She took enormous delight in relaying embellished versions of their stories to the ladies at church on Sunday and the Mother’s union meetings on a Monday. Bert exclaimed his wife had never been so happy and he was pleased because it gave her another interest other than trying to improve him. With his new freedom he was now able to practice his darts domino, and snooker skills and was overjoyed to be in the top three in the local pub leagues. He thanked Alan profusely and bought him a pint.

 

xxx

 

The next week Alan and Rose left Mitsu in the capable hands of their community and returned to Thailand. Alan was happy but was distinctly aware that his Thai colleagues were expecting him to save the day. Alan saw the first castings were leaking so he elicited the opinion of Phanon who reported the leak was at the junction of the outlet pipe similar to that seen in the sand castings. They could be repaired by welding, but they knew this was not a long-term solution for volume production. Alan also knew applying a chill-cote to the core as done with the sand would not be a robust enough fix for the production of the 2000 pairs per week required in a few months’ time. Alan could not avoid the observation that the castings did not look very good at all, as rough as a bear’s ass to use a colloquialism.

Phanon had already tried grinding the die to augment the feed paths as they had done in the previous charge air cooler project. The leakage had been alleviated but had certainly not been solved. On a brighter note Phanon and Andreas had addressed the core location and dimensional issues, so they had a handful of die castings (albeit with a little “invisible” weld repair) Phanon could submit to Hirota for sample approval. They still had the supply of sand castings to fall back on. Alan was relieved and felt justified in his decision to go with the Udon Thani foundry for the prototype and initial build. The penalty clauses for non-supply of assembled units did not bear thinking about. They had to supply 300 units that month and a further 300 the subsequent month which they had enough sand castings to cover. However, there was still a cost penalty in using the sand castings rather than die castings of around $25 per unit which once in full production would mean a $200,000 increase in costs every month. As this was more than their gross margin the losses would be catastrophic for both Woody and Alan if they could not begin using the gravity die castings once the volume price was engaged.

They had the 300 units to be delivered that month and 300 already for the next month. The third month the programme stepped up to 1000 units which Hirota and their customer would expect to be made with castings from the production die tooling. Unfortunately, this would also require they supplied a preproduction trial batch of 500 units next month as well as the final 300 prototype units. This was only a week away and at that moment they hardly had a production part to their name. Alan was annoyed with himself for letting the time slip away.

So, despite his calm demeanour Alan was under pressure to get the die production going within the next week. It was squeaky bottom time and no mistake.

Alan took a metaphorical deep breath and decided to re-examine the whole operation of tilt die casting rather than just rely on tinkering with the process as he had done before. He acknowledged he had probably been lucky in solving the problems with the two previous projects. Now was the time to roll his sleeves up and engage in some fundament work on the process. He knew it could be a slow laborious task and he did not want to waste his protege Somchai’s time entirely on this project. He needed his best caster to continue producing the Oil cooler and other parts to keep making money for them.

Alans asked Somchai to have a drink with him and Rose after work in the small bar near the plant. Once they had put themselves outside a cold beer, through Rose, Alan explained his plan and his reluctance to waste the time of his star pupil on the new project despite the urgency. He asked if Somchai could suggest another astute caster he could train and work closely with on the new die. Somchai was flattered to be taken into Alans confidence. After a little thought he recommended his young nephew Chaow. Alan knew Somchai had trained Chaow to work the other intercooler die on the second shift in the early days of the venture. He also knew that Chaow had picked up a reasonable level of English from his military service and time working as a barman in Pattaya. Alan thanked Somchai for his suggestion and asked he get Chaow to join him at the new die the next morning.

When Somchai left, Alan and Rose decided to stay and have a spot of dinner. It gave Alan chance to explain his plan for the next day’s activity and to explain the tilt die process to her. The tilt die technique is not a real counter gravity technique but does attempt to minimise the adverse effect of gravity. It involves a gravity die (metal mould) mounted on a machine with a pouring cup fixed to the end of the die. The machine tilts through 90 degrees to cast the die. In the starting position the die is orientated horizontally, metal is poured into the cup and the die is rotated 90 degrees to the vertical position. This action introduces metal into the die. During the tilt the metal is held back slightly by its surface tension until the increasing tilt angle gives sufficient metal head for gravity to fill the die cavity. The concept is that the liquid level never falls much above the horizontal until it begins to move uphill ensuring a quiet fill that minimises turbulence. Once the metal solidifies the die is returned to the horizontal and the casting is removed by ejector pins.

Alan asked if Rose would do as before and record the activities on her clip board. She was excited, she had loved doing this before as it made her look intelligent and she gained face with the Thai workers.

As they entered the works the next morning Alan gave a little smile at his wife decked in her steel capped shoes, white lab coat, safety specs and yellow hard hat perched on her head (which was not needed but Rose thought it looked good). Alan could not help feeling Rose looked delightful even in this outfit. As they approached the casting station Chaow was already coating and preparing the die. Chaow was a wiry young man who did not carry an ounce of fat on him. Alan remarked he was like a gypsy’s whippet…. all ribs and dick, which amused Chaow no end when Rose explained it to him. Whilst the die was being preheated, Alan (with additional help from Rose) explained his plan.

The idea of the days exercise was to vary the tilt and pouring speeds until they (hopefully) found an iteration that worked. Rose would faithfully record all the conditions on her clip board then later record the incidence of defects in the finished castings on the “measles charts” she had developed. But first he asked Chaow to cast a few parts at his usual speed to get the die temperature into some equilibrium.

As expected the first few castings had not completely run but once he got the die temperature up he began making complete castings. At first sight they seemed ok but closer scrutiny revealed all was not well. He could see the defect around the junction of the outlet pipe but felt it was not shrinkage and the other defect was not misrun as had been reported but an effect of two metal flows not meeting probably the result of oxide folds. In fact, the whole casting appeared full of effects he could only attribute to metal turbulence which he felt was unusual with the tilt die process. He looked closely at the running system and die layout, the system consisted of a T shape the down sprue was the vertical of the T which joined the runner bar as the horizontal of the T from which ingates fed into the two impressions. Alan could see nothing obviously amiss.

Not to be deflected Alan instructed Chaow to proceed with their trails as discussed. They started with the lowest tilt cast setting which took almost 1 ½ minutes to bring to the vertical and as suspected the resultant cast was merely a down sprue. The next speed increment revealed a down sprue and runner bar, it was five settings up before they saw an almost complete casting. Rose continued to record results.at the next setting they were getting complete castings but were still witness to incomplete areas. The next tilt setting up gave some marginal improvement but the next setting at 15 second tilt was quite disastrous, so they reverted to the previous speed. Alan let Chaow make a few at this setting varying the metal temperature but to no discernible effect.

By lunchtime they had made about 50 pairs (100 castings) so Alan and Chaow decided to take a break and let the castings be processed. Rose and her friend Phanon would later examine them at the test station. Alan and Chaow sat in the canteen to eat the packed lunches their wives had packed for them. 30 minutes later Rose joined them reporting that they had only made about 15 (barely) acceptable castings although another 45 that could be salvaged by welding, the rest were total scrap. Alan was disappointed but asked Chaow to continue and finish his shift as at least he was making some parts towards the requirement. Alan felt disillusioned and needed a break.

Alan was convinced he was missing something. He was convinced turbulent filling conditions were the problem but could not understand it being so prominent although he suspected that there was some back flow as the metal entered the bottom of the tee that gave some spurting into the ingates. His initial thought was to incorporate a ceramic foam filter at the bottom of the down sprue which may work but it was not certain, he was concerned that machining the die would take time to do, and time was something he knew they were getting desperately short off.

There was something bugging Alan, something his friend Chris had shown him years ago, but he could not remember it. Rose went to bed leaving him sat at the dining room table in their home looking through the records Rose had taken but was disappointed that she had made her notes in Thai and he did not want to wake her to explain them. His mind was in turmoil and he slept fitfully that night when he finally went to bed. He even taxed Roses patience who went to sleep in the spare bedroom.

They returned to the plant the next morning, whilst Rose was putting on her safety garb Alan made a cup of British tea for him and Chaow. Chaow was initially not too keen on Alans brews and only drank it out of politeness but had to admit he was beginning to appreciate the gesture as his uncle had before him. Alan placed the mug on the adjacent bench as Chaow had closed the die and began filling the pouring cup with his hand ladle.

Alan wasn’t paying full attention but his sub conscious noticed that when the cup filled it was to a level just below the top of the cup. When die began its tilt alan noted that a significant tilt angle had already been reached before the metal reached the lip of the cup and entered the die. Alan saw the tilt was quite advanced, possibly 30 degrees before the metal began travelling down the sprue. Alan was horrified he knew the metal was now falling steeply downhill unseen at a height that was considerably more (maybe 100 times more) than the critical fall distance. He imagined with horror the speed that the metal was careering down the sprue in a bubbling miasma that could not fail to generate destructive turbulence. Alan was annoyed with himself for not noticing this before. He had always had faith in the tilt die process but had clearly not been as observant as he should have been. When they inspected the resultant castings the presence of oxides from the turbulent effect were immediately apparent and it looked awful. How to solve it at that moment he had absolutely no idea.

Alan felt the urge to admonish himself for his arrogance but knew this was not the time. However, he needed time to process his thoughts. He asked Rose to review her notes and see if she could establish the time it took for the metal to fill the running system and reach the casting cavity. Alan sat on the bench and finished his cup of tea. He had finally begun to remember something his foundry manager Chris had shown him when making a timing case cover for a diesel engine some six years ago. Chris had lowered the die angle, so the pouring cup was 20 degrees below the horizontal before filling the pouring cup and starting the tilt. This was highly unusual, but Chris explained he had worked out this was the only way he could make that particular part. Alan remembered being busy and distracted at the time so didn’t question Chris further on his rationale. An action at that moment he deeply regretted.

Rose showed Alan that her notes suggested the tilt speed of 45 seconds filled the runner but not the casting. This felt far too slow but what the hell…. the whole idea felt counterintuitive. He instructed Chaow to set the machine up with the pouring cup set 20 degrees below the horizonal. Chaow was bemused but had great respect for Khun Carrot so did as he was asked without question. He poured a couple of castings at the 45 second tilt speed. As suspected the resultant castings had only half filled but in a perverse way that half which they cast had looked better. Alan asked Chaow to repeat the exercise but increase the machine speed to now complete the tilt in 40 seconds. The ejected casting had almost filled with only the top corners missing. The next part they increased the speed to 30 seconds. The resultant casting had completely filled and looked surprisingly good. The next few castings were equally promising and free of obvious defects. Alan felt mildly confident, they may be making progress so gave Chaow the thumbs up to continue.

In the next two hours Chaow had cast 30 shots. Alan made him a brew and told him to take a break with him whilst these parts were processed, which Rose would follow through testing and report back to them. Alan reflected that it did not matter what country you were in, England, USA, Germany, Japan, China or Thailand, foundrymen were the same breed the whole world over.

Alan gave Chaow his thoughts on what they had just done. Having the pouring cup 20 degrees below the horizontal, when filling the cup at the start of the tilt, allowed the metal to enter the die before it reached the horizontal and as the tilt continued the metal travelled down in an almost horizontal die progressing to the bottom of the sprue with hardly any vertical influence. It arrived at the runner bar in good control and as the die tilt reached vertical the metal could fill the cavity uphill through the ingates at a velocity not much more than the critical 0.5 m/sec velocity.

Chaow’s English was quite good, and he was smart enough to understand most of what Alan explained and offered some sensible suggestions of his own. He knew they could vary the tilt speed, but he would ask Somchai and Woody if there was any way they could vary the tilt speed during the tilt, so it started slowly to hold back the initial speed then speed up the tilt to complete the casting without misruns. Alan thought this would be a valuable development which should be possible with a variable controller.

Rose almost run back to Alan and Chaow from the test station. She was excited to report that of the 60 castings made Phanon had scrapped 20, could reclaim 12 but 40 were good which she said Phanon was thrilled about. This was still a very high scrap rate, but it was a big improvement which offered hope.

Alan felt so relieved he gave Chaow a huge hug much to his embarrassment. He sent Rose to fetch Phanon and Chaow to find Somchai and get them up to Woody’s office. Woody made his way up to Woody’s office and seeing Praew Woody’s secretary, much to her surprise, gave her a big kiss on her cheek and asked she find Woody. Alan, Rose Phanon, Somchai and Chaow were all sat around Woody’s conference desk as Woody arrived. Alan told Woody to sit as they needed to formulate a plan. They needed to produce 500 pairs of castings by the end of this week and it was already Wednesday. They needed to test, machine and assemble them by the end of next week to deliver to Hirota. Alan exclaimed that Chaow had given them a potential means of achieving this, but it needed all their efforts to make it happen. Woody was well aware of the requirement and now he had a possible solution he could utilise his natural organisational skills to make it happen. Alan had always been in awe of his partner’s ability to achieve impossible results from his workforce. Knowing Woody had taken ownership, Alan felt relaxed.

By end of the weekend Somchai and Chaow ensured that they had the 500 pairs of castings but admitted it was a very close-run thing. The next week Phanon ensured they delivered the last of the prototype units and the 500 preproduction units to the approval of the Hirota corporation. Phanon effectively sat on top of his counterparts at Hirota for three days until they gave him their approval to proceed.

At the end of the month Alan noted that all four tilt die machines were fully occupied on two shifts with the first charge air cooler tanks, the oil cooler and second intercooler projects and the work Rose had bought in from the Rayong automotive operations necessitated two machines on the third night shift. Woody was making real money and enormous “face” in his community. Woody had plans to purchase another tilt die machine to protect their capacity, Alan asked when he did so he let him help with the design for the furnace to feed it. He had some ideas for improvements that could utilise his thoughts for passive degassing and sedimentation to minimise the traditional metal treatments like degassing modification and grain refinement he felt sometimes unnecessary and disruptive. However, he felt now was not the time to explore them but would do so soon.

 

Alan knew his joint venture had made a few quid but thought it time to return to his wife in the UK. He suggested to Woody that a bonus be given to Phanon, Somchai and maybe Chaow. This time Woody didn’t argue and promised he would.

 

xxx

 

They were returning to the UK the following day and would stay the night at Rose’s parents’ house before going to the airport. On the way home Rose had an appointment with a Doctor at the local hospital for what she claimed was a routine check-up. Alan had been worried about Rose’s health for a month or so. The bouts of tiredness and occasional nausea had prompted his insistence she go for a health check. There had been a couple of subsequent visits and examinations that Rose kept secret, but he knew she had attended. It was with some considerable trepidation Alan entered the hospital, because Rose had been so secretive his imagination ran riot and he feared the worst.

Rose’s doctor was a kindly looking Thai man in his late 40s who said he had trained in the west. As Alan took a seat opposite his desk the doctor asked Rose to lie down on the examination table. He looked grim and remarked to Rose “I am glad you have bought your husband with you today”. The doctor lifted her tee-shirt exposing her belly and began pouring a clear liquid on it. He put some kind of probe on her stomach which to Alans befuddled brain reminded him of the ultra-sonic equipment he had sometimes used to detect sub surface defects in castings. The Doctor moved the probe around Roses belly as he stared intently at a small screen. Alan mind was in such panic and turmoil he felt his consciousness beginning to drift away.

The Doctor turned to Alan and declared “I am not going to beat around the bush”. He paused for dramatic effect as Alan thought his heart about to cease beating and spoke to Rose. “I can confirm you are undeniably pregnant and you and the baby are both very healthy”. The Doctor gave a huge smile adding his congratulations as Alan finally fainted.

A nurse bought Alan round with some smelling salts and he rushed to Rose, gripped her hand and stammered “so you are not dying of some terrible condition?” Rose laughed “no my love I am having a baby …. our baby”. The Doctor explained Rose was about 12 weeks pregnant and she should expect to give birth around early March next year. The doctor showed Alan the screen which to Alan revealed a distorted image of a misshaped peanut that he was supposed to accept was his baby. As the realisation slowly seeped into his brain he became elated, this news was unexpected but not was certainly not unwanted.

As Rose drove them away from the hospital towards her mother’s home Alan remained in a state of shock. It was almost 20 minutes before he asked “why didn’t you say anything before? “. Rose laughed and remarked “I wanted to be certain everything was ok before telling you because I know what a bother you would have made worrying over me”. Alan could not deny he would probably have driven her crazy with his over attentiveness.

They soon arrived at her parents’ house and they were received with the customary fuss and attention. That evening her aunt, uncle and cousin joined her parents for dinner which was the usual feast. Half way through the main course Rose exclaimed she had an announcement to make. The room went unusually silent and she proclaimed, “I am pregnant….me and Alan are having a baby which is due in the new year”.

You could have heard a pin drop in the seconds silence before her mother screamed in delight and arose from the table to give her daughter a huge hug. She was soon joined by her auntie and cousin until Rose thought she may be suffocated under their enthusiastic embrace. Her father Edward and uncle Joe dragged Alan from his seat with handshakes and pats on the back that fair took the wind out of him. Amidst their fervent congratulations Alan saw Edward open a bottle of 12-year-old single malt scotch whiskey and knew they would not be making the flight home the next day.

It was two days later when the family dropped them at the airport for a flight home to the UK. The flight gave the opportunity for Alan and Rose to discuss the changes their new condition would mean to their lives. Alan had been thinking about selling the manor house and buying a smaller property but was now reconsidering. Roses family had expressed their intention to come to England for a month in the new year when her pregnancy was due, and the manor house suited their accommodation. He knew they also had Mitsu to consider who would be great support for Rose during her pregnancy. Alan was delighted with the news of his imminent fatherhood but knew his life was about to change…and then some.

xxx

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