By Ian Peggs
When I knew that Lyn and I were going to EuroGeo4 in Edinburgh (September 2008), we decided to take advantage of the cheap European airfares to spend a few vacation (What a concept!) days in Prague.
Having already proctored an IAGI welder certification course for Permathene in New Zealand during a business trip Down Under, I asked Laurie Honnigford if there was any company in Eastern Europe that might want to run a CWT certification course. Iridex, in Bucharest, Romania, she said immediately.
So we made arrangements with Valentin Feodorov, president of both his company, Iridex, and of the Romanian chapter of the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS). We extended our award ticket to Bucharest at a saving of 5,000 miles (How does this work!?), so planned to spend three days in Romania.
We arrived at the Bucharest airport early on a Friday afternoon and were driven directly to the technical college where the multiple-choice written test and hands-on welding tests on high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) were to be held.
I was safely guarding the written test books. The intent was to go straight into the written test. Of course, the written test was in English and most of the welders (nine in all) did not speak or read English! Needless to say, the Spanish version of the test was no help either.
We thought of translating each question in turn and presenting it verbally in Romanian, then allowing sufficient time so every question would have equal time, but that would not allow backtracking or reviewing previous questions and answers. Another option was to translate three or four questions at a time and to project them on a screen.
In the end, there was only one answer: Since full translation would have to be done anyway, we would make a completely printed translation of the test. This took about four hours, during which time all nine participants waited nervously for the test! We started quite late. There were just a few explanations of the translation required. Most of the guys finished before the two-hour time limit; only a couple stayed to the bitter end. Fortunately, we still had time for a late dinner with Valentin’s family.
The driving in Bucharest was interesting, to say the least—either very wide boulevards or narrow old streets; the surroundings of a modern city anywhere in the world but still a distinct aura of Ceausescu’s influence.
The youngsters in Valentin’s family appreciated their free education but were happy to have their own choice of job and the ability to live well without it being taken away. We also heard some fascinating stories from Valentin about leaving to work internationally, making good money, and the difficulties of bringing it back to start his own business at home when Ceausescu had gone. Obviously, it has all paid off, since Iridex is one of the largest and most forward-thinking construction companies in the country.
On Saturday morning, after all of the equipment was gathered, we were ready to start the hands-on tests at 09:30 hr. We had two fusion and two extrusion welders, but there was only sufficient power in the rented college workshop to have two running at any time!
The order of testing was pulled out of a hat. Each welder had to double-wedge weld: (1) 1mm smooth HDPE to 1mm smooth HDPE; (2) two different thicknesses of HDPE—one smooth, one 1.5mm textured; and (3) 1mm smooth LLDPE to 1mm smooth LLDPE, starting from scratch—clean wedges, adjust gaps, set nip roll pressure, and set temperatures and speeds.
They also had to extrusion weld 1mm smooth LLDPE to 1mm smooth LLDPE and 1mm smooth HDPE to 1mm smooth HDPE. They had three chances on 3m-long strips to make a satisfactory weld from which central samples were cut for peel and shear testing at TRI in Austin, Texas. Each candidate could send only one sample of each type of weld for testing.
Equipment would seemingly work for some people but not for others, but the more experienced welders seemed to have no problems at all. It got very hot and sweaty! Cristina, Valentin’s daughter, had put them all through a dry run of the welding and testing before the actual test, but nerves were still evident. No discussion or help was allowed. Each person did his own “QC” shear and peel testing to assess the quality of the welding,
One of the first welders used all of his allowed material before he was satisfied, putting a large dent in the available time. Extrusion-weld quality varied significantly from constant and smooth to quite rough, depending on the welder’s experience. It averaged about three hours for each person to do all require welding. When machines malfunctioned, the operator made his own repairs or moved to the unused machine. Cutout samples were labeled by the welder and were separately bagged for shipping to TRI. We finished at 23:30 hr. We had dinner in the car park at a McDonalds!
Cristina’s comments: We had one month to prepare for the exam (the theoretical and the practical parts). During this time, we composed more than 500 possible questions and we ran a couple of tests, the last one a simulation of the actual event! We created the normal Romanian exam conditions. All of the participants passed this test! Ciprian Ciobanu, the leader of the Iridex geosynthetics installer team, prepared them for the practical part. He was changing the equipment settings all the time to make sure that each person was capable of setting the machines correctly. We did our best to pass the IAGI examination! We knew that we would become the first company in Europe welders to receive IAGI certification, so we welcomed the challenge!
On Monday morning I gave a lecture, translated by Mircea Pascaru and Cristina Feodorov, on “Geomembranes: Successes and Failures” to about 55 people at the Technical University of Bucharest. Some of the guests came from the Romanian Environmental Ministry. They were very interested in how installations of geomembranes are done and how they must be checked. Waste management systems are an important topic in Romania right now.
In the afternoon, we first went to an international courier company to send the sealed packages containing the samples and the examination papers to TRI. Then we visited the Hall of the People, really Ceausescu’s palace, looking out over the Avenue of the People that was modeled on the Champs Elysées, but it is1m longer and 1m wider! The gall of the man and his separation from the people were unbelievable
On Tuesday morning, we were delivered back to the Bucharest airport for our flights home via Paris and Atlanta.
All but one person became certified welding technicians after the welds were tested by TRI, where they had to meet the GRI.GM-19 specifications for seam shear strength/elongation and peel strength/separation. Congratulations to Ciprian Ciobanu, Viorel Cotrau, Radu Dinu Cezar, Florin Vlaicu, Cristian Gheorghe, Stan Sterea, Valerica Martin, and Constantin Popescu for successfully becoming IAGI Certified Welding Technicians!
And many thanks to the Feodorovs and to Mircea Pascaru for their excellent hospitality.