Monthly Archives: September 2013

Balance of Life

Each year new students arrive. Excited to be away from home and starting out on their new life. It is a new beginning.

The excitement is infectious. It seeps into the shop and breathes life into the old maker’s bones. We wonder what fun and fantasy the year will bring. We watch as students over-extend themselves. We observe as each young man and woman commit the foibles of an adult life and then grow up in their own way.

Spring comes and those who have been here for a few years leave. We’ve learned temper our missing them by listening for the small stories that sneak back to campus about those for whom we have great hopes.We learn about careers, marriages and families with the pride of being able to say we knew them when….

It is the balance of life.

Why the morbidly sickly sweet prose and musings? Well, by now the new students have learned about their first test grades. Some are good and some are bad but they are never what they expected them to be…

Balancing your time and energy is important.

Learn that all-nighters, while fixing the immediate problem, are not the solution. It takes energy that could be used elsewhere. Balance.

One of my favorite sayings starts with a question. “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “One bite at a time…cooked preferably.”

So tonight remember to take one bite at a time while you study for your next test or work on inscrutable things that your theology professor has assigned.

My 2 cents. – An Engineer


A time to talk and a time to do

Every day we have people in the shop looking for assistance.

The types of assistance changes from person to person. Some just need nuts and bolts. Some need a tool or two. Some just need to talk about their project.

This last one gives us a little trouble at times. Appearances being what they are, shop personnel are often accused of not working since we always seem to be talking. This is not an unreasonable observation since we have over a thousand students and staff in the college and only 3 machinists and 1 engineer. Doing the math and a probability calculation it approaches unity that when you come in, we will be talking to someone and trying to assist them with their problem.

So, like any engineer I would like to propose a solution that will assist us in helping everyone get what they want. You get the advice and we get to keep completing work orders.

First – Be prepared

  • Bring a scribble stick and paper
  • Bring a calculator or something to run numbers
  • Be able to describe your project in 30 seconds or less
  • Have a plan. If the first idea doesn’t work what is your second, third and fourth plan?

Then – be able to answer the Twenty Questions. The list below was created by Frank Luecke who is a very successful entrepreneur and a friend of the college.

In order to discuss your challenge, you may find it helpful to first gather as many answers as you can.  (Don’t let that slow you down, however; sometimes it is more efficient to talk it through. ) Then contact us to get started. Don’t wait though…It is best to start while you are still excited.

* What is this thing supposed to do?
* How well: speed/resolution/repeatability/accuracy?
* How long: operational cycles, number of years?
* What are the nearest products presently in existence? How do they compare?
* How big or small can/should it be?
* Allowable weight/inertia?
* Are esthetics important? (consider all five senses!)
* What is history of the technology?

* Who will use it? install it?, service it? Skill level? Operator interfaces needed?
* Where will the units be used?
* What conditions must it withstand during shipment?
* Operation? Temperature, humidity, pressure/vacuum, vibration/shock, chemical,  biological, particulate,….
* How loud/quiet?
* Any EMI/RFI/magnetic considerations?
* Any special materials requirements?
* What energy and supplies are available for input, desired/tolerable for output?

* Who are you? (name, company, address, phone, fax, e-mail…..)
* What skills do you command/need for this project?
* Why is the item needed?
* What level of confidentiality is appropriate?
* How many will be needed – considering quantity/price function?
* How much are you willing to pay – for concept, prototype, production items?
* When needed – each step; earliest, latest?
* Who else might need same device – colleagues, competitors?
* Which attribute is best to optimize, and which attributes are simply bounds?

As you can see it is a pretty extensive list and probably misses some things. Many design texts cover this list more deeply and intensely. The point though is that this short list gives you a place to start answering the hard questions that will need to be answered.

You can modify the list but in the end the shop still needs to know how they fit into the big picture. This helps you get your part in a quick and painless fashion.

My 2 cents. – An Engineer