Monday, September 25, 2006

Vacuum Furnaces, Water Leaks and Bill Clinton

Major Mike

I got called into work at 0730 Saturday morning. I hate getting called into work, but it comes with the territory of being a Maintenance Manager.

First a little background on Titanium vacuum furnaces.

Vacuum furnaces are used in many casting applications to eliminate contaminates from the castings. Low vacuum…low amount of oxidants…low levels of contaminations…better parts. But melting metals in induction furnaces requires significant amounts of heat…heat generated by inducted electricity. In this particular furnace an enormous “stinger,” via a 20’ hollow metal tube, cooled internally by flowing water, holds an “electrode” of solid titanium. The electrode is lowered into a crucible that has an electrical coil wrapped about it, and the titanium is melted, much like the activity that would take place at the end of an enormous welding rod. The molten titanium is then poured into the ceramic mold. An aircraft engine part is made.

I was called into work, because over the course of Friday night we had to replace the stinger…a water leak outside of the vacuum areas of the furnace, but a water leak that, upon further investigation revealed a couple of fissures at the mount point of the stinger. The stinger was removed, the replacement was prepared.

I was called in.

At a critical point at the end of the “stinger” purified copper is “welded” to the steel “stinger.” This allows for a better flow of electricity into the business end of the “stinger.” The integrity of this weld is critical in keeping “stinger” cooling water out of the furnace. A failed weld leads to water into the furnace.

Water poses a couple of problems in vacuum furnaces. The first is…water will wreck vacuum, and degrade quality. H2O…Hydrogen, and Oxygen will be detected by the vacuum gauges, and potentially interrupt the pouring sequence as contaminate limits are exceeded. Fairly minor, but a quality problem nonetheless.

The second potential problem…explosions. If a large enough stream of water is able to make contact with, and penetrate the molten metal in the crucible…the hydrogen molecules will be separated from the oxygen molecules…and then, with the residual heat/spark provide the conditions needed to sustain combustion. Large and rapid combustion...a.k.a. explosion.

A few years ago…while I was working at another place…water and molten titanium met, and blew the roof off of the plant…sending pieces of the furnace and the plant into the surrounding neighborhoods. Employees are understandably sensitive about the condition of the stingers and the potential introduction of water into vacuum furnaces.

As my experienced team began to install the replacement stinger, they noticed some potential defects in the facing of the stinger…in the area where the copper is welded to the steel. I was called in to make “the call.”

We called in the vendor who had done the difficult welding (brazing actually). I paged my most experienced technicians. We got as much info as possible.

The vendor showed up…with the welder that had actually completed the work. Both could clearly recall the previous repair. Both could outline their procedures, and the depth of effort of which they had undertaken to met our complex need. They had contacted experts, detailed their procedures, and double-checked themselves along the way. They assured us that the weld was good, and the defects we were seeing, were very minor pass (welding passes) defects, that were exposed in the final machining of the stinger end.

My team and I moved on to the details of passing electricity through the minor defects and into the cooper end that ultimately transfers electricity into the titanium electrode. We felt that these defects would not noticeably affect the transfer of 40,000 amps of electricity into the electrode.

I…me…myself…the one and only…made the decision to install the stinger, and to resume production.

I was more than a little disappointed to have to pull that stinger today, as it was leaking small amounts of water into the furnace. There was a water leak, not along the areas of our concern, but no doubt along the weld line.

But, I didn’t blow a gasket…get a throbbing vein in my head…ramble on about the last person that blew up the furnace…or, trash a vendor who had made an honest effort at making a difficult repair.

I calmly explained to the department manager all that we had done, and where the new failure was actually located. This calm reassurance, let the manager know that we had done our utmost in resolving his initial problem.

We analyzed the situation, took in all the evidence, assembled a talented team, reviewed production requirements, and I made the call. I would make the same call again, and defend it…and I wouldn’t have to get red in the face in my defense. Sometimes, when presented with the best evidence, and given the best advice of experts, the cards still don’t fall where they are expected to.

But one thing that the Marine Corps taught me, and Bill Clinton should know as a former Commander-in-Chief, you MUST take responsibility for your command decisions, and that blaming others, shifting focus, lashing out, and spittling oblique accusations onto others, is not the way of a leader…but more the way of a self-centered, egotistical, legacy defender…and not the stuff that officers are made of…let alone Presidents.

We are changing out the stinger again this evening…I have not had to provide a red-faced, spittle-laced defense for my actions. It was recognized by all as the “command decision” it was. We may change our repair techniques, and/or our certification of stingers after repair, but I did not feel compelled to lash out at the department manager who is asked why he lost a day of production, I merely explained in calm detail what we had done. He simply asked for the fastest turnaround possible.

Our vendor is working through the night…my team is ready for the re-install, and no one lost their temper…let alone their dignity or their stature.


Anonymous said...

CW: Do you think you did enough, sir?

WJC: No, because I didn’t get him.

CW: Right…

WJC: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for rying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t. I tried. So I tried
and failed...

You accuse Clinton of blaming others and not taking responsibility for his actions, but he admits right there in the interview that he failed. I personally found it refreshing to see a politician giving a straight answer instead of dodging questions and changing the subject.

Major Mike said...

I guess that would depend greatly on your definition of "trying." Clinton seem monumentally proud of his feeble efforts to respond to the numerous terror attacks the US sustained under his watch, but I guess you could consider that "trying."

The other thing you should note...not one person has blamed Clinton for the first WTC tower bombing...most being generous enough to allow that it was very shortly after his taking office. Why is it that no such consideration is given to Bush who inherited a disjointed, fragmented, and lifeless anti-terror campaign, a product of a full 8 years of Clinton's "trying?"

In Clinton's case his "trying" is comparable to most people's idea of siesta. MM

dueler88 said...

"Do, or do not. There is no try."

dueler88 said...

A brief follow-up:

In the liberal lexicon, Intent matters more than Outcome. Thus, Clinton gets a relative "pass" because he "tried" and "failed." Bush the conservative, on the other hand, is vilified because he "tried" AND and was not completely successful, or that his detractors choose to play semantic games with what the meaning of "success" is.

There would be no problem if both of them could be held to the same standards of success. But they are not.

Mr.Atos said...

"They had eight months to try."

Lest we forget for a moment, how psychotic this sounded at the time it was spat, and how absurdly ridiculous it sounds now in retrospect. Do let's recall the chirlish behavior of the Left after the November 2000 election. The challenges, the rhetoric, the Congressional obstruction, AND THE MISSING KEYS FROM THE WHITEHOUSE KEYBOARDS. The new President spent nearly the entire Summer attempting to stitch the nation back together while struggling to confirm his cabinet. When all was said and done, President Bush had all of two weeks to figure out the intent of a horrible mission that had been in the planning for some five years.

Even at that, he did not blame the Jackass from Little Rock, and his stygian wife. He began immediately to get the job done. He has never since wasted time on blame. He has absorbed a fusillade of unending abuse for the better part of six years from Democrats who never had a negative thing to say about his predecessor, nor did THEY once suggest a solution to Murderous Islamic Fundamentalism, rampant for nearly 30 years.

Impressed are you, Anon, with Clinton's failures? Let that be a qualification of your values. I'm more impressed with a Man who rams the gauntlet of collective idiocy to defy what is popular, and DO WHAT IS RIGHT!