Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Shop Equipment Bit Me!

Every lab has particular occupational hazards. Chemists have to watch out for nasty acid splashes, biologists perhaps worry about inhaling exotic strains of bacteria. In a mechanical lab where you actually build things, you will occasionally need to work in a machine shop. And in a machine shop, no matter how careful you are, it's easy (for me at least) to eventually end up with various scrapes and bruises. It's the nature of the beast, and I keep band-aids in my desk to deal with small nicks (aluminum burrs are sharp little buggers).

I often use a piece of machinery called a waterjet - it cuts out 2-D shapes from almost any material.

You put your piece of material on the slats, and then a high-pressure jet of water and abrasive shoots down and cuts through the material.

On my waterjet, the slats are farther apart than shown in that picture. I had cut out a small little shape of aluminum, and I was cleaning off the abrasive from the finished part. Clumsy me, I then dropped the piece. Now if the piece falls to the bottom of the tank, you are never getting it back. It's just not possible.

So when I dropped the piece, silly me didn't even think about it - Quickly I reached between the slats, to catch the small piece as it fell between the slats toward the bottom of the tank. The good news is, I rescued my part.

The bad news, those slats are sharp. You see, the waterjet abrades away the slats under your material as well as your material - over time, the slats look like this:

Those little buggers are sharp. And they bit my arm.

Dang it. Had to go to medical and fill out a "workplace injury" form, which is a nightmare of paperwork. I felt like saying, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to be clumsy, I'm just here because I need a slightly bigger band-aid than I have in my desk...

But they fixed me up nicely. And now I tell people I was knifed in a bar fight. I don't think they believe me... :)

So, lessons learned:

1) Don't be so clumsy.
2) Sacrifice your part, not your arm.
3) Be nice to the waterjet, or it will bite you.


  1. When someone says something you say "you should see the other guy" and walk away, I always find that has a nice reaction.

  2. ouch! don't do that. although now that you have, maybe you should try to get workers' comp...