Engineering – More Than Nuts and Bolts… How to Make Mistakes

(The following occurred a few weeks back)

I have gained my respect with the shop guys, and have proven to be pretty versatile throughout the work day. I can weld, grind, clean, drive a forklift, deliver parts, and maintenance machinery large and small. My growth in shop skills has pushed Joe to test how good my craftsmanship skills really are, by entrusting me with one of the most delicate processes in the whole shop, operating the Outside Diameter (OD) grinder.

This grinder is used to evenly grind the blades of stabilizers, and has immense capability in doing so, hence, operators must have a careful eye, good coordination, and a lot of endurance.

Below I have photos of each step of the process, and some YouTube links to short videos of the process.

I was chosen to prepare 4 stabilizers.


Recall: This photo shows what a brand new stabilizer looks like. Notice the nicely built blades, general symmetric nature, and overall evenness.

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  • As you can see above, there a variety of different types and sizes of stabilizers, but they all have one thing in common, they get worn down.

Step 1: Receive worn stabilizers from customer.

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The blades wear down, causing an unstable spin, which decreases the drill string’s efficiency.


Step 2: Pre-Grind

  • The worn stabilizer is inspected for cracks and vulnerable blades, and then put into the OD Grinder.
  • The Pre-Grind can vary in specification, normally, we must grind the blades down 1/4 inch under the specified final OD. In my case, my four stabilizers had a Final OD of 8 -1/4 inches so I had to grind mine down to 8 inches.
    • Sometimes, if the blades or the hard metal coating is cracked, we just grind the stabilizer down to the base metal. We do this by grinding until we see sparks coming from all blades, indicating that all hard metal has been removed, because hard metal produces no sparks.
  • Using a ring gauge (details later), I Pre-Grinded all of the stabilizers to size, and had them ready to be dressed up with new hard metal.
  • Here’s a video of the Pre-Grinding process
    • Opens in same tab so be sure to come back and finish the read!

Step 3: Dress Up

  • Stabilizers are brought over to be outfitted with new hard metal, as seen below.

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  • The rod that Chip is holding in his left hand is made of a special mix of Tungsten Carbide, which is melted on to each blade of the stabilizer. This process is tedious and takes lots of time. Hard metal must be laid consistently and evenly, or cracks will form during the cooling process.
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Outfitted blade up close – Notice the roughness of the hard metal, uneven ramps (bevels), and sloppy edges. The final grind will smooth the top and the ramps, but the edges must be hand-ground.
  • Joe (my supervisor) had dressed up my 4 assigned stabilizers, and it took him a while…

Step 4: Final OD Grind

  • Stabilizers are carefully placed back into the OD grinder (They are super hot) for a final grind to the specified OD
  • Here are some pictures of how the stabilizers are loaded, and how the OD grinder works.
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Loading stabilizers onto OD grinder with a forklift… You can see a ring gauge hooked up with the stabilizer on the right side.

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OD Grinder

I had completed my four stabilizers, but dug too deep into two of them, essentially bringing those two back to the Pre-Grind stage. In other words, I had erased about half a day’s worth of Joe’s work, and pushed the shop’s progress back.

On top of having messed up the two stabilizers that Friday, I had failed to realize that they were due on Monday, which meant that Monday morning Joe had to re-dress them as quick as possible and I had to re-grind them again to the perfect size. There was a huge sense of pressure, and I got a good straightening out from Joe as soon as I clocked in.

What he had mentioned was not that I screwed up technically, but that I had failed to communicate with him over the weekend and have him come in to fix them. I came to realize that he was correct, and that I could have prevented the Monday morning rush by simply telling him what I did. In the end, I did hold back the shop’s progress but I learned a valuable lesson in communication.

On the ride home that Monday, my uncle Jeff and I discussed what had happened. He told me of a much more drastic incident that he had experienced while running a plant in the Aerospace field. One of his employees had put some turbine components through an incorrect heat treatment cycle, effectively scrapping thousands of dollars worth of engine parts. He said to me “You know what I did to her when she told me that? I thanked her. I thanked her for telling me and not hiding it.” He told me that everybody screws up, and that as a manager, you should never fire somebody for screwing up, but instead work with them to help them improve, or find a position where they work better.

I learned that in management it is important to roll with the inevitable punches, because you want to represent a company that is willing to work with an employee after a mistake, not condemn them for it. I also learned that as a worker, you want to work for those companies as well, and you need to be able to learn from your mistakes.

From then on, my nickname in the shop became “Clutch” because when I work, I work hard, but I occasionally stall and mis-shift haha…

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