Are Today’s Engineers Worse?

Today’s engineers are just as good as the ones that came before, but that should not be the case and there is massive room for improvement. Improvement that can be realized by looking for the best of the world to come and the one we left behind.

Hey kids! Let's learn why the CE certifications exist!
Hey kids! Let’s learn why the CE certifications exist!

Survivorship bias is real. When we look at the accomplishments of the engineers that came before us we are forced to only look at the best examples. It first really occurred to me that this was real when I saw what I still consider to be the most atrocious piece of consumer oriented engineering the world has yet seen: the Campbell’s soup warmer.

This soup warmer is a poor combination of aluminum and Bakelite forged into the lowest tier of value engineering during its age. Yet it comes from the same time that put us on the moon: we still remember and celebrate Apollo. It’s possible that the soup warmer is forgotten because those who owned it perished from home fires, electrocution, or a diet of Campbell’s soup, but it’s likely that it just wasn’t worth remembering. It was bad engineering.

In fact, there’s mountains of objects. Coffee pots whose handles fell off. Switches that burned or shocked us. Cars that were ugly and barely worked. Literal mountains of pure refuse that never should have seen the light of day. Now we are here.

The world of engineering has changed. My girlfriend and I once snuck into an old factory in Louisville, Kentucky. The place was a foundry and the only building that survived the fire that ended the business. It happened to be where they stored their professional correspondence and sand casting patterns. It was moldy, dangerous, and a little frightening but I saw something amazing when we cracked open one of the file cabinets. It was folders and folders of all the communication that went into a single product. It was an old enough factory that some of it was before the widespread adoption of telephony and all documents had to be mailed from place to place.

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Removing a Broken Tap From Something Really Really Expensive

What happens when you break a tap or a bolt in a component whose price tag sits in the tens of thousands. Just drilling it out and throwing in a nut insert stops being acceptable. Is there a way to remove the tap without damaging the master part at all?

Broken tap stuck in the hole it was threading
Broken tap stuck in the hole it was threading

Well, that’s where [Tom Grafton] of Jerry’s Broken Drill and Tap comes in. He’s here to remove taps and chew bubblegum, and he’s definitely chewing bubble gum loudly the whole time. His primary work horse is a Metal Disintegration Machine.

A MDM is basically half of a typical wire EDM set-up. In EDM you used an electrode to punch a hole through the material. Then you thread a wire through the hole, thread it through a sometimes startling array of pulleys, and get going.

[Tom] used the MDM with an appropriately sized electrode to precisely disintegrate the middle of the tap out. After that it’s some careful work with a specially machined magnetic chisel. A quick chase of the threads with a tap and it’s back to the customer.

As you can see in the video after the break, the end result is a threaded hole that’s so indistinguishable from the rest he has to mark which one it was; presumably so the customer doesn’t forget why they’re paying him.

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