Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, October 29, 1999  |  Number 21
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Travels [and Travails] in the Metal Trade

by Mike Perricon

If it's Tuesday, this must be...Minsk?

Dan Green tracks the daily prices of copper and Swiss francs "September was a tough month," said Dan Green, back from a grand tour that saw him on the road for 15 of the last 20 days of September, from Batavia to the Republic of Belarus to Birmingham, England and back. Green is Technical Director and Construction Project Manager for US/CMS, the collaboration working on the Compact Muon Solenoid detector for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

Another day, another country, and every stop has a story. Consider, for example, the Bulgarian brass bottleneck, which occasioned the extra trip from Minsk (in the former Soviet Union) to Birmingham to assure a sufficient supply of brass plates for the Felguera metal fabricating plant in Spain.

Felguera is producing wedgesó36 of them, at about 30 tons eachófor the barrel section of the hadron calorimeter (HCAL) of CMS. Green likened the process to a marching army which must be fed; in this case, it must be fed brass. But Felguera was looking at a cut-off of rations from its troubled Bulgarian subcontractor.

"The infrastructure in Bulgaria is not very good, and they have trouble with electrical power," Green said. "Some of the former East Bloc countries have done well, and some haven't. Bulgaria is having problems.

"We could see this coming for a few months," he continued. "There was a strike. They lost power. The brass was in a melt in the furnaces when they lost power, and it crystallized. The deliveries slowed down, and we got a call from Felguera. I thought it would be good for them to have another supplier in their back pocket, so we called around and got different budgetary quotes."

The surprise quote came from Battery Rolled Metals in Birmingham, which essentially cut its price in half from its submission in the first round of bidding ("Probably because we quoted them the Bulgarian price," Green quipped). Green flew from Minsk to Birmingham and met with Felguera representatives at the airport. The group visited BRM, and struck a deal with a fast delivery time to keep feeding the Felguera "army."

In making the deal, Green called on some newly developed skills. Like a commodities broker, he keeps a particularly sharp eye on the daily vicissitudes of copper and Swiss francs. Copper is an essential raw material for the brass plates; Swiss francs are CERN's official currency, and Green tries to connect the best copper prices with the best exchange rate into U.S. dollars.

Daily prices of Swiss francsDaily prices of copper

"I watch the Swiss franc every day, because you can swing 10 to 20 percentóand we have, over the last year," he said.

The overall price of copper has dropped sharply from a peak of a few years ago, which Green described as partially resulting from commodities manipulations. The CMS baseline budgeted copper at a conservative long-term average of $1 (US) per pound; within in the last year, the price has been as low as 65 cents per pound, though it has risen since then. The Birmingham price was established from the daily quote on the London Metals Exchange, but Green has found ready access to information on the Internet for his project planning.

"I go to `barchart.com,' enter the commodity key for high-grade copper, and I get a monthly chart of prices," he said.

By closely tracking commodities like copper, Green has been able to move up purchases and production to take advantage of low prices. With additional money augmented by borrowing from the project's future funding profile, Green has locked in good prices and gained purchasing power by keeping ahead of budgetary inflation allowances.

"We basically doubled the amount of work we had initially planned for Fiscal Year 1999," he explained. "You're borrowing from the future, but if you skew your funding profile earlier, you win on inflation if you can spend the money. We positioned ourselves to be able to spend it. We used our profile to keep the magnets, the big common project, on schedule. That helped CMS and reduced the bite that inflation takes. The upshot is that we've saved money."

Representatives of CMS and DWE display the first wheel. With the CMS project, Green has grown from career physicist to commodities broker.

"I've spent the last 30 years accumulating an ensemble of skills completely different from the requirements of project management," he said. "As John Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you're making other plans."

Three weeks in the Life of a Project Manager:

Trip 1: Sept. 10-17, 1999

Sept. 10: Depart Fermilab, arrive CERN (Geneva, Switzerland) morning of Sept. 11.

Sept. 11: Discuss purchase of APD (avalanche photo diode) by ECAL (electromagnetic calorimeter) consortium, including US.

Sept. 12: Meetings with Russian and Ukrainian groups.

í Sept. 13: Drive to Zurich for CMS Week, quarterly weeklong meetings of entire collaboration.

Sept. 14: HCAL technical meeting. Discuss funding of APD purchase.

Sept. 15: Meetings of CMS Finance Board and US/CMS Project Management. CMS plenary talks. Meeting with Russian collaborators.

Sept. 16: Fly to Deggendorf, Germany. At DWE factory, inspect first ìwheelî of CMS barrel magnet.

Sept. 17: Depart Munich for Fermilab.

Trip 2: Sept. 22, 1999

Sept. 22: Depart Chicago for Washington DC. Present FY00 requests for US/CMS incremental base program support.

Trip 3: Sept. 25-30, 1999

Sept. 25: Depart Fermilab. Arrive Minsk, Republic of Belarus, morning of Sept. 26.

Sept. 26: Meeting with State Committee on Science and Technology to stress importance of Belarus commitment.

Sept. 27: Tour ìMZORî plant and machine shops. Press conference with CERN and SCST officials. Workshop on LHC physics.

Sept. 28: Visit ìINTEGRALî semiconductor plant, largest of its kind in Eastern Europe. Depart Minsk for Birmingham, England. Airport meeting with representatives of Felguera, metal fabricating firm of Spain.

Sept. 29: Visit Battery Rolled Metals in Birmingham with Felguera representatives. Negotiate purchase of approx. 300 tons of brass plates for Felguera, replacing shortfall from original Bulgarian supplier.

Sept. 30: Depart Birmingham for Fermilab.

last modified 10/29/1999   email Fermilab