Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Epic TearDown Day 1

We had an old piece of equipment in our lab. A dinosaur. It was designed by grad students way before my time, and was a typical research project in that it was clunky, inefficient, hugely over-designed, smoked when it ran, had more than a few pieces of duct tape and baling wire - but IT WORKED. I know it worked because the students who built it are no longer here - so they did indeed graduate.

And yes, actual baling wire.

It needed to come down. It had served its purpose, it was taking up space, and the lab has moved on to new projects. So guess who got to take it apart?


My favorite part of engineering. It took us two days to take apart this machine, and I just got such a kick out of it, I wanted to share with you.

Behold first, the original machine in all its strut channel glory:

Figure: The original

There's a heat exchanger hidden in there, a pump, lots of giant piping and valves, a control panel, and the whole thing is connected to an Instron. All sorts of mechanical engineering goodies.

Figure: The sizing up.

Any good engineer knows that half of the work of any project is the thinking that takes place ahead of time. The pondering, the contemplation, the method of attack. Never underestimate what looks like a nap - really the engineer is doing the heavy duty pre-planning... Here we see the men taking stock of the situation.

Figure: Helper #1 decides he needs gloves.

Figure: Really?
Here we see that Helper #1 in this attempt is donning lab gloves. Yep - you heard that right - somehow he thought that these blue nitrile gloves are going to make a difference in this giant, oily, grimy mess of a demolition project. Helper #1 attempts to defend himself, but Helper #2 and I subject him to merciless teasing. Personal protective equipment, and all that...

Figure: Drip pan. And drip bowl. And drip roasting platter.

The first order of business is to get out all the oil possible. The basic function of this equipment is to heat and cool a set of platens. The oil is the medium that does the heating and cooling - and the heat exchanger is to direct the heat where you want it, and the pump is to drive it all around. But an oil-cooled machine is also a pain (as opposed to water-cooled or air-cooled), because, well, OIL. It drips.

Figure: Yep, those lab gloves are really helping.

Oil is also considered a hazardous waste in Massachusetts, so you have to dispose of it carefully. So we drain as much as we can into barrels, and vacuum out whatever else we can reach with a designated vacuum.

Figure: Look at that grin.

Then we had to decide how to tackle the piping.

Figure: Giant pipe wrench, check. Lab gloves, check.

One person with a ridiculously large pipe wrench?

Figure: Show-off.

One person with two pipe wrenches who is convinced he has enough testosterone to do it himself?

Two people with two ridiculously large pipe wrenches?

Figure: Those faces! I die laughing.

Two people with two pipe wrenches putting some elbow grease into it?

Figure: All that effort for this.

Ah, success! Using the two-man method, the fittings finally come loose. And so they work their way around to the other joints.

 And you know I couldn't let the boys have all the fun.

Figure: Miss Outlier jumps in.  
Figure: Okay, maybe Miss Outlier will just be the reaction force and YOU pull... 

Then we moved on to the smaller fittings, much easier.

Figure: Stripped down.

Finally we are left with just this. The bare bones of the strut, and only the piping directly connected to the heat exchanger and pump that we couldn't un-twist, because the heat exchanger and pump don't twist.

Figure: Old-school lift.

The Instron had been mounted originally on a standard metal computer desk, but the problem was that the desk was six inches too short to match the height of the giant strut and piping placement. So we had jacked the desk up on two-by-fours (that's right, let's just stick some wood under that $80k piece of precision equipment...), in order to get the right height. Now that the strut stuff was disconnected, the last job of the day was to finally hoist it down.

Figure: Mr. Lab Gloves is not allowed to pose with the giant pipe wrench, he gets demoted.

Elated with our success, we called it a day.

Figure: Wait, something's missing...

And had some fun climbing around on the equipment. In my defense, some of the fittings really did need you to sit on top. And removing the two holding canisters also required somebody sitting up there.

Figure: Ah, that's better. With tools in hand.
Figure: The post-contemplation

The post-project thinking is also important. Again, don't underestimate naps, because if it isn't pre-planning that's going on, it could be the post-project debriefing taking place...

All the discarded parts in piles in the hallway. The facilities people love us when we call for cleanup, I'm sure.

The final stages of the project to come...


  1. A very nice picture essay, but I have two quibbles:

    "baling wire" not "bailing wire". It is used for making hay bales, not for bailing water out of boats.

    "reaction force" not "reactionary force" (unless you are claiming to be an extremist conservative).

  2. I am not sure where you're getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.

  3. Great job guys. Your efforts are really there. collection rates