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2022-07 #9 Swing Shift

>>But in 1981 that was all in the future. I worked night shift for about a year and then GE shuffled the deck again. <<

Sometime after returning to GE they were still expanding. I guess it was decided that a 2-shift operation with overtime was better than 3 shifts for component repair.

The good news was that as they expanded, people left component repair for higher paying jobs, usually subassembly and the subassembly folks moving off to engine assembly where hourly wages her pretty much topped out except for "skilled" jobs like welding & machining, Already a leadman at higher pay than rotor assembly I moved to swing shift leadman, the current occupant having bumped down from somewhere when I got laid off presumably went back to where he came from. I was swing lead for maybe a year. There was plenty of overtime which for use was like 12:30am until 3:30 am if we did the whole amount until day shift came in at like 4:30 for their 3 hours. All I remember about overtime was not everyone took it and not much was happening in the last 30 minutes before clock out. Usually 4-6 tired and sleepy people standing in front of the clock waiting like zombies as each minute seemed like an hour.

During this year I reported to a couple of different foreman as there was no foreman named for night shift component repair. Norm Hogan, and some really weird/cool guy from Tennessee. The gossip talk was that his wife was an ex-stripper and I was to learn from him that was true - he was a laid back guy and other than dropping in a couple times a night he let me run things. Norm Hogan was an engineer and a bit of a dry, nervous sort of guy - all he wanted were assurances that the worklist would get done and sometimes he changed priorities on me for spurious reasons. These guys were Machine Shop Foreman who also covered my area so they focused on that pretty much.

I didn't have 2 times a day to turn over with Frank so I usually came in early so I could get really aware of the big picture. I remember one night a day shift planner came to me and said, "This , this and that are your priorities and must get done tonight." Planners were always like that, focusing on their parts only even if it was a lower priority. I usually gave my, "Screw you. I work for Mel Brooks speech but told them I would try to "squeeze it in." Planners couldn't really offer me anything but I would try to help out the guys who were working hard at it and weren't dicks just trying to take advantage. I always suspected Norm Hogan's priority switches had a lot to do with him getting favors from planners or some items needing pre-machine shop prep or post-machine shop cleanup (our job) getting prioritized to polish his own apple.

Building a Turbine frame was like that. The frame house the Stage 1 and Stage 2 shrouds with the Stage 2 nozzle guide vanes between The shrouds are like square hockey pucks of abladable material. The turbine blade tips operate within like .030" of an inch of these shrouds and they get rubbed on, they crack and they burn away. To build the frame, it is all assembled. Then the shrouds are ground to diameter and finish on a giant vertical turret lathe. Then it has to be match marked, disassembled, all the parts deburred and then final assembly. So 3 departments involved and quite a coordinated effort.

One interesting side note. Grinding shrouds makes a lot of heat. Heat causes expansion. So grinding is an iterative process. Grind some, wait to cool, measure, repeat. Grinding a shroud could take 2 shifts or more. But there was a really expert machinist on the night crew that could basically nail it almost every time in 2-3 iterations - I found out part of the trick was measuring hot and knowing how much the diameter would shrink depending on the temperature so he didn't wait for cooling, early on in the process. He had so much experience he knew how far to take the first cut so the the second (sometimes last) was likely to be a finish cut. Now machines do it all. There is a "machinist" there who is really a computer programmer who spends most of his time reading a newspaper and waiting for the machine to tell him he needs to replace the grinding wheel.

But swing shift was crazy. Aside from the crew playing pranks on each other there was a lot of other stuff. I had an old guy working for me that had like 3 teeth in his head. He loved peanut M&Ms and watching him swirl an M&M around lining up his two working teeth was a hoot. I had another guy (also) Frank who was Mexican and a great worker. He would tease this guy incessantly and one night the old guy was chasing Frank around with a hammer for some grievance or another.

One of the things we fixed were honeycomb, hallow acoustic panels that fit inside the fan to reduce noise. There were people that loved this job. I did it for a while. You cut back the face sheet, excavated out damage honeycomb core, glued a patch of core in then glued the face sheet back with a patch or original. The epoxy was called Epon 928. It was nasty stuff but cured faster in an oven. So we had a big industrial oven that could hold a bunch of panels at once. No one wore safety equipment except perhaps goggles at times and some guys wore ear plugs.

A person would work panels for about 4 weeks and then the terrible rashes on their forearms from the dust and epoxy got too bad and they needed a break. Also at lunch time this oven full of toxic fumes would be emptied out and a bunch of folks would heat their dinners in the toxic fog.

I also covered the plasma booth. Plasma spray is basically grinding or machining a round diameter, rotating the case or whatever part and using a blowtorch flame spray metal powder in so that the molten metal deposits on the surface for subsequent machining. It was in a separate small building in the back of the facility and it was more than one occasion I would go back there and a weed party was on or someone was having sex. Hey, as long as the jobs are getting done, I'm cool.

I also had coverage of heat treatment. When high alloy parts are needed to be welded they are annealed (made soft), welded and machined and then heat treated to restore hardness. No funny story but to illustrate that night shift allowed my to learn and get into a lot of processes.

Night shift was also the land of G-Jobs or government jobs. Basically all kinds of personal stuff. One of my welders made toy airplanes and cars out of spark plugs and scrap metal. Platers were gold plating all kinds of stuff with very expensive tanks of gold solution.

People also made BBQ grills out of scrap frames and cases. A high alloy BBQ will have very stable temperatures and last forever. Take a look at the CFM combustor case and imagine all the fuel nozzle holes as air inlets - you can make a fantastic grill outta one of those.

The pinnacle of all this was a guy on my crew who dropped a bunch of Ford Galaxy 500 motor parts in the cleaning line. But not really knowing what he was doing, at the end of shift he extracted the engine block and heads and they had basically melted away - There is some wicked shit that cleans jet parts. This would have been only hilarious but he contaminated the tank with all this car metal and the tank had to be drained and refilled at a huge cost. It took a few days but they finally figured out who did it and he was fired. More on that later as he eventually was returned to work with back pay. GE justice was near as fatal as Douglas Justice apparently.

Shortly before I ended my tour as a leadman GE sent me to a school to learn "Selective Plating." basically this was the ability to plate small areas rather than strip a whole surface and replate. Now a ding or chip in a chrome plated part could be feathered out and by wanding repeatedly over the affected area it could be built back up proud and only touch up machining would be required. I wasn't a plater but they sent two people to run a proposed one man station so I was leadman and back up plater. The other guy worked days and there was no night plating expected except in emergencies. I can't remember ever doing a "real" job. The day shift guy was always happy for overtime if they got behind. Of course the plater got paid less than a leadman and that would normally be a problem for the Union but in that world of horse trading, they got 1 high paying job they wouldn't have had and GE was allowed to use a leadman to do night work "on occasion" as well as some other concessions I am sure. The Union was focused on, more jobs (slicing the descriptions as tight as possible so more categories are needed), slower work (with the theory that there was an endless supply of work coming in), and getting paid the most they could for the hours they worked. Long diatribe on unions to come - LOL...

I ended up taking compressor blades from a very small helicopter engine, the CF58. These blades are only about 3/8-1/2 inch long. I gold plated a bunch of these and they were made into pendants and so on. I still have one somewhere in my pile of memorabilia.

Now, gold is not much used in jet engine plating, like hardly at all, and the tank guys were often grilled on why they were consuming tank fluids. I ended up consuming about 90% of an $800 bottle of gold solution.

I was saved by the bell as I was promoted to foreman before anyone had to order more.

Everything in a Jet Engine is complex. Here is a picture of a shroud. The backing plate has mounting rails. square anti-rotation lugs and in the ends tiny slots to install foil seals between them. Onto the backing plate a honeycomb structure is brazed. In the final step these shrouds will have the wear coating plasma spray into the honeycomb bed. Many different materials have been developed and used over the years. These parts are then heat treated in exotic fumes. If done wrong there is no way these parts will survive in a 2000*C environment. On the outside where these are mounted is an air cavity where "low temperature" 800C degree air is circulated to cool them. America's (and GE's especially) material technology is by far the best in the world. Miles ahead of anyone and some of the most closely guarded secrets in the business.

One of the last projects I led in my career was to understand why a certain type and class of shroud was completely burning up after only 1,000 flights when up to 4,000 flights was the expectation. But that is still 40 years in the future.

This is a post my generation (Walled booth for sound suppression) VTL with a turbine case getting ground. This is an image from Tinker Air Force base. Not sure when this was shot but could be as late as 2015. It is a very short case and could be from a single stage engine (ruling out GE) - not sure what it is. You can see the turret extracted, the white grinding wheel and the shiny surface of the shrouds. He is between grinds, has attached a dial indicator to the turret and is manually measuring the diameter. You don't measure the diameter really. You set a baseline and say, "I have to take off 0.050" of material and it has to be round +/- 0.002" - then you do everything with a dial. Today it's all computer, all enclosed and lasers are doing the measuring.

Insider insight - You can tell this is a staged shot. No machinist who knows what he is doing wears his badge around his neck anywhere near the machine. Guys have died when a necktie gets snagged by a machine. Also you can damage the parts and in the case of a compressor case (14 stages long) dropping anything in the top means removing the stack and finding your pencil - LOL...

Tinker AFB in Albuquerque is a huge depot overhaul place for the air force and play a big part in my next phase.

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More great stuff.

I watched a video the other day by a guy who made a small visible jet engine. He 3d printed most of the parts and a big chunk of the first half was him milling down the blades and shrouds to make sure it wasn't imbalanced. It was only the outer shroud that was see through but you could see the combustion chamber in operation - very cool.

You can watch it here -

Dan Deutsch
Dan Deutsch

I posted that video a couple weeks ago(?) It is really cool.

That guy has a wicked amount of machine tools. 100s of 1000s of $$ worth of stuff. Not sure who he is but he's got money...

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