About being best or super-best

Dr Jacob Klimstra

Managing Editor

When three people stand on the podium to receive an Olympic plaque or to be honoured for a World Championship, I often think it is not fair that only one gets gold, and the others silver and bronze. For me, all three are super achievers. The difference between the top athlete and the second- and third-place winners is often miniscule, and generally depends on just a bit of good luck.

In many cases there is even evidence that a silver winner is very unhappy, since just a fraction more effort would have yielded the golden plaque. Having been so close to the absolute championship can cause frustration for an extended period of time. A bronze winner, however, is often grateful for having reached the podium, and leaving the bulk of the contestants behind is already felt as a great achievement. Okay, bronze is not gold, but there is still the silver winner in between.

Next time when you watch the celebration of a championship, you can verify this story just by looking at the faces of the winners. But apart from the psychology, I like to stress that in sports nowadays, the difference in performance between winners and losers is very small. The ultimately achievable results are asymptotically approaching the theoretical limit.

I was thinking about sports championships a few times at POWER-GEN Asia in Bangkok in early September. On the power generation technology track, we had a session on gas turbines and one on reciprocating engines. In each session, four competing original equipment manufacturers highlighted the energy economy of their equipment. These eight presenters showed close to the same fuel efficiency. This means that they all follow the latest technology and apply state-of-the-art developments. Combined cycles based on gas turbines approach the 61% fuel efficiency level, while reciprocating engines appear to reach an amazing 50% efficiency level in simple cycle mode.

Listening to almost the same story from each presenter was a little weird. Some speakers had even borrowed pictures from their competitors to show the benefits of their products. In a restaurant, you don’t repeat the order to the waiter if you’d like to have the same menu as your table mate; you just say, “I’ll have the same, please”. In the case of the conference, the second, third and fourth speakers could have said: “We offer you the same fuel efficiency as the first speaker”. Next to that, showing only general performance slides during a presentation can be boring. Such presentations closely approach a sales pitch, which is officially forbidden at conferences.

To be a real champion who beats the rest, you also have to show the durability and repeatability of your products. Having a fraction higher or lower efficiency is not so important in practice. Unexpected downtime and repair costs caused by growing pains, inadequate designs or poor spare-part management are the real issues that can be detrimental to a real-life application.

That’s why I would like to see many more papers presenting actual operational results. Papers and presentations giving evidence of good performance and proven lifetime profits are much more relevant than just showing a data sheet. A few days ago, I witnessed a presentation where a manufacturer promised to extend the intervals between maintenance actions by a factor of four and a doubling of the life of crucial components. These are the things that potential customers like to hear, preferably with real-life evidence based on user experience.

I would like to invite our readers to send us articles on such subjects. They would be very welcome in this magazine.

PS: Visit www.cospp.com to see regular news updates, the current issue of the magazine in full, and an archive of articles from previous issues. It’s the same website address to sign-up for our weekly e-newsletter too.

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