Flow Everywhere

Executive Editor Jim Montague Talks About Unusual Flow Applications. Flow Configuration and Conditioning Are Not Only Necessary in Machines, but Also in the Human Body

By Jim Montague

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Shortly after taking over this column, I wrote in "Blood and Guts" that the human circulatory, respiratory, alimentary, reproductive and other systems exhibit many of the same temperature, pressure and flow characteristics as oil and gas, chemical, pulp and paper, food and beverage and other process applications. How clever. But, as usual, I didn't know the half of it.

While gathering examples of unusual flow applications for this issue's "Flow Charts New Waters" I began seeing flow applications everywhere. There were the obvious ones, such as more sophisticated, reliable and affordable Coriolis flowmeters popping up on filling machines, or vortex flowmeters in oxygenation controls in steelmaking mini-mills. Fine, but when they started talking flow configuration and conditioning to prevent material build-up and potential blockages, it was just a little too close to for comfort.

My photo only shows my dashing good looks, but I've been getting old, and I must say I don't recommend it. It began with the usual stiff joints and the inability to walk more than a couple miles without getting winded, but then an intermittent series of delightful kidney stones really gave me religion. I know they can occur at younger ages, but there's nothing like a debilitating blockage to remind us that we're full of tubes and passages with fluids trying to travel somewhere. It's like all the interstate and local highways, every crowded airport and Grand Central Station during the holidays rolled up with our entire telecommunications network on Mother's Day. I also had an endoscopy/colonoscopy a few weeks back, so I have the postcards to prove it.    

So how did all these tubes come about? Well, an enlightening, longtime exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History here in Chicago shows that as single-celled organisms began to reproduce, evolve and join collectively in ancient oceans, they eventually had to fold over, and form a tube to process nutrients efficiently. This alimentary passage led to early organisms like the hydra, flatworms and directly to us and my whining. I'm willing to bet that we developed our hearts and their rhythms to mimic to sea waves that used to bring nourishment to our communities of cells.

In fact, those pulses still maintain the awareness we need to exchange ideas here, and carry our all our other tasks and obligations. It's funny that our well-known stream of consciousness turns out to be literal. At the same time, I know this column sometimes takes more blood flow than others to get through, so thanks for sticking with me.

Of course, flow isn't just an internal highway. Biology may rule us, but we evolve on a watery planet that's spinning all the time—basically a big, inside-out blender. Just a thin layer of water on the outside, oh, and a few thousand of miles of gelatinous and convecting molten rock also flowing on the inside. It's like a big, flaming Jell-O shot with some condensation on the glass. With all the activity on the surface, it's no stretch to assume that our watercolors and all else will run into each other often.  

What's the point of all this? It's participation, optimization, minimizing painful collisions and maximizing useful, pleasurable ones. You know, just like any well-tuned, well-balanced, optimized process application—whether it our bodies, process applications or planetary systems. My hope is that being familiar with one  aspect of flow might help us be more sympathetic to learning about and helping the others.

So let's put down our maple-favored donuts topped with bacon bits, go for a walk and get that blood flowing where it needs to go. Also, push for renovating aging process applications and facilities that need it and be open to useful upgrades and potentially helpful innovations. And learn to use energy resources more sparingly, acknowledge and make some headway on global warming and give our fellow planetary flow system a break. What do you say?

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