Rolling, not something just anyone can do. Except, of course, if you have a good teacher. At Smulders, the roller operators in service go by the names of Eric Broos and Raoul Maes. One of them has been doing it for a long time and Eric is more than happy to pass on his knowledge to Raoul. And he will soon be passing on the torch too, which is only right after 45 years of service. In any case, their work is laced with passion, no doubt about that.
Gentlemen, you have been on board for a long time. How did it all start?
Eric: “For me, it was in the late 70s as a machine operator. I did work for another company at some point, but I came back sooner than expected. Always in the workshop and the machine park, in between as an assembler, but never as a welder. Welding is not my thing. Today, Raoul and I are the ‘rolling team’ under the wings of our foreman Frans Goos.”
Raoul: “I have been a welder and assembler in the Arendonk workshop since the early 1990s, with a short interval outside the company. In 2020, my shoulder started to hurt and I got the chance to work on the plate roller. Besides rolling, I sometimes work at the bending machine, just like Eric. We are officially the 2 roller operators, but of course we have many other colleagues in the machine park. They are at the sawing machine, milling machine, drilling machine and more. We keep ourselves busy, that’s for sure.”
Rolling, how does it work?
Eric: “First, the sheets are sorted by a colleague - outside, in all weathers, he does a great job. Then they come in and are cut with the Microstep. This is how we get them, unblasted, at the rolling mill, where we turn them into (half) tubes.”
Raoul: “We are one link in the process. Next to the roller is the welding crane. After the rolling, our colleagues-welders get to work, and after that everything is thoroughly checked and inspected.”
Do you always know which project you are contributing to?
Eric: “Definitely, that's what makes it exciting. In the old days, there was no such thing as offshore work, so we rolled and welded for other constructions, structures and racks such as those for the automotive industry. Also bridge parts and then more and more electricity pylons and tubes for windmills. We have only had the new roller since 2019. A computer-controlled machine, much more convenient to operate. The replacement came in handy: I had to get a new hip in that period and in the meantime the old roller could be replaced. After a short training, I was on my way again.”
Raoul: “Since 2020, Eric and I have alternated at the rolling mill. I have tried to listen to him carefully and everything I learned from him I can now put into practice. And I am very grateful for that. I contributed the final phase for the Avelin Gavrelle high-voltage pylons on the new roller, and we rolled all the conical tubes for TenneT - a project of 130 pylons divided into 16 tubes.”
What are the challenges of the roller operators?
Eric: “Maybe it was during the initial phase, when we had not yet fully mastered the new roller. But in the meantime, we can handle all the work. Rolling and folding: I have always loved doing it.”
Raoul: “The biggest challenge is a tube with a thickness of 35 mm, with 3 doors in it. At such times, I want to be left alone. It’s precision work. Do not forget that the constructions we make as a company have become much heavier. The quality requirements have become stricter and we cannot afford any mistakes. Although we have no problems with the rolling. Just a side note: fully automatic rolling is not realistic for conical tubes. Every plate reacts differently, but we have that down pat.”
What will the future bring?
Eric: “For me a retirement with a lot of time to play tennis and good health, hopefully. For now, I am happy that I can still do my job. The current project will soon be finished and I wish Raoul a lot of rolling fun even after that. And to the group I would like to say: well done all of you!”
Raoul: “Eric has been the perfect teacher for me. He did the ‘specials’ in the work hall and I have that drive too. Rolling perfect tubes is satisfying, seeing them in the bigger picture at the yard even more so. In my early years, I worked on Bridge 6 in Arendonk and I still feel proud when I drive over it. I am ready for more: when my colleague retires, to orchestrate the rolling myself or perhaps to move on to another job. And Eric: I will gladly play tennis with you many more times!”
@Eric: thank you for your loyal service and enjoy your retirement!