MSI - A Trip
These original Kirt's Cogitations™ may be reproduced (no more than
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Cog·i·ta·tion [koj-i-tey'-shun] – noun: Concerted thought or
reflection; meditation; contemplation.
Kirt [kert] – proper noun: RF Cafe webmaster.
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.
Now, 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
(MSI), where my, daughter,
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
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.
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