Thursday, May 3, 2012

California - part 1 - The Work

I recently had a work trip to Bakersfield California.  It's a nice enough area.  In Bakersfield pocket communities are all over and they have decent highways to get everywhere.

A customer has a new plant starting up and I was there to help my company's equipment tie in and run perfectly.  Nothing like this remotely happened but it was still worth a shot.  3 levels of things went wrong from 3 different areas. 

Failure #1 was that we had an assembly problem (Assembly, read the drawing) and put two pulleys on backwards in Ellwood City.  I was burned by this for 2 months at the last startup so I managed to check and find it in 10 minutes.  The work pace is slower in CA but it managed to get done and things looked good to go.

Failure #2 was that we (Engineering, know your application) had v-belts delivering the motor power to the turning straightener.  I'm sure that isn't understood by most of my readers but that was the plan.  Well this machine needed to deliver a high amount of torque at a low running speed.  That is something v-belts aren't particularly good at.  It ran fine at our shop and through programming but at testing material being produced the belts slipped.  In the machine world this is technically known as "not having enough ass".  It took me some scrambling and working with a local supplier who is trying to get in the door but we got some parts, at a hefty price, delivered the next day.

Failure #3 was the motherload.  We implemented a customer design and it had some parts that ran very close to each other - 0.003" (which is about the thickness of a hair).  It was fine until some material was being worked and this clearance disappeared.  When moving metal hits non-moving metal it doesn't last long.  Friction, heat, and it seizes/welds itself into place.  We identified the problem in about 10 minutes, but it'll take a good 2 weeks to fix everything and get it back into running condition.

All of this took a 3 day trip and stretched it into a 6 day trip.  A long 6 day trip.  It wasn't hard work; I actually enjoyed much of it.  The people were great to meet and work with.  The town was good.  The hard part was being 6 days away from family and friends.  Being away from home.

There was nothing "freeing" in the trip.  I tried disc golf and one course could fit inside my garage and the other was like navigating the labyrinth and a creepy David Bowie-ish figure was even there.  I quit after 3 holes.  I watched some TV, ate at a few restaurants, read, and wrote a few things.  I have a new understanding for those who have to travel alone often for work.  Road life can be the pits, or at least full of potholes.

"For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure.  It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.  The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to." GK Chesterton

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