Enter the Dragon

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Wonder at Her, this monstrous prism of grey and silver.

Diagonal striations glint at Her flanks as She rides Her ponderous road.

The rollers that bear Her up are huge, but they are dwarfed by this twenty-tonne Leviathan.

The air is replete with Her sound, a ringing too pure-seeming for Her awesome bulk.

If the World ended at this moment, a cohort of these metallic titans would endure while all the other Works of Man wasted to Oblivion.

In a hundred million years, Her Sisters would be our sole monument.

Iron, chrome and nickel.
This is Stainless Steel.
She is the epitome of Eternal Strength.

Massive fingers rise below Her and bear Her aloft.
The machine could tear a house out of the ground, but superlatives of size are drowned inside this stunning Cathedral of Industry.
Your eyes are drawn instead to the steel-clad bunker that stretches away into the bay beyond.
Girthed and bound in colossal pipework, festooned with valves as large as men, it rumbles like a distant earthquake.
The sapor of the air hints at the purpose, but with a subtlety that belies its hidden intensity.

The massive cullis is borne up by shuddering chains, and She is consigned to the inferno.
The fingers draw back to their jolting ambush.
A minute of such heat and they would sag like putty.
The door descends in slow thunder.

Any one of the two-dozen burners within this astonishing structure would incinerate a human in an instant.
The temperature inside is well above one thousand degrees.
Yet a twelve-metre roof-span in refractory brick will withstand this duress for two years and more.
The huge skid-frame below will lift and lay four hundred tonnes of glowing steel every few minutes for all that time, until it next sees daylight.

In around three hours time She will emerge in a halo of blistering orange-white.
She will have consumed energy sufficient to have raised Her through twice the height of Everest.

The water jets that scarify the oxide from Her skin are powerful enough to cut a man in two.
Freakish garden-sprinklers with shotgun force, screaming beneath their hood amid flailing chains.
Their ferocity sets you back on your heels, but She scarcely flushes at this fury.

She is quickening now.
The rollers creep no longer.
They drive Her on at a brisk walking pace, since anything She touches for more than a few seconds will be utterly destroyed.
She has the momentum of a train and the heat of a forest fire, and it seems unthinkable that any machine could survive Her, let alone tame Her.

The guides kiss and stay Her charge.
Then a moment later She plunges into the mill, and first the edging rolls and then the main bite bear down on Her with their mighty torque.
Housing posts a metre deep stretch and splay under forces measured in thousands of tonnes.
Enough electrical power to feed a small town is pouring into Her.
Forward and back, lashed with spray in this cataclysmic thunderstorm until She races away, reduced in thickness seven fold and now at running pace.

The ground shakes as the shear cleaves Her head away, a full four feet wide in one juddering stroke.
She meets the finishing stand with a jolt, and beyond it She is turned upward, racing up the deflector gate to meet the maw of the blood-red drum.

You will never quite take in what happens next.
This amazing machine is contrived to wind a coil of steel within a furnace, retaining heat as She grows ever thinner and longer in Her giddy cycle of reversals.
The stresses on this mandrel would crush an elephant.
The audacity of the design is remarkable, because this improbable device balances precariously between an excess of inertia and insufficiency of strength, and does it all inside a chamber of torrid fire.

The drum's acceleration from rest is breathtaking.
Now She is pinioned between bite and spinning drum.
Tens of thousands of times in its creep-wracked lifetime, each drum must effect this dizzy catch, always a split second away from calamitous impact and ruinous cobble.

The mill itself is no less remarkable.
The size of a house, it nonetheless controls thickness to tissue-paper precision.
It achieves tolerances a mere hundredth part of the equipment deflection caused by the staggering loads that this machine withstands.

Its motors deliver some twenty megawatts at full power.
They unleash it all when the roll gap is closed by a twenty milliwatt control signal.
You are therefore looking at a servomechanism with a gain of a thousand million.
Ten to the nine.
Amplification of this kind is usually assumed to be the exclusive domain of literal rocket science.
In an electromechanical system, bolted into the ground, it's probably unique.
It's certainly exhilirating.

After a dozen reductions, She is thin, fast and supple now.
Perhaps as thin as two and a half millimetres.
At this gauge, She is almost a kilometre long.
There has to be one more coiling operation, in order to contain and handle Her.
This time She descends the chute, onto a mandrel already spinning fast. She is formed about it by a cluster of rolls and guides.
They fly out through elaborate linkages as the cinch is made.
Once again, the operation is almost too elaborate to comprehend, the high-speed blooming of a brilliant red flower.

Still perhaps at seven hundred degrees, She is stripped from the shaft and strapped in bands of steel.
The energy within Her remains immense, wound like a massive clockspring.
Even now, it will be days before the Dragon is quiet enough for comfortable approach.

Regard Her now, Her flame quenched at last.
Her warmth is finally no more than the gentle heat of the Highveldt sunshine.
Black and fascinating, Her precision is palpable.
In the lines and mills beyond, She will assume a lustrous silver and the simple beauty of this purest of steels.
Behind Her, new Dragons roar in protest at the relentless assault of the roll bite.

It took a thousand men two years and a hundred million dollars to bring this mill to life.
Its design, manufacture and commissioning demanded planning and ingenuity beyond your imagination.
That is, of course, unless you are one of the doughty and fortunate few who have known the Ultimate Test of Team Spirit that is plant-scale project engineering.

Manufacturing is declining in our Western economies, and it matters little, because Services are ready to take its place.
Service industry embraces all the teamwork of any manufacturing enterprise.
It generates assets which endure as long.
It teaches entrepreneurship, nerve and skill to the same degree.
It brings just as much fulfilment.
So, at least, say those who have never tamed a Dragon.


In memory of Fred Boshoff, and for Clive and Brian and all the Heroes of the CJVEP, and to Hot Mill Guys everywhere, then, now and yet to come.


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