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Welding & Gases At The 2012 London Olympics

Friday, July 27th, 2012

As the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics gets underway this evening, the world of gases and welding will be front and center in two of the games’ most anticipated and iconic elements—the Olympic torch and the Olympic Stadium. Hydrogen vehicles also play an interesting role in the 2012 London Olympics.

London's Olympic Stadium

London's Olympic Stadium is 75% lighter than previous Olympic venues, thanks to the use of lightweight steel.

The Olympic Stadium
In years past, Olympic venues have been designed as monuments, something to remember for years to come. Take the Beijing National Stadium built for the 2008 Olympic games (the Bird’s Nest, as it has come to be known). The stadium with its whimsical steel frame—and 45,000 tons of steel in all—will no doubt be remembered. But the dig on Olympic venues is that they often serve little function after the games.

With this in mind, London’s Olympic Stadium looks to make a very different kind of statement than those of years past. During the 2012 games, the Olympic Stadium will seat 80,000 people. 55,000 of those seats are temporary. After the games, the stadium will be partly disassembled to create a smaller 25,000 seat venue. In fact, the builders didn’t even bother to cover the bolts used to hold the steel together, knowing that they will eventually be removed.

One of the keys to creating a stadium that could be transformed was the use of lightweight steel. In total, the Olympic Stadium contains just over 11,000 tons of steel (a far cry from Beijing’s 45,000), making it the lightest stadium in the world at this size. Also of note is the fact that the top ring of the stadium was built using 2,500 tons of reclaimed surplus gas pipes from the North Sea Gas Pipeline project.

The Olympic Orbit

The ArcellorMittal Orbit includes steel from five contintents.

As with any stadium construction, the Olympic Stadium relied on skilled welders to join the lightweight steel. One welder left his mark—and a good-luck charm for his home country—by welding a series of horseshoes that resemble the Olympic rings into the stadium’s roof. You can read more about how Construction Manager Steve Burley welded his creation 120 feet up on a pillar here.

Elsewhere in the Olympic Park, the Aquatics Centre (where swimming events will be held) stands out with its 525-foot-long wave-shaped steel roof, which rests on just three supports.

One of the most distinctive buildings at the 2012 London Olympics is the Orbit (officially the ArcellorMittal Orbit), an observation deck that doubles as a piece of public art. ArcellorMittal donated all of the steel for the project, sourcing the supplies from five different continents (including North America) in the global spirit of the Olympics. Just over 2,400 tons of steel were used in its construction, including 60% recycled steel.

The Olympic Torch
Arguably the most iconic symbol of the Olympics, this year’s Olympic torch is made from a special aluminum alloy originally developed for the aerospace and automotive industries. The alloy’s characteristics make it heat resistant, lightweight and strong.

The torch has a unique triangular design incorporating a complex pattern of 8,000 holes (representing the 8,000 people who carried the torch on its journey from Olympia, Greece, to London). Along with their symbolic representation, the holes are functional. One of the torch’s designers, Jay Osgerby , says, “The wind moves through the torch, the perforations allow the metal to cool, and so the torch never gets hot.”

The Olympic Torch

The Olympic torch relies on laser welding and cutting processes.

In creating the torch, the holes are cut from the alloy using a numerically controlled 2D laser cutting machine. After this, the manufacturer uses 3D laser technology to weld the parts of the torch together in a smooth, seamless joint and cut additional holes in the welded areas.

As for the actual flame, the 2012 torch uses a gas mix including two-thirds propane and one-third butane. Each of the 8,000 torches used this year (yes, they use a separate torch for every runner) has enough gas to burn for 13-14 minutes, although it only takes 3-6 minutes for each carrier to travel the 300 meters (328 yards) of each leg.

Scroll down to view a video of the torch’s construction.

Hydrogen Vehicles at the Olympics
Recently it was announced that five hydrogen taxis will be used to transport VIPs in London throughout the Olympics. The fleet will refuel at London’s Heathrow airport at a new Air Products fueling station.

Meanwhile, London’s fuel cell buses, which have been running since 2009 (and recently hit the milestone of 100,000 miles driven), are being decommissioned during the Olympic due to security concerns. The Air Products hydrogen fueling station in East London used to operate the buses was originally approved in 2009 on the condition that hydrogen fuel not be stored on-site between July and mid-September of 2012.

Notably, a fleet of 20 hydrogen buses was used successfully and without incident at the 2010 winter games in Vancouver, Canada.

With or without hydrogen buses, the gases and welding industry will be well represented at the 2012 games. As promised, here is a video showing the manufacture of the Olympic Torch.

Photos: London 2012, ArcelorMittal

What’s So Green About Gases And Welding [Video]

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Recently in LinkedIn Answers, I came across an interesting question: Is it always best to buy, sell and promote environmentally friendly products? During a conversation last week, I asked a distributor what he thought about this question. He expressed that being “green” was important to him in his company (recycling, etc), but that it was not something customers had ever expressed as a real priority.

As a business, it makes the most sense to sell what the customer wants, so the answer to the original question is that it’s not appropriate for everyone. But while some often think of the gases and welding industry as very “industrial,” in reality it’s a very green industry, and it’s become so without really trying. Take hydrogen fuel for example. Or wind turbines, which take a massive amount of welding. Even a core group of suppliers is focused on improving air quality through fume removal systems.

But long before the push for environmentally friendly energy sources, distributors were helping their customers recycle. Cutting equipment—be it oxyfuel cutting, plasma cutting, propylene, chemtane, you name it—is another important group of product supplied by GAWDA distributors. These powerful tools help fabricators, artists and other metalworkers break down scrap metal and recycle it for new purposes.

Here’s a video of an artist cleaning up scrap metal sitting at the bottom of a body of water and turning it into a great piece of art. It doesn’t get much greener than this:

Good News For Gases And Welding

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Hydrogen-Cooled Generator

President Obama looks down a hydrogen-cooled generator at a recent tour of GE.

Just the other day a member said, “When the gases and welding industry makes the news, it’s rarely a good thing.” When I heard this, it caused me to stop and think. I read up on gases and welding news every day, between the GAWDA Connection newsletter and the daily headlines on GAWDAwiki, and yes, some of it is bad news, but this is not representative of the whole picture. Typically, at the root of these stories is an unsafe or unregulated practice by those involved.

More often than not, the things I read show the awesome potential for what gases and welding can create. Sometimes it’s a new development or technology that’s improving the environment, advancing technology or simply shaking the foundations of the scientific world.

Last week, in the State of the Union, President Barack Obama pointed to the power of gases to provide energy independence, specifically hydrogen and carbon monoxide. “At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.” Obama was referring to new research that uses metal cerium oxide to convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, both of which can be used for fuels. Obama also talked about wind power, which relies heavily on welding for the fabrication of turbines.

In other news, this week, on the 125th anniversary of the gas-powered automobile, German auto-maker Mercedes launched a trip around the world, but it wasn’t powered by gasoline. Instead, the auto-maker showed that hydrogen is a viable replacement to gasoline by sending three fuel cell vehicles around the world. In doing so, Mercedes hopes of bringing attention to the need to commit to building a hydrogen infrastructure. The viability of hydrogen fuel is dependent on developing a hydrogen infrastructure, and hopefully GAWDA members can play a part in it.

As these news stories show, new markets for gases and welding have an amazing potential, including the ability to bring about energy independence. The implications of what we can achieve with welding and gases go beyond mere scientific curiosity to a real, practical impact. And this is good news!

Hydrogen Cars Come In Many Sizes

Friday, October 8th, 2010

It’s been a busy week for GAWDA members, with the 66th annual convention in Hawaii. For those of you just getting back from Hawaii, casual Friday is the cure to your jetlag.

But first I want to acknowledge the amazing generosity of GAWDA members, who donated more than $200,000 to GAWDA Gives Back. From the time the donation was presented on Sunday through the end of the convention, members donated an additional $8500 to bring the latest total to $202,312.17. This is an incredible show of kindness on behalf of members. It will make a big difference for a lot of families in Maui.

We already knew Hawaii was a great place to hold GAWDA’s convention, but now we have even more reason to return, and it’s all about hydrogen. The state has launched an effort to create a hydrogen infrastructure to support fuel cell vehicles. When it comes to hydrogen vehicles, building a refueling infrastructure has always been the major question. Hawaii is uniquely positioned because of its existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure. The hydrogen can be separated from the natural gas to provide fuel for vehicles. (Read more about it here.) Hopefully, this vision will be fully realized by 2015 when the annual convention is set to return to the Aloha State, so we can see it for ourselves.

Until this kind of infrastructure comes to the contiguous states, most of us will have to settle for remote-controlled hydrogen cars. Looks like fun!

Bad Press For Gases And Welding

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hydrogen Balloon ExplosionIn today’s GAWDAwiki headlines, you will see that a staff member at the University of Iowa, Dale Stille, was injured in transporting hydrogen-filled balloons to give a science demonstration. The demonstration involved exploding the balloons under safe conditions, but unfortunately, this time they exploded too soon. Stille attempted to fill the balloons at the college before transporting them to the school, and the result was disastrous.

Before the accident, Stille was doing a great service by getting students interested in gases through his demonstrations. Anytime someone promotes the industry in schools, they are doing a great thing. While Stille probably learned his lesson from the explosion, there’s a lesson here that distributors can take away from this: you can never stress safety enough. You can say he should have known better, but there is a responsibility for the school’s distributor to make sure he does know better.

The unfortunate side-effect is that the event creates a negative image of gases as being unsafe. How many parents do you think will be happy and willing to let Stille demonstrate to children now? The best case scenario, at this point, is that Stille takes the mishap and uses it to teach others about safety.

It’s easy to preach safety, but it’s more important to practice it. Just because there are no accidents, it’s no excuse to become lax about safety. When many work hard to educate about the usefulness of gases and welding, it’s a shame for an incident like this to undo all of that work.

Airships: More than just hot air?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

U.S. Army AirshipWhen you think of the future of flight, you probably think fast. But lately I’ve been noticing a trend in the opposite direction. It seems aircraft companies are thinking slow. The good news is they are turning to gases such as hydrogen and helium to make this happen.

The U.S. Army and Boeing both recently announced projects for aircrafts capable of hovering at a standstill for use with surveillance and communications. The Army paid half a billion dollars for the development of helium airships to hover unseen, miles above hostile area. From there, the unmanned vehicle can relay information to the military.

It could just be that air travel is cyclical, but airships appear to be making a comeback. However, these airships are definitely not for anyone who is in a hurry. An airship built by E-Green Technologies tops out at 80 mph (Watch the inflation of the airship). Their airship, at least, can support a 2,000 lb payload, but that only adds up to little more than a handful of people with small luggage.

Apart from a military contract here or there, is there really a future in airships? Sight-seeing might be a novel application. I imagine they might find their way into the Super Bowl and other sporting events—the surveillance capabilities can provide some good replay angles. The concept of a virtual floating billboard, at low altitudes, could be attractive to advertisers (Think souped-up Goodyear Blimp that can float for 4 days without landing). Among other “practical applications” listed on the E-Green Technologies website are “forest fire monitoring” and “agriculture assessments.” Is there anything I’m missing?

There are a few applications, but it’s still hard to see this catching on. Transportation is probably not a large market for airships. These days, people want to get around faster, not slower. But then again, half a billion dollars from the military will work wonders for the advancement of technology. It’s kind of like a slower, lower altitude space race. Although it would be fun to ride in an airship, do you think it’s worth the hefty investment?