Posted by Alex Ivaschenko on 19th May 2013
It goes something like this. A request for quotation comes via our automated email. It gets forwarded to an engineer and our purchasing agent. Before the purchasing agent can quote, the engineer has to design the sight glass. Time goes by. Effort is spent by the engineer to actually design to the specification and forward the manufacturing drawings to the purchasing agent who forwards them to the appropriate metal shop or sapphire vendor or quartz vendor. More time goes by. Only the most persistent customers stick around to wait for our quote. At the end of all of this we send the customer our beautiful drawings, and a reasonable quote. Most times we never hear back until weeks, sometimes months later. When we do hear back, it’s usually a purchase order on the project we have already forgotten about. Luckily we have created a mini ERP system (enterprise resource planning) where all that work we did a few months ago gets filed and can be easily retrieved to process the order. The best part of this process, is that all the custom engineering work has been done back then. All we do at this point is send the customer an invoice and start the fabrication. This is where the business of being in business happens. We’ve done our time engineering and manufacturing all kinds of machinery for all kinds of industries, around the world. Engineering, Design and Manufacturing are the fun and easy operations of our business. It’s getting to understand the Customer’s needs and more importantly, learning the level of their own understanding of what they are asking for that is the hard part of the business.
We see a trend here. Our customers are looking for a sight glass that fits their application. Typically, it’s an NPT sight glass, or an ASME sight window, or a totally non-standard geometry of mounting the housing into their higher-level assembly. Either way, the sight glass is using either a threaded housing, or flanged – bolt on housing. The sizes vary. The optical clarity, pressure & temperature ratings remain almost the same. It’s almost always a “sight glass with perfect optical clarity; holding 200+ bar of pressure, and operating at 350+ degrees Celsius”. A sight glass with these performance figures is considered a high pressure sight glass by some, or a high temperature sight glass by others, depending on who is asking for a quote. We would like to think of it as a crazy application sight glass where it has to be perfectly transparent, yet holds the pressure while the materials are about to melt. This is an exaggeration of the requirements; it’s just to make a point of the design challenges. And it would be a market winner to actually develop a product like this.
There is a lot of thought going into developing a product. Over time we’ve given a lot of that to such a product. Let’s see, we see a lot of requests, very similar requirements each time, it takes precious “time to market” to customize the design per the specification, it’s always more expensive than a similar stock product and it’s going to take 4- 6 weeks to make. What are the chances the customer will stay to see it through? Well, it’s 3 to 4 out of 10. So here is an insane thought, how about increase the odds by developing the “nearly crazy” product that almost always fits the custom spec? While at this, perhaps the number of requests will also increase and these requests turn into “buy it now” customers. Such a product being in stock, already developed in a number of sizes, say from 1/2″ to 2″ NPT sight glass, and 2″ to 6″ ASME flange options would help our would be customers speed up their projects. How many more developments would be moved along by this approach? Sight glass is a product used in making energy, discovery of new medicines, production of food, semiconductors. Who knows what else, but it is for certain that a sight glass is an important component in technological progress. It seems we owe it to our customers to develop a sight glass that can be a high pressure, high temperature performer. And if it’s not for technological progress, how else are we going to continue ourselves in the world of whatever problems we are trying to solve?