Systems Rescue

He-Man found me in the assembly area. It was late. He said to me, “Put together a set of your tools. We have to go make some modifications to some boxes at another site. There isn’t much time, they are shipping out to Saudi tomorrow morning.” Fuck. That really wasn’t much time. I did as He-Man suggested, I grabbed an empty red toolbox and shoved all of my most used tools into it. No sooner had I done this, He-Man told me to grab my coat. We were headed off to another site, another division.

In the middle of the night we were driving in a company car to another factory on a rescue job. He-Man filled me in on the details as we drove on back roads through the county to the other site. Recently we had some DOA units returned to the factory from Australia. They were a new special option box that had a rear output RF connector of a certain kind. Apparently during the overseas flight the equipment was subjected to vibration, probably from turbulence and the main RF output cable came loose at both ends. So the boxes were effectively dead when the customer received them and turned them on. He-Man came up with a simple fix, just add a tie-wrap at both ends of the cable internally to the units. This was what he wanted me to do tonight on three boxes. Problem was, each of the three boxes were already installed into eight foot tall instrument racks. I was going to have to remove them from each system, disassemble the boxes, and add the modification. I was a little stressed out. Since they were shipping out for Saudi early in the morning and it was already well after midnight it really was going to be a race against time. There was the possibility I might screw up a box doing the rework.

As soon as we arrived at the other site, He-Man lead me to the Systems Group. No one was there. It was as if everyone in the building had died. The only sounds on this floor of the building were the quiet hum of cooling fans in test racks and soft clicking noises of mechanical attenuators stepping through frequencies. Red LED displays on the racks randomly flickered numerical information. Green monochrome screens cycled through peak signal strengths and harmonics. The overhead flourescent lights cast a harsh light on everything. In a way it reminded me of some of the imagery from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

To my dismay, I discovered that all three of the units I needed to pry open were installed at the very bottom of each test rack. They were only inches from the floor. This was going to make things worse, it’s terribly awkward to try and remove a one hundred pound piece of test gear from a fully built rack that close to the ground. There’s no clearance. Not to mention I didn’t have any mounting arms or carts for the boxes once I started surgery on them. I was going to have to lift each unit multiple times so I could access the underside as well as the top. What a pain.

The first box was a disaster. During removal I jammed a couple of my fingers against the rack and crushed them as I slid the unit forward out of the bottom slot of the test rack. With one arm I got the box up to a rolling table and started to open it up while the pain subsided in my other hand. He-Man had left, he went to another part of the building to get us sodas from a vending machine. After removing the top outer cover I began adding the two tie wraps to the unit. Nothing is easy in these suckers. It’s like working in an engine compartment and there’s no room for fingers or tools. It can be frustrating. After successfully adding the restraints to the black hard line cable I closed the unit back up and got ready to install it back into the first system. Even with He-Man’s help, we ended up scratching the front panel paint on the box. Bolting it back into place in the rack hid the cosmetic damage. Whew.

The next two units went much more smoothly. I came up with a method for removal and repair that made more sense and didn’t put either of us at risk of injury. He-Man told me the Saudis were sending up some satellites at the end of next month and they really liked our equipment so they asked us what we could put together for them to test, communicate, and troubleshoot their satellites. That’s where systems comes in. Our engineers look at what the customer’s needs are and based on that they prescribe complete solutions with all our gear in them. I think I can dig it. A few hours later I was having trouble seeing straight and we were driving back to our home site. He-Man told me I did a good job, and he was going to make sure the company bought me dinner at a restaurant of my choice, soon. That was cool. The last time anyone at the company offered to take me out for dinner and or drinks on Bill and Dave’s dime was up in Spokane and that was over a year ago.


~ by factorypeasant on July 15, 2005.

2 Responses to “Systems Rescue”

  1. While you are at it, get them to buy me dinner too.

  2. Reminds me of when they decided to use generic packing boxes to ship our precision instruments. There was no support for the 25lb. transformer that was mounted to die cast aluminum. Instrument after instrument came back with broken frames. They couldnt figure out why. They brought in engineers to solve the problem. What a joke, it finally took a technician on the line to tell them that they should have stuck with the shipping containers designed for the product. The HP way of “CPI” or over-engineering cost the company a lot of money.

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