An Infamous Spray Dryer Contract With China
Let’s hop in a time machine to go back to 1991 and recall both a good and a troubling memory.
At the time, I worked for TREMA North America, Inc. which designed industrial chemical processing equipment. I found this fascinating and rewarding as I was learning about how this technology could clean the air coming out of industrial smokestacks.
I felt my work was serving a greater purpose. In fact, my entire involvement with Trema (still in business btw) was a good experience.
Another rewarding aspect was learning about my father’s Spray Dryer designs. We in fact had just hired my father for his engineering expertise. Spray Dryers were at the forefront of new cutting-edge air pollution control technology which was also a lucrative business model.
A spray dryer’s primary purpose however remained in the manufacturing of various types of powder from a liquid or slurry by rapidly drying it with a hot gas.
Everything from food, pharmaceuticals, or any material needing a fine, consistent particle can be made in a Spray Dryer. One such product is called a “Cracking Catalyst” which is used to break down crude oil into different grades of gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel.
Manufacturing Cracking Catalyst
There are large Spray Dryer plants in the U.S. making “Cracking Catalyst” for export to China -or at least there were, not sure about today since with our help China can make their own.
“In 2013, the global oil refining catalyst market scale reached USD 3.13 billion with the average annual growth of 2%.” -Research and Markets: China”
In 1991, a group of Engineers from our customer Sinopec obtained permission to visit us in the U.S. to review the design of the Spray Dryer. The dryer was intended to manufacture cracking catalysts.
The meeting went very well. My dad was essentially the leading expert in this subject matter and the engineers were satisfied.
A Day Trip to Washington, DC
I have a fond memory of when my family and I took the whole group on a guided tour of Washington DC. We rented a van, hired a tour guide, and off to DC we went! Mind you this group of four did not speak English! Luckily they were accompanied by an interpreter.
We had a relaxing day of fun, education, and smiles. We stopped at some attractions and drove by many more. Everybody was asking questions, learning, joking, and laughing. This was a great experience, especially for our two children!
A cool highlight was when our guests took some notepaper and made different Origamis. The kids were amazed! A few months after the visit, we received a letter stating how much they enjoyed their day with us in Washington.
It speaks volumes for my family how we, from such different cultures (and generations), accepted each other and had a great time.
This Never Should Have Happened
Months later the project engineers from China were insisting we send them the detailed design drawings of the Spray Dryer. No! This was outside the terms of the Letter of Credit which stated the next installment due (to us) was upon delivery of the final detailed drawings.
They were firm in their need to review the drawings and finally, my dad decided to send them the drawings. Well go figure: They canceled the contract and were able to complete the design themselves.
This lucrative project already provided enough funds to cover the costs but the needed profits for our young company were lost.
To this day I am troubled by this set of circumstances. Did China steal my dad’s Spray Dryer design? I suppose the answer is no, they did not. It was basically just given to them at a discount.
No hard feelings, I just wish my dad could have listened to me (and others) and we stopped selling ourselves short. This was also a blow to our relationship with our parent company.
An Extraordinary Experience
Looking back, at least on a personal level, this was still an extraordinary experience.
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