" Knowledge - was it worth such torment " ( Queensrÿche )
About me .... where do I start ? ¶
Let's start at the beginning and my earliest recollection.
It was a sunny day in Pisa, Italy and my patents with others went to see the Pope who was visiting the city and making an appearance at the nearby Holy grounds where the Tower of Pisa is located. Being it was within walking distance and I was feeling rather bored, it was an easy decision for me to grab my Kitten and go see what the fuss is all about. I was just old enough to walk and explore, yet lacked the vision to foresee what came next. Well, it did not turn out the way I planned. There were Thousands of people and the towers with television cameras were something new. I ended up getting lost and somehow managed to guide the Police to where I lived. Yes, the Police ended up taking me Home and that was just the beginning of a bad day. Apparently grown ups get worried when you're missing and being escorted home by the police, does not help.
That may have been my first experience in a quest for knowledge and exploration. Pisa was a great place to live. There were Aqueducts right next to out home and my Uncle would find Snails on them, to eat ( Gross ) We had Castles, Mountains, History as far as the eye could see, plus so much more.
Well, that did not last long. I was born in 1959 and in 1965 a new adventure began. It was a Seven (7) Day journey by Sea and I learned the finer details of sea sickness, some new scents I rather not recall, then, a new start.
New York City was overwhelming with sights, sounds, smells ... this was Paradise. So much to see, so much to explore and so many changes. Although I did not know then, I know now how much my parents had to struggle. My Father came to America first, he spoke no english and yet managed to find work, a home and prepare for my Mother and I who came later.
Everything I knew had to be learned all over again. Language, surroundings, food, friends, school, toys ... everything was new. My first Pepsi that was given to me by a Fireman at the local station was a delight. I think they still put the "good stuff" in it back then.
I was in the Second (2nd) grade in Italy, however I was placed back at the beginning here in America and it took till Fourth (4th) grade before I was bumped back up.
We moved from house to house and I became quite accustomed to changes. Friends were far and few, so I mostly entertained myself. I began to make money by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood. Back then there were no formalities or concerns over liability, so there were many opportunities. My biggest money maker was hanging out at a grocery store and helping people with their bags. I also delivered newspapers, sold cookies ...
The money I earned paid for many hobbies. I bought plastic model kits, chemistry sets and anything I could afford. One of my most interesting pass times was training a Pigeon that befriended me. Before long I had a nesting area with hatchlings. Avian flu was not known yet, nor concerns over disease. I think those all came later as Technology evolved ;-)
Catholic Grade school was hard. I got beat up a lot for being different. Nuns and Priests never saw a thing. Once I hit Public Middle and High School everything changed. Being it was the 70's I began to understand why the call it "High" School.
To this day, I wish school was a different experience. But it was what it was and before my time to graduate, I needed to get out. This is when I became an Autodidact.
NOTE: The following path is Not Advised for anyone to follow as it is Hard, Very Hard.
As my classmates were still attending school, I began to work full time. and never stopped.
Hotlkamp Organ Company ¶
My Father was a Cabinet Maker, so woodworking is in my blood. I found work at a local Pipe Organ Company that built Musical Masterpieces. My duties started meagerly, such as helping others and evolved to fabrication, field installations ... It was here that I met people such as Anton, Giuseppe and many other Old World Craftsmen. Of course I had to pay my dues and was the brunt of being low man on the totem pole. However, I had learned to hold my own from school and it did not take long for these elders to accept me. They taught me well and to this day, I never forgot a thing. A favorite was when Anton called me over and showed me a Wooden Chain, then asked me to try and tell how he made it. The Links were Interlocked, it was All Wood and there were No Seams. I had no clue, so he eventually told me. He Whittled it.
Anton at his work area. If you look close, the wood chain is in the background.
Guess who this is ?
" Buy me drinkie "
Part of my duties at Holtkamp was to go on field installations. It was interesting to say the least, for a young man seeing the United States. There were a few memorable times, such as Fayetteville North Carolina. There is quite the night life, due to the nearby Military bases. of course my much older co-workers liked going out to eat in the mix of it.
It was one of those times that my vocabulary expanded to include " Buy me drinkie "
Somehow I could not grasp why this attractive woman was paying so much attention to me. My coworkers seemed very happy for me and let me spend lots of money on "Drinkies" This went on for a while and in the tradition of being my mentors, they helped me gain further knowledge. When I was almost out of cash, they explained "she is working" and the $5,00 drinks are just water.
Hmmmm, why would she do that ?
This was but one of many educational sessions on the road and eventually I got home sick.
Penton Publishing ¶
Holtkamp was very interesting. I helped install the organ at Notre Dame.In Virginia I met Jimmy Carter and Family by special invitation to see his daughter Amy perform at the church we just installed the organ in. So what could possibly come next ?
I found an entry level position at a local magazine publisher and before long I was the liaison between my employer and our many Clients located abroad. I was responsible for the following magazines:
- Cleveland Magazine
- Monthly Detroit
- FDM ( Furniture Design & Manufacturing )
- Packaging Digest
- Personnel Administrator
Here too I was surrounded by Craftsmen. They wore different attire, yet mastered their profession.
Bob was the General Manager and he made a comment at a meeting that I still use today:
Let's not confuse efforts with results
Don was my Manager and he was the epitome of perfectionism.
I could not get enough and inherited the perfectionist bug.
We too had occasional travel. One time I went to a meeting in Chicago and dined in a rotating restaurant. I also saw the "Hamburger, Hamburger, Cheeseburger" diner below the city that was a S.N.L. ( Saturday Night Live ) skit.
Opportunities were plenty. one of our Clients wanted to relocate me to Chicago as a head of a startup company that was using these things called Computerized Page Development. The Company was already established for several years and I would be heading up the show.
Hmmm, me walking in and giving orders to others that have been there longer ( Scarry )
I chose to stay in Cleveland and let the dice roll. Marriage and our First Child posed new financial demands so I began to scout higher paying opportunities.
B&B Appliance ¶
I always was intrigued by Electronics and had my First Computer in 1978, a Commodore PET with Chicklet Keypad and Cassette Tape Drive for Storage.
Naturally, installing High End car audio was very appealing. Being a hands on person, the life of paper shuffling was uninteresting. What did you do ? ... Did you leave a three piece suit and tie job to go install car radios ????
Yup, and this is where it gets interesting.
They just needed someone to install radios. Being the owners son was a little older than me and had similar interests, he made sure to carry High End Brands such as Alpine, Kenwood, JVC, EPI, DBX ...
When asked, the biggest installation I ever did was Our Showroom. There were hundreds of components. Each had to interconnect to one another and I was in my glory coming up with creative solutions.
Once I began to show my other skills, such as woodworking, it did not take long to be considered "The best in the City"
However, once and a while a Corvette owner would need assurance that "His Baby" was in good hands. Many of times, I had to explain what I do and what I am all about. One time I was rather busy and a Salesman desperate to make a sale, brought one into my work area and asked if I could, for lack of a better phrase, prove myself. The customer was another Corvette owner and I know what they want. This time, rather than talk, I asked him to follow me to out "High End Room" that showcased the latest Home Entertainment equipment, such as Luxman ... I sat him down on the comfy couch and instructed him to watch this VHS tape that I made. Later he came back, humbled and asked if I could do that for him. My reply was absolutely, my schedule is booked for the next several months and he will be on the list.
I worked on Porsche 911 Carrara's, a Porsche 928 with All German instrumentation text, a Rolls Royce Corniche, every Corvette imaginable and many, many a Honda's, Toyota's ...
As I always said, give me an unlimited budget, plus a school bus and I will show you what I can do. My financial needs increased as my Family grew and eventually the fun would have to end.
Perry Nuclear Power Plant ( P.N.P.P. ) ¶
Now this was an interesting chapter in my life.
Having been fixated on Logic, Science and Tangible objects - in my early years Religion was still not clear to me. However, there are mysteries in this world that still defy reason. How I managed to hire into a Nuclear Power Plant is still unclear. As one would imagine, the process is Very Stringent. There are multiple interviews, background checks, contacting of neighbors for opinions and a rigorous hands-on test, along with a physiological ( Psychiatrist ) evaluation. I was honest throughout the whole process and passed the criteria.
It actually wasn't for several years, before the Labor Union became aware that I am a High School Drop Out without a G.E.D., yet a full time employee. Although it was not an issue, they strongly recommended I get my G.E.D. in the event I ever got on the bad side of anyone and they held it against me. Reluctantly I did so. However, I have to say that I was somewhat Proud to have accomplished what I have so far as a self taught man. Getting that piece of paper seemed senseless, but I did. Either way, the dates don't lie and prove what is possible when someone sets their mind to something.
My role started as a Grade 2 Mechanic, I then became a Grade 1. Both positions carry an Electrical Qualification as we worked on Everything. Soon, I held other positions such as a Planner and Field Engineer. I worked during the Construction phase, all through Startup Testing and later Full Operation. My knowledge sky rocketed and I could not get enough.
Almost everyone had a nick name of some sort. There was U-Bob, Sledge ... mine was Boom Boom and it was well deserved. Without going into too much detail, everyone that has ever tried to manage me has learned to keep me busy or bear the consequences. My supervisor made a mistake and decided it was Play Time, so as he amused himself, he unknowingly introduced me to Cryogenic Gasses. Wow, you can freeze things, is gives off a visible vapor, bounces on the ground as it boils ... Soon after, iI earned the name Boom Boom.
Don't get the wrong idea. As they say "Work Hard and Play Harder" the days were long. Eventually the N.R.C. had to step in and limit how many hours is safe to work. The place was as close to being in the Military as any Civilian can get. There were Rules, Laws, Procedures, Culture that must be followed. I learned quickly and loved the regiment.
Many years passed, I was driving over Two (2) hours a day to get there and back, plus whatever hours of work were expected. 16 Hour days, 7 days a week were not uncommon. Yet, I could not convince myself to leave my beloved City life and live in an area that had One (1) Post Office with a Gravel Parking Lot. The area was remote, however to this day, they have the best school system due to the taxes.
Eventually I decided to move on and work closer to home.
Did you know the tall towers are hollow ? - All this technology, just to spin a shaft in a box !!!
The reactors are in the small round buildings with a dome top
Cool, huh ?
Just imagine, if the fuel bundle breeches the water, Everyone is Dead Instantly - Keep that in mind as you take electricity for granted
Clock Electric ¶
I was hired by a local Electrical Contractor to perform the duties of an Electrician. Soon, I was able to convince them to expand and began performing Machine Repair in the field. My territory was Cleveland and surrounding areas. We had many customers and there was nothing I could not fix. I worked on Meat Processing equipment, Printing presses, Manual Machines, Panel Construction and eventually saw my First C.N.C.
One of our largest customers had several older C.N.C. machines and were expanding to include several State of the Art, Large, German made machines. I had worked there many times and they arranged a long term contract so I may be involved in the Installation and Startup of the new machines. I don't think a day passed that they never approached me and asked me to jump ship and work for them. I have always been professional and I was loyal to my current employer.
Years passed. As an Electrical Contractor, business was uncertain and there were good and tough times. I too was feeling the ups and downs, my Family grew as did my needs for stability and higher wages.
i eventually approached my employer and told him of the offer I was being presented by our Customer. What came next was a shock. He congratulated me and said " It is a good opportunity for you and your Family "
Humbled, I moved on ( Reluctantly )
My First C.N.C.'s
A Motor Rebuild
Power Quality Monitoring at a Hospital
Hospital Power Issue Located
Meat Slicer, Before and After Restoration
Meat Slicer Torn Down
MC Machine ¶
The CNC adventure begins.
Having serviced this customer as a contractor during installation of several multi-million dollar state of the art CNC's then being hired as permanent employee kick started my journey into the world of industrial automation.
It was fascinating to see so much technology at work and no end in sight as to how much can be learned about every aspect of these complex machines. My responsibilities included all facets - such as Hydraulics, Pneumatics, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics ( Both Analog and Digital ) amongst anything else that needed to be done thought the facility.
I deployed several systems and improvements such as: a centralized coolant system, office computer network both local and remote operations to corporate network, ISO 9000 database development and so much more it's hard to recall.
However, the most memorable was when I was sent to Europe ( Switzerland ) to disassemble a very large machine and prepare it for transport back to the United States. When I say large, I mean LARGE ... a four lane road had to be closed here in the States, when the 6 Meter ( ~ 18 Feet ) was transported from temporary warehouse to the facility.
Machine disassembly and transport was the easy part. Completely retrofitting the machine with a new control and all associated components was another matter.
The machine was purchased used at a good price. Older machines are better than newer by the way they are constructed ( Welded versus Cast frames ) In the industry, they are referred to as " Hoggers " because they Hog the metal right off a workpiece.
Mechanically, the machine was a master piece. In regards to the control it was very old and very limited. The old control ( Siemens, System 8 ) utilized Hydraulic Servomotors. No, that is not a typo. Back in the day it was common to use a Hydraulic Motor and have it controlled using a Proportional Valve.
In layman's terms, imagine a Pump that rather than being rotated to generate pressure, it is supplied Variable Pressure and rotates from that force. It takes force to perform work and at that time these units were very powerful, smooth running and common. Since the advent of newer technologies, new Electric Motor designs became the norm and everything was switched over.
Wait, not that easy. The new Electric Motor were a bit larger versus the old Hydraulic Motors and as a result, entire gearboxes had to be created, modified and what not. This is where teamwork came into the picture and I recruited the help of a skilled machinist and together we designed then fabricated new assemblies, that included Gears, Bearings, Shafts, Lubrication paths ... no easy feat.
Of course everything was not just mechanical, the entire electrical cabinet had to be reworked to take out the old, install the new and add what was never there. One such addition was a Digital Measuring System. CNC machines operate on the principal of Feedback or a Closed Loop. An operator or programmer command the machine to do something and it is this closed loop feedback that governs accuracy to within a Thousand of an Inch ( 0.001 ) of course there are closer tolerances, but that is another discussion all together and will involve the weather ;-)
At the time, the control of choice was the newest design by Siemens and we used an 840-C as our other machines also had Siemens controls and my knowledge of PLC programming was high. I developed all the PLC logic, along with the Machine Data associated with our design.
To this day I still keep in touch with this past employer and there is never a time they don't complement on the machine still being best above all others they have.
Because I kept it simple.
Time passed, business was good, then there were tough times due to the economy and ... I got that itch again to do more, so I moved on.
Original Machine - Pre Retrofit
Burkhardt + Weber Fertigungssysteme GmbH ¶
Sprechen sie Deutsch ?
I finally found my calling. As you have seen I have a desire to move around a bit and what better way to satisfy this desire than being in the field. In this case, the field is vast, it crosses Continents. Germans are known for engineering and in my opinion make some of the finest machine tools available.
This new position put me in the middle of a Global organization and I made many o' visits to Germany. Of course, the other Countries are like States are to us and I spent all my free time in Italy ( Of Course ) France, Switzerland, Netherlands ...
Funny thing - being a native Italian, I enjoyed my one and only visit back to Italy. I saw some relatives I had never seen before, and many that knew me only as a child. the time was great and I kinda has an emptiness when I left.
But ... that feeling was easily forgotten once I was on the Autobahn going 260 Kph in an Audi A4 Turbo Coupe. Pure " Fahrvergnügen "
Maybe because I spent more time in Germany than I have anywhere else in Europe, maybe the emphasis on engineering ... I have come to call it the Fatherland also.
Getting back to work, one of my more notable projects was a Massive installation at General Electric in Grove City PA. This is where G.E. produces Diesel Locomotive Engines and they are Huge. Now imagine, with an engine that large ... a much larger machine is needed to manufacture it. This is where B&W came into the picture. They were the U.S. representatives for the German machine builder, Kolb.
Kolb produced what is know as a Manufacturing Cell that comprised of several large machines, all clustered together and working in harmony to machine the engine blocks.
Once again I found myself during an installation and all skills are needed to address any need that arrises. Machine installations are lengthy and in the case of a project this large, they go of for Months / Years ( Counting contractural support )
Frequent traveler points ... who's counting any more ?
The funny thing about travel is after a while it looses it's appeal. It takes a certain mindset to bounce from place to place. Such is the dame when the topic of Relocation comes up. I was confronted with a need to relocate and although sunny California sounded good, my roots were already deeply planted in Cleveland OH.
So ... ???
I moved on to another employer, of course on good terms.
After all, the industry is a small world and we all see each other again. For the sake of Friendship and positive future business dealings ... Never Burn Your Bridges if you can !!!
Siemens Industries Inc. ¶
I have found my calling. Field Service at Siemens, working on CNC machines throught the nation. Every day is a new adventure. I have repaired machinnes small as a refrigerator that sharpen saw blades, postition components, operate robotic arms. Then have repaired machines large as a city block that produce minivan side panels at about once a minute.
Cutomers range from "Ma and Pa shops" to Defense Contractors pruducing Fighter Jets, Hummer Components, Balistic Cannons, Missles and some really cool technology that can't be spoken of.
The most challanging part is arriving onsite to a facility and being told they have been loosing Hundreds of Thoudands of Dollars, a Day, a Shift ... while the machine is down. Then knowing that the Customer who has had this machine and in most cases knows it very well, can not identify nor repair the problem. In almost all cases, I have never seen the machine before, yet have to be a sollution provider and resolve the issue.
Using every skill set imaginable. Professionalism in cases where frustration is present and tempers are flying. Courtesy in cases where a respect is needed. Confidence to assure a positive outcome will avail. Passion that includes a desire to explore every detail and investigate the past, present and in some cases future events that are associated with a given problem.
At times there are challanges that are not Technical but rather a result of human nature. I have experinced cases of Sabotage, Neglect, Politics such as New Machine aquisitions and Contractural Conflicts ... In my experince, there are times these issues need to take priority over the failure at hand, so that Harmony is maintaned and a Positive Enviroment is created to assure Success.
Of course the Repair is of Highest Priority and that is where another skill is needed inaddition to what it will take to resolve the issue. That is Multitasking. Sequential activities are a luxury. One must be capable of performing and coordinating multiple activities, First Safely, Reliably and with a well defined plan. It takes years to hone this skill, but intime it becomes second nature.
Technology is constantly changing and it would be easy to get lost trying to keep up with all the evolving changes. What was a familiar product, quickly becomes several generations behind the newest. Changes are driven by productivity, competition and improvements. Naturally a Constant replenishment of knowledge is needed. However with this day and age and abundance pf information is readilly availble. Just look at iFixit ;-)
When it comes to Troubleshooting, I have overcome the most challanging situations by keeping a very simple rule in mind.
This does not mean one must Kiss there work, although I have been known to give morning greeting to a machine or two, asking that it be nice in return. I also have been so proud of a repair that an intimate moment was present.
K.I.S.S. is an Acronym for "Keep It Simple Stupid" and is one of the principles of Occum's Razor ( Ockham's Razor ) in reference to William of Ockham.
REF: Occam's Razor
So, what does it mean to Keep It Simple ?
Here are some examples:
1) Is it plugged in ?
2) Are all the parts there ?
3) Is there Bubble Gum causing an issue.
Bubble Gum ???
I wad on a project in Chicago at Wrigglys Chewing Gum Company and a very problamatic issue was present. The problem was Intermittent, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack that is being blwon around by a tornado.
One evening in my Hotel, I was on the phone with my Wife and sharing my woes about how difficult it has been ro identify the root cause of this issue. My Wife, having no formal technical background, said "It's probably Chawing Gum" ... I laughed and we carried on with our conversation.
The next day, I could not help but think about the humor in her comment, when suddenly I discovered an Anomoly. This complex rack of components is powered by Fan Cooled Power Supply, just as complex as the rest. Looking closely I noticed the fans were mot running very fast. I probed deeper and found there are Air Flow Sensors that perform a Safety Shutdown Function and the Low Airflow was triggering Intermittent reactions.
Why were the fans running slow ???
BUBBLE GUM !!!
Just like any airborne contaminent in an industry, example Sawdust in a Woodworking shop. Wrigglys produced Bubble Gum and there was a collection of particles that got sucked into the system and " Gumming up the works"
The problem aws an easy fix, however ... had I been looking for Bublem Gum at the begining, it would have been a much faster sollution.