Tuesday, June 28, 2016
When I worked in a factory it was a shocking experience in more ways than one.
First of all I had never worked in a factory. Most of the jobs I have worked had a different atmosphere than a factory. I was not used to being totally dependent on the person before me to do a task the right way so that I could do my task the right way before I passed it on to the next person.
In my other jobs even if the person before had made a mistake (it happens) all I had to do was take a closer look and fix it. In a factory sometimes the mistake could go back several people before the problem was solved. And sometimes it was not a human problem. Parts defects might cause things to go wrong.
Second the factory I worked at actually made shocks! We built industrial shocks rather than the kind found in the suspension system of a car.
The shocks we made ranged in size from maybe ten feet long to about 3/4 of an inch long. There were all the sizes in between.
Shocks are used to cushion the sudden stops of rides at an amusement park. Or they might be used in machines doctors use to do micro-surgery. Some are used to lessen the recoil of military guns. We did all that and more.
Most of the very large shocks we made were made for amusement parks. A lot were shipped to Florida for example. And there is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States which is not too far from where our factory was. If you ever ride a "drop" ride like the Demon Drop chances are our shocks are what kept your head from exploding when you hit bottom.
We even made shocks that operated Batman's cape in the Dark Knight trilogy. A simple mechanism would cause the shocks to hold the cape open and stiff looking. Then a release would relax the cape so it draped as a cape should.
We had in-house engineers whose sole reason for being there was to invent shocks for new applications. Most never panned out but sometimes we had a new type of shock to build.
Most but not all shocks consist of an outer tube made of metal, a bladder inside to allow the flow and holding of a liquid (usually some sort of oil), a rod that is pressed and released, and ball bearings and washers. Sounds fairly basic, Doesn't it?
Each different type of shock has its own unique set of building instructions. They are stored in the computer system and should be pulled each time a particular shock is to be built. Most of the time they are built in multiples so machines and parts can be set only once.
Of course testing is necessary to detect faults. Each and every shock is water tested to make sure it is sealed properly. A leak will cause it to not work the way it should. Then the pressure of the shock with the fluid inside is tested to make sure it has the correct pressure.
If they fail someone needs to find out why. Many times the whole thing needs to be taken apart and all the components examined as well as the build.
I was still a trainee but I had been working there a while. The woman training me was a saint.
She never not once heaved a heavy sigh or rolled her eyes with disgust when I made a mistake or needed help. She was always so nice about stepping in to give me a hand.
In that department one person often built the shocks from start to finish. The runs were usually not more than 20 pieces.
She was building one kind of shock and had me working on another kind.
I was in the final testing phase. To test those shocks we put the rod against the edge of the metal build table and pushed. It should have no give.
These were pushing all the way in. I called my trainer and she tried to help me.
We tried refilling them with the oil. They failed.
We took one apart and rebuilt it. It failed.
We examined the parts. They looked to be fine.
We rebuilt again. It failed.
Finally she called our supervisor. He came over. If anybody could find the problem it was him.
He pushed on the rod and it went all the way in. He tried refilling it with oil. It failed. He took it apart and examined the parts and decreed that they were not the problem. He rebuilt the shok. It failed.
The three of us spent almost a day and a half trying to find the problem.
Then the supervisor asked about the number of washers in it. I showed him that the build instructions called for one. Except that it said two were needed. That second washer cost us a day and a half of time and product.
Who would think that a little bitty washer or a bearing makes such a difference. Each one had to be built exactly according to specifications. There is a reason for instructions.
So we took them all apart and rebuilt them with two washers. We filled them with oil. We tested them and the rods all pushed back! Success.
There is one thing to remember... if the shocks do not work properly Batman could fall and break his neck!