Copyright: 1996 - 2024
BSEE - KB3UON
RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling
2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed
formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit
design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at
the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps
while typing up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got
Mail" when a new message arrived...
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and text used on the RF Cafe website are hereby acknowledged.
My Hobby Website:
MSI - A Trip Back
In the days of yore, many, if not most,
of the large aerospace/defense companies operated campus-style groups of buildings
that occupied huge amounts of real estate. Under those collective roofs, virtually
every form of trade and profession was practiced. Accountants, engineers, scientists,
electricians, librarians, nurses and maybe even a doctor, managers, plumbers, writers,
cooks, carpenters, gardeners, assembly line workers, HVAC technicians, and machinists,
to name just a few, carried out their duties. Each group had its own facilities
spread around the campus, and together, entire systems were conceived of, designed,
built, tested and shipped. Those places were cities unto themselves.
you would be forgiven for thinking the previous text was a lead-in to lamentation
of the virtually total disappearance of such conglomerations due to the devolution
of the defense industrial complexes in the country, but it is not. That is not to
say the situation is not deserving of a good lamentation. I will save that for a
later time. Instead it is a segue into waxing nostalgic over the times when you
could cruise through the various areas of the facility and get a first-hand look
at all the incredibly skilled operations that went into creating the wonderful systems
that were produced under those roofs. In particular, I speak of the machine shops.
Although I ultimately chose electronics for a lifelong profession, going the
mechanical engineering route would have been equally satisfying since I have always
had a great appreciation for complex machined assemblies. Watching the CNC machines
in the shop at the Westinghouse Oceanic Division (Annapolis, MD) turn out perfectly
smooth, parabolic aluminum molds for casting polyurethane nose caps for the MK series
torpedoes was mesmerizing. The way the lathes turned out perfectly cut threads on
discs a foot or more in diameter had to be seen to be fully appreciated. Sheet metal
assemblies were fully cut and punched first and then bent into final form with all
the edges and holes falling into perfect alignment. It is truly an art form as well
as a trade. If not for being a safety hazard, I might have expected the guys there
to wear ponytails and sandals with tie-dyed shirts (come to think of it, some did
– except the sandals).
Anyway, my point is that last week I had the opportunity
to relive those times while spending about an hour touring the machine shop at
Machine Specialties, Incorporated
(MSI), where my, daughter,
Sally, works as a Logistics Specialist. MSI employs about 35 machinists who
make some of the most impressive mechanical parts that I have seen in a long time.
Their building is outfitted with mostly automated equipment that is computer-driven,
but that does not diminish the necessary skills of the people who operate it. In
fact, according to the shop supervisor, finding guys with the requisite skills is
getting increasingly difficult. Machinists as far way as Florida have been recruited
to fill the positions there.
One notable difference in the shop at MSI from
the ones I remember is that just about every machine features an actual work area
that is fully enclosed so that no moving parts are exposed during the machining
operations. Even interchangeable tooling is done under computer control from within
the enclosure. Surely this is a result of the huge effort to reduce the number of
often gruesome accidents that used to occur way too often years ago. I remember
having to watch safety procedure films (no videos then) with testimonials from people
that had lost eyes, fingers, limbs or other body parts as a result of avoidable
actions. It is good to see that such progress has been made.
I will end my
trip down Memory Lane with the noting of one machine in particular that I had never
seen before, but that performs an amazing feat – the
Electrical Discharge Machine (EDM). Now, this is not a device
for testing the survivability of integrated circuits when exposed to high voltage
discharges (ESD/EOS). Rather, it is a machine that feeds a thin brass wire with
high voltage applied to a grounded metal part and removes metal by melting away
the unwanted material. The process is achieved without the brass adhering to the
part, and the finished surface is nearly as smooth as if it had been polished –
no scarring or pitting or evidence of facets. It has the added benefit of locally
hardening the surface. I was shown examples of complex 3-dimensional parts that
had been made, including a tiny device that looked like a part of a metering nozzle
with extremely thin slots cut through it (they could not say what it was – the old,
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you" thing).
It was nice to
get to see another part of "the big picture" again. We are so specialized anymore
that it is easy to forget the genius that goes into the rest of our products.