30 November 2007

Trouble In Engineering

Joe checked my work yesterday, verified that he'd forgotten a hole, congratulated me on my jury-rigged solution to the problem, and pointed out a few extra things that I needed to do. He does that a lot... explains the basics, sends me on my way, and then comes back later with more information that would have come in handy before I started the order. He's an engineer. It's what he does.

As an engineer, he also has a habit of only seeing what's on the computer screen, and not what really happens in the shop. The big adapter plates I did last week were pasted, cooked, and then machined true (guaranteed flat) on top. Today I started attaching the skirts to the edges. And I developed the intense urge to smack Joe in the head.

When a piece is pasted and then cooked in the vacuum furnace, the copper paste spreads over the steel and bonds with it, forming a much stronger material. It also has a tendency to settle in corners. This isn't a big deal most of the time, but the skirts are supposed to sit flush on a ledge against the edge of the piece, and with that little bead of paste there... they don't.

Attaching skirts is difficult enough to begin with, but when they don't sit flush, the job gets considerably more difficult. If the skirt and the edge aren't touching, the edge material won't fuse with the skirt material when it melts, and the skirt will fall off. There's no way to fix it after the fact except to put a really ugly tack at the bottom of the skirt.

This batch of plates has a lot of those ugly little tacks. Ugh.

I'm going to keep repeating, "I will not hit Joe, and the plates will be fine," over and over again until I brainwash myself into believing it.

28 November 2007


I spent all day yesterday working on smaller MiniSegment™ adapter plates. I really hope I did them correctly... I was a little confused about part of the job, but Joe wasn't there, so I couldn't get an informed answer. I consulted with Melvin, Paul, and Jason (nicknamed "Paul Jr."), and eventually came up with something that worked, but I'm still a little confused.

Adapter plates (along with a bunch of other things we make) are layers of .187" stainless steel sandwiched together. The plates I made yesterday had four layers. Usually when there's something with layers, there are at least two holes for spring pins in all of the layers. The pins align the layers and keep them from moving while the part is being welded.

Three of the four layers in yesterday's plates had a pinhole. One pinhole. That was kind of a problem, but even worse was that the top layer didn't have a pinhole at all. All of the layers had bolt holes, but the holes were too big for the bolts that should have fit in them. So I scrounged. I discovered some hole-plugs (which Jason later told me had been made for previous MiniSegment™ versions) that fit snugly enough to keep everything aligned while I made a few crucial tacks.

I just hope I didn't screw anything up. Joe is the only person who completely understands a lot of the jobs that come out to the shop, so he's the only one whose answers I trust. Hopefully he'll be around this morning to make sure I haven't made a mistake.

21 November 2007

He's Mocking You

Yesterday, one of our nearly-finished pieces did something our nearly-finished pieces aren't supposed to do: it cracked. I don't mean the little cracks that Mike used to have me fix... I mean a four-inch section of a weld split open. Joe brought it to me for repairs, and I did the best I could. I sanded out as much of the broken weld as I could, and spent about ten minutes re-welding and re-sanding and re-re-welding, trying to patch the crack without using filler wire. The finished product was nowhere near as good as I wanted it to be, but Joe said it would be fine, and I trust him.

One of the reasons why I like Joe is that, even when he's in a bad mood and everything is going wrong, he's always good for a laugh. One of the key elements of this repair job was using our hydraulic drill press to clamp the piece really, really tightly. Pull down on the lever, pressure is applied, repeat until something snaps (the part, the operator's shoulder, whatever). Joe commented that the repaired piece felt more flush than it had earlier, and I replied, "it better... I used every single one of my 130 pounds on that lever." His response, "I used to be a skinny little thing... but then you get married, you have kids, you lose the will to live... things change."

His son is going to be just like him. He told me that he was reading the kid a story the other night, and out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the kid was playing with a stuffed animal, making its head move as if it were talking. After a while he stopped and asked the kid what was up with the animal, and the kid said, "he's mocking you, Daddy."

My boss is being mocked by his 7-year-old's toys. Should I be worried?

20 November 2007

Skirt The Issue

I've been really depressed for the last few days. Every time I start writing a post, I get a paragraph in and realize that I'm just complaining about being depressed. So here's an attempt at actual content.

I finished the last of the adapter plates yesterday, thank the gods. Two-and-a-half more inlet rings, and then these MiniSegment™ jobs will go off to be cooked and ground. After that I'll have to attach the skirts, which is one of my least favorite tasks.

Remember back when we had dot-matrix printers, and the paper had those strips on the sides with the holes for the feed wheels? I used to love creasing the perforations and gently ripping those strips off. Skirts for adapter plates and backs look a lot like those strips (only, y'know, 1/16"-thick stainless steel, and with 1/8" holes every 2 or 3 inches). The skirt gets clamped to the part, and the material of the part gets melted with the material of the skirt at every hole. As I've said before, this is not my favorite task. In fact, I'm quite bad at it. I just have to hope I don't screw up any of these pieces. These are two $15K orders for the same client... together worth more than my annual net income.

But I still love my job. ;-)

Last week, Christophe told me that three of our smallest conicals would begin production this week. I really hope I get parts today, because it looks like the next job available after I finish the inlet rings might be another one of those jobs of which I'm not particularly fond: backs. I think being the Special Projects welder has spoiled me... I have no love for anything but my conicals now.

We'll see what the laser spits out for me today.

16 November 2007

Temporal Drift

There are two identical MiniSegment™ jobs that I've been working on. The orders were placed on October 6th. I got the parts at the end of the day on November 12th. The promised ship date is... today, November 16th.

I just about fell over laughing when I saw that. This is a time-consuming order... there are a ton of little welds, and everything has to be clamped before it's welded, which means repositioning the clamp every few welds... it's easy, but it takes forever. I keep wanting to bitch at the suits for making such optimistic promises about ship dates, but I doubt that would go over well.

I might finish my part of the job tonight, but it'll take another two days or so for the rest of it (grinding, brazing, drilling, etc.) to be finished. It might ship by Thanksgiving.

23rd, 16th... it's all the same, right?

13 November 2007


My rotor finally came back from machining yesterday (looking shiny and beautiful), and today it's packed up with its stator, ready to be shipped to Finland. Because of that destination, my guess is that it's a sample for our parent company's Helsinki office to measure and test to make sure it's not going to catastrophically fail the way one of the earlier models did. I hope it passes the test.

I'm working on MiniSegment™ adapter plates this week. The third-circle that's pulled away from the rest of the piece in that picture is what I'm assembling: four layers of 0.187"-thick steel, clamped, pinned, and tack-welded together. The welding is done in stepped cutouts on the back of the plate. It's tedious and tough on the arms because the big C-clamp needed to hold everything together has to be moved every two or three welds to be sure the area being welded is completely flush. It takes me about two-and-a-half hours to weld a complete circle.

I'm exhausted, so I'm skipping school and going to bed. Night, folks.

08 November 2007

Les Cochons

"Must be niiiiiice," comes the sarcastic whine from any of my four most annoying coworkers. I tense up, then force myself to take a deep breath and relax, because getting angry at these narrow-minded, self-important idiots won't help anything. I just try to tune them out and focus on my work.

That whine marks the end of just about any statement they make about how easy the supervisors/bosses have it, sitting in soft chairs in quiet offices or cubicles. According to the guys, everyone in the office sits around doing nothing all day. Parts are designed, programmed, and sold by magic. Supplies just appear on their own. Our paychecks... well, we had some trouble with them today, so I'll just skip that bit.

The guys don't think about these things. They think they're the only ones who work, that they deserve far more respect than they get, and that anyone who isn't one of them is a jerk. They have no idea what goes on in the offices, and they don't bother thinking about it because they've already decided that anyone whose hands are still clean at the end of the day can't have done any real work.

I really want to smack these guys sometimes.

Okay, most of the time.

Maybe always.


06 November 2007

Bits and Pieces

I called in dead on Monday and enjoyed having the house to myself in spite of feeling like crap. Today I came in and found my spacers waiting for me, so I spent a little over six hours spacing the stator barsets. About two hours into that task, Joe brought me the parts for the stator fixtures. I spent the last hour or two of the day assembling those, and started tapping (cutting internal threads in) the holes. The rest of the tapping will take at least an hour tomorrow, maybe longer, since it's done by hand, not with a drill. If I'm lucky, I'll get backing plates tomorrow so I can start welding the stator barsets.

Christophe the cute Canadian engineer visited today. (Seems like there's eye candy all over the shop lately.) He was excited to see rings and a shell built... until I told him that they were for a smaller model and had been back-burnered for a while. We talked about what I still needed, and then about English. He understands that I'm trying to help make things easier for everyone by improving his (and Luc's) command of the language. I forgot to ask him about the ring assembly for the smaller model... some rings need more holes, some need fewer, and he really needs to assemble a ring by himself to see what a pain in the butt his design is.

Off to school. Ugh.

02 November 2007

Double Time

I know I shouldn't be, but I'm always amazed at how much faster tasks go when I have help doing them. The barset-building I was expecting to spend a day or two on by myself was done in five hours because I had Marcel working with me. I did the inlets by myself (because it's all welding, and Marcel doesn't weld), but that only took about two minutes per barset. That meant that I had some time to kill at the end of the day, so I asked Melvin what he needed help with.

I assembled inlets for our flat plates (completely different from the conical ones) and discovered that I enjoy everything about that task aside from FUSING THE &^%$#@! HOLES CLOSED!

The holes are 1/8" deep and 1/8" in diameter. They have to be fused in such a way that the backing material at the bottom of the hole melts into to the material from the piece with the hole. The tungsten electrodes we use are 3/32" in diameter. If the tungsten hits the metal or the weld pool, it becomes contaminated, shoots off sparks, gets a glob of metal on it, and lets the arc wander.

There are twelve holes per inlet. I did eight inlets. My hands shake. Guess how many electrodes I went through.


I wrote (with soapstone, which erases just like chalk) my wish list on the table before I left: rotor rings, rotor shell, stator rings, stator shell, stator spacers, and stator fixtures. Joe tells me I'll have the spacers late tomorrow, but I don't know about anything else. This conical set has a promised ship date of November 22nd.

Yeah. Right. Maybe if I get all of my parts tomorrow and teach Marcel how to weld... heh.

01 November 2007

Damn It, Jim, I'm A Welder, Not A Dictionary!

I got Marcel again today! He arrived just as I was prepping a new backing plate and fixture, so I was able to show him the efficient way to stack a barset from start to finish. He saw what changes he needed to make, and in no time he was stacking barsets exactly as quickly as I could weld them. Six hours of that, and we'd finished all but three barsets. I stayed for three hours after quitting time to finish those three sets (under an hour) and do the tacking and grinding that needed to be done on all 38 barsets.

Tomorrow I'll either be attaching inlets (wedge-like things that add to the parallelogram-shaped barsets to make them rectangular) to the sets I finished today or building sets for the stator. We're still waiting on both shells (there are "materials issues," says Joe) and spacers for the stator, but the spacers should only take a day or two, which is how long it'll probably take for me to build the barsets. We don't have parts for the stator fixtures, nor the backing plates to go in the fixtures, but those shouldn't take very long once Joe programs them into the laser.

Luc stopped by my table this morning for a translation. I tentatively confirmed his educated guess, but I wanted to be sure, so I told him to wait while I ran to my locker and brought out my French-English dictionary (mon dico). He looked a little surprised that I had it with me, but he also seemed very happy that he could have a more solid answer than my "uhh... je crois que oui."

I think I'm getting him a dico as an early Christmas present.