Ghost Box, Stealth Box

We’ve been tasked with picking up an older product from a sister division located in another part of the state. In recent weeks a few of our people have been diverted from our line to train up on the Ghost Box and begin production here at our site. I’m not involved in the project but I have been poking around in the Ghost Box assembly area to peek at the guts of these monsters and ask some questions. I’m naturally curious when it comes to oddball products of ours. We have many. From what I can tell so far, the reason why it’s called the Ghost Box is because it simulates things like bad weather and rugged terrain. You can set it up to completely ruin an RF signal by simulating mountains or by having the unit emit a constant jamming frequency. Customers would apparently use the Ghost Box to test and prove out their RF equipment under adverse conditions like these. It’s kinda cool actually. I was clueless we even had something like this available.

Assembling these boxes seems to be a headache. At least that’s the idea I’ve gotten from overhearing all the cursing and yelling coming out of their cubicle. The techs are having a rough time of it too, but right now I think that’s due to the inexperience of the guys working on it. It isn’t so much that the box is really that hard to test and troubleshoot. They just don’t know what they’re doing. The inside of the Ghost Box is radically different from anything I build and test. All of the circuitboards are stacked like pancakes one on top of each other in two rows and then a mess of spaghetti wiring is routed all over the fucking place in the chassis. There isn’t any real front panel, instead there’s just a blank faceplate with a few input and output connectors. I’m glad I didn’t get roped into building these things. I did get hit with having to take on another product though.

Recently I was tapped on the shoulder with learning an obscure instrument dubbed the Stealth Box. It’s a slim line unit that rides piggyback on the main product we sell and is available as a special option. The Stealth Box is a military encoder/decoder for a programming language used by the US Air Force called MATE. As far as I can estimate this unit was once a big deal for the military, but in the last three or four years it doesn’t look like we’ve built and sold a new Stealth Box at all. I can tell by the amount of dust that has collected on top of all the bags of parts. They dumped all the Stealth Box supplies on me and as I started digging through everything I became covered in dust bunnies and dead bugs. I’ve been told I am now the last employee in Bill and Dave’s company worldwide that knows how to work on these suckers. Strange.

Since there were no orders to build a Stealth Box and there are no employees who know the product I decided the best way to self-train on them was to build one or two of them up from scratch, and then tear them back down again. It didn’t take me long to make that happen and it was a good thing I did. A few weeks after I built up a couple of them, some barnacle scraping seaman in the Navy decided to bounce a Stealth Box off the ground. They mangled it up pretty bad and sent it back in for repair. The warranty group made sure I got the unit as soon as it came back in from the field. I was laughing when I saw the physical damage on the box. It looked like the brunt of the force from the hit was on the rear panel of the unit. Multiple connectors were crushed, missing, or had been forced back inside the chassis. It was ugly.

I tore open the box and went to work like a surgeon. Unfortunately about halfway into the repairs I discovered that I didn’t have some of the replacement parts in the area. I was going to have to order them, which I did even though it was going to be a pain in the ass. Days later when the parts arrived from stores, I couldn’t get them to fit where they were supposed to go in the chassis. It was like square-peg-round-hole time. After tinkering for a while it finally dawned on me that in the years since the parts were first manufactured, mechanical engineers must have improved the designs and these newer replacement parts no longer fit properly in the old chassis. Nice. I spent the whole night wandering through other product lines assembly areas stealing hardware and liberating parts until I eventually put together a parts combo that worked well mechanically and electrically in the wrecked Stealth Box. I shoulda been an engineer. That’s one of the greatest advantages to working swing shift. No one is around to stop you from swiping other instrument lines stuff when you really really need it. Anyway, I was pleased with the way the repair job came out and a few days later I shipped the fucker back to the Navy.

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~ by factorypeasant on July 9, 2005.

4 Responses to “Ghost Box, Stealth Box”

  1. Intersting post. I was a tech on this product transfer and don’t remember having the problems you talk about. Other than having the tech who was training me get fired after about three weeks learning from him.
    In Santa Clara they did not have an automated test system and did everything manualy. The engineering team and I spent five weeks coming up with an automated test sytem for this product. I think we were pretty successful.
    The product was very interesting. Basically it was a product that simulated the environmental effects on RF signals. Very much like how you can roll your car forward 6 inches at a stop light to get better radio reception (called fading). The product also simulated reflection off of buildings/cars/mountains (which causes the same signal to be recieved several times within microseconds and causes distortion). The box was pretty much a piece of shit, I was glad to get off the line as quick as I could.

  2. if you are the individual i’m thinking of, you left the project and ended up working with the likes of Scrappy in PSG-land. the three people working on Ghost Boxes were Musclehead, Slobbering Mouth Kid, and Deadwood. they all caused trouble for each other and Musclehead particularly had contempt for Deadwood. he’s the one that gave her the nickname after all…

    i probably won’t be spending much time on Scrappy. in fact, i don’t think i’m going to mention him at all. if you have any good Scrappy stories to share feel free to post ’em here in the comments.

  3. Just think of dollar beer nights and you will have me pegged…

  4. heh. i completely forgot about dollar beer nights. that really took me back. i drove home way too blasted from that joint a few times.

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