Biggest BVAA Conference Yet!

BVAA’s recent Spring Conference was the biggest in our modern era and anecdotally regarded as one of our best yet.  Here our CEO, Rob Bartlett – who’s organised many a BVAA conference over the years – reflects on the aspects of this year’s event that he thinks made it stand out. 

The Challenge

‘I think one of the first things I should say is that it has become increasingly difficult to design a BVAA Conference programme in the first place,’ said Rob.

He continued, ‘Since widening our scope and becoming “BVAA” we’ve encompassed a wide range of different company types – manufacturer, distributor, supplier etc. – but along with that also the people who engage with BVAA vary enormously in their job function.  Everything from business owner, marketing guru or technical, the audience is extremely diverse, as are their various outlooks and interests.  Finding something topical that appeals to them all therefore, is especially challenging.  Eight such papers is nigh on impossible!  That said, I think we pulled it off magnificently!’ 

‘Added to this is the need to achieve widespread exposure for our sponsors, who help so much towards the event’s costs.  Also to give our exhibition stand holders a real opportunity to attract and constructively engage with members.  And finally to facilitate our renowned personal introductions in the networking breaks.  Less formal networking continues into our very convivial dinner and evening’s entertainment, and of course one-third of our guests do stay on to enjoy the annual golf day afterwards. 

The Programme

‘We knew that the green agenda is something of importance to us all.’ said Rob.  ‘Therefore, what better than to kick-off with Andrew Fraser, Chairman of the IMechE’s Automotive Division, on the subject of sustainable travel.  There’s so much conflicting information out there, and Andrew succinctly brought everything down to straightforward, provable, engineering-based facts.  “Green at the point of use” could certainly be a much more accurate description of some travel modes.  I know I and many others were surprised to learn that our EV’s battery weight is equivalent to an old-style mini, and during their manufacture, EVs have already generated in twice the carbon of a traditional motor.  Also, there were some staggering facts about the true polluters, such as wood burning stoves.  It was all thought-provoking stuff, and demonstrated that despite all the progress, as a planet we’ve an awful lot of work still to do.  It also set up a reverberating theme of the importance of facts, carbon-cost and efficiency throughout the day’

Following on, Nigel Cliffe of Value Exchange gave the industry a valuable lesson in the use of LinkedIn, which could become your ‘beacon of opportunity.’  Rob comments,Whether you are an early adopter of LinkedIn like me, or perhaps a recent convert, or an ardent user as opposed to an occasional dipper (also me), there could have been few of us present who didn’t have a profile on the platform.  Nigel’s presentation gave heaps of information on the potent potential of this constant-contact companion, as well as issuing the occasional gentle wragging about our own apparently sub-optimal profiles.’

Making a welcome return to the BVAA again this year was David Watson, Head of Energy Transition at Cadent Gas.   Rob notes, ‘An awful lot has happened in the hydrogen space since we all last met with David at Formby Hall, not all of it, such as delays, reported positively.  I felt it was time to get an update on what was really happening in the market, and where it looked to be going.  David skilfully introduced the many positive developments, the large projects actually live and under way etc., and most vitally, where as an industry expert he saw it going in the next 5 years.  For example, all future energy scenarios include Hydrogen in the mix.  I thought it really did underline the need to re-visit some topics, and to lift the lid on all the hype to see the reality.’

After lunch, BVAA welcomed Ian Tough, Market Development Manager at Bodycote, who gave us an update on Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP).  Rob comments, ‘I’m so glad we reprised this topic, which we first covered in 2013.  Bodycote had amassed decades of experience with this technique, have 40 different vessels of various sizes at multiple locations, amounting to arguably the largest HIP equipment network in the world.  Importantly for us, Bodycote were active within the specialist valve market, so we were hearing from one of our own about our products.  It was great to get a walk through the HIP process and to see actual examples of how it is used in the Valve industry, both as a densification service to eliminate porosity (HIP Service) and to fabricate complete components from powder metallurgy with exceptional quality (PM-HIP).  Lots of interest was expressed in the bi-metallic parts capability.  On a personal level, having just been under the knife, it was also interesting to see some ‘hipped’ replacement knee components!’

Up next was Richard Baars, Business Development Lead, Ventil.  Rob comments, ‘As if to emphasise the wisdom in keeping a close eye on evolving technical developments, last year BVAA invited an expert over from Texas to tell us about the problems involved in using Hydrogen as a test gas for fugitive emissions, and to extol the virtues of using Argon gas instead.  Richard came this year from our near-neighbours The Netherlands, to appraise us of an 18-month long project Ventil had been working on with a major oil company using the alternative “forming gas” (95%N, 5%H2).  Not flammable, stable, much cheaper and readily available, and supported by test data, it seems its inclusion will soon be proposed as an amendment to international FE testing standards.’

BVAA had not one, but TWO, papers on the subject of Artificial Intelligence, essentially again sifting hype from reality.  Rob notes, ‘This was in many ways the perfect paring.  Alex Roff, Engineering Director at BVAA members PDL, introduced the concept of using AI for Augmenting Engineering.  He discussed the advantages and disadvantages of including AI technologies in Engineering Design and Analysis, and how AI could be used to augment Engineers, speeding up processes and enhancing capability.’

Returning to us after a hugely appreciated stint at the November AGM was Dr Jon Stammers, Senior Theme Lead for Data, Connectivity and AI, at the AMRC.  His theme was “How Green is my AI?”  Rob comments, ‘Jon continued his exploration of all things AI for us, and this time looked into the hidden costs of capturing and storing data and how to use AI to derive insights from it.  It included a truly fascinating series of revelations about the vast amount of power - and water - some AI consumes, particularly generative pretrained transformers (the ‘GPT’ in Chat GPT).  It was staggering at times.  And forget “the cloud” being some ethereal entity – it’s physical hardware in data-centres, burning its way through these finite resources.  It wasn’t all negative – far from it – but it certainly did leave one wanting to know more about the impact it’s all having on the planet. 

Our final – and eagerly awaited – paper of the day came from the Rolls-Royce SMR team, comprising Mike Parrott, Lead Component Design Engineer: Piping and Valves, and Simon Martindale, Lead Supply Chain Manager: Piping, Valves and Pumps. 

Rob writes, ‘I was especially pleased to get this paper on the conference programme as BVAA’s Peter Dix and myself had been quietly working closely with the SMR team for some months.  At the conference, we learned that Rolls-Royce SMR were among the 6 companies selected by the UK Government to go forward to the next stage of the competition to build SMRs.  Announcements on successful winners and subsequent contracts were indeed imminent.  The SMR team gave an excellent overview of how the SMR (Boron-free) concept had evolved, the 90% factory-build approach, and the opportunities for vast numbers of valves in the project and their locations/basic specs.  What was mind-blowing was the potential for SMR sales globally, perhaps for the next 30 years.  I was delighted that BVAA will, assuming their well-advanced bid is successful, be partnered with Rolls-Royce and receive the specs and products lists when they become available.  It is also worth noting that if Rolls-Royce are a winning bidder, three orders for SMRs will be issued immediately.’ 

Conclusion

This really was a terrific Spring Conference, following our Board’s philosophy of ‘something for everyone’, and brimming with the industry’s natural conviviality and BVAA’s renowned hospitality.  If you’ve not been to a BVAA event before, why not give it a go? View our forthcoming events here: https://www.bvaa.org.uk/calendar.asp 

 THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS: KOSO Kent Introl, James Walker, Clifford Springs and GMM Pfaudler.


Published: 3rd June 2024

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