It's back-to-school time|
School is well and truly back in the northern hemisphere and so this question sent to me by Mehboob Kadri, one of our members from Tanzania, is topical:
"Brendan, I feel really fortunate to be receiving your very informative emails. I have become so interested in hydraulics and fluid engineering that day by day I am getting more hungry for knowledge. In my country, Tanzania, there is not a single company that deals in repairing hydraulic equipment. Even the company selling and servicing Caterpillar equipment is hopeless.
Anyway, my son is 13 years old and I want him to study this field along with industrial automation, as you had mentioned in your earlier report that nowadays hydraulics and computer electronics go hand in hand. So what advice can you give me on this issue? I want him to start preparing for this field as early as possible so that later on things will be easier to understand."
I get all sorts of weird and wonderful questions to do with hydraulics, but I've never had one like this before. Frankly, I was surprised by it. Both by the quality of the question and to be honest, the fact it came from one of our members in the developing world. This young fellow is fortunate to have a forward-thinking father who knows an opportunity when he sees one.
Here's what I told him:
"Mehboob, it will be very helpful if your son is good at math. Like it or not, math is an integral part of nearly all engineering disciplines. And while a high level of math is not essential to pursue a career in hydraulics, it would be a definite advantage - especially if your son's goal is to progress to the level of design engineer.
Same goes for computer literacy. It will be almost essential for your son to be very comfortable using a computer and its multitude of software applications. But this is of course becoming an essential life skill for everyone in the 21st century.
At 13 your son is almost certainly old enough to start doing simple experiments with LOW voltage DC electrical circuits and basic electronics. As you've noted above, not only are electrics and electronics becoming increasingly integrated with hydraulics, understanding the logic of electric and electronic circuits will greatly assist your son's understanding of hydraulic logic later on.
How do you help your son develop these skills? Well even in the developed world, my advice would be not to rely on the school system alone. I pay a lot of hard-earned for my seven-year-old, Benjamin, to attend a fancy school, and frankly, I'm appalled at the standard of math tuition he receives.
From what I've seen, as a parent you have to adopt the stance: "if it's going to be, it's up to me". For example, Benjamin is learning his times tables the same way we did - by rote, in the car on the way to school on a morning.
Use books. Jay taught Benjamin to read from a book: "How to teach you child to read in 100 easy lessons." I'm not sure these lessons were all that easy, but Benjamin could certainly read by the time he and Mum had waded through it.
Similarly, there must be dozens of good books out there covering basic electrics and electronics. I still have the now dog-eared copy of the basic electronics manual I acquired 20 years ago - heavily marked-up with orange hi-lite pen and notes in the margin.
Same goes for the practical side. Santa brought Benjamin a cheap and cheerful electrics lab last Christmas. He now understands - through experimentation - the difference between an insulator and a conductor, how to construct a simple lamp circuit with switch, and that an LED will only work in one direction. He was only six at the time.
Beyond these specific things, encourage your son - ideally through example, to embrace the idea of life-long learning. The other day, Benjamin announced that when he grows up he is going to have a big library and a small TV. Although it probably shouldn't have, his insight surprised me. Because we have never specifically discussed this concept with him. I guess he'd overheard Jay and I talk about it, compared the size of our TV (and library) to that of most of his peers and figured out the rest out for himself.
I wish your son well in his career. I am certain the specialization you have identified for him will serve him well."
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Heavy Equipment Mechanic
My 'cash for clunkers' program|
We've had a bad run with household appliances recently. Six months ago the washing machine failed a bearing and I reckon the noise level during a spin cycle was pushing 100 decibels. Knowing it was dead anyway, my strategy was to delay the inevitable purchase of new one until the bearing seized completely or the noise coming from the wife became louder than the washing machine itself - whichever occurred first.
But in the meantime, the clothes dryer stopped working. So that settled it. Off I went to our local department store and bought a new washing machine and dryer. I took some consolation in the fact I only had to pay one delivery charge.
A couple of month's later the oven blew up. And I mean blew up. Sparks and smoke. It was quite a spectacular failure. Although only three and a bit years old and a 'reputable' brand, it had been a lemon from new. It had been repaired twice during its warranty period and despite this, it had never performed satisfactorily. So once again, outright replacement was the only sensible option.
Then last weekend the dishwasher failed. Only four years old and, surprise, surprise, the same 'reputable' brand as our previous lemon of an oven. The new one is in the garage waiting for me to install it this weekend.
With such a bad run of failures, it feels like I've been running my own 'cash for clunkers' program. Perhaps it's the good Lord's way of ensuring I do my bit to stimulate the economy. Certainly, the salesman at our local department store now knows me by name.
To add insult to injury, when the dishwasher packed it in, the wife asked me: "if you're such an expert on preventative maintenance, how come we're having so many premature failures?"
I elected not to even try answering this question - knowing full well she was only trying to wind me up. But it did get me thinking. And turned my attention to the refrigerator.
Our current fridge was a gift from the out laws. They upgraded about 10 years ago and gave us their old one. I worked out that the accrued service life of the fridge (20 years) is greater than the service life of our previous washer, dryer, oven and dishwasher all added together.
All machines wear out eventually. But some are built to last. The others are built to price. And in the case of household appliances, maintenance - or the lack of it, doesn't enter into it. Because, almost without exception, they are zero maintenance devices.
In the case of lubricated machines, and hydraulic equipment specifically, maintenance is invariably a significant factor in achieved service life. But in the majority of cases, not THE most significant factor. No, the most significant factor is whether it has been built to last - or built to price.
Yes, it is a catch 22. And there will always be some sort of trade off between initial capital
cost and ultimate service life - even when maintenance is a constant. But the hydraulic
equipment equivalent of a 20-year+ service life refrigerator is totally doable. It's
just that the hydraulic equivalent of a 4-year service life dishwasher is far more common.
And if you buy hydraulic assets, the trick is knowing the difference.
When buying household appliances there's really no way to tell. But
when it comes to hydraulic equipment, a little bit of the right kind of
knowledge can save you a small fortune.
"This book has the potential to save many
organizations lots of money. It should be on the bookshelf of every engineer, supervisor, planner and
technician who deals with hydraulic equipment... it's worth its weight in gold." Find out more
Alexander (Sandy) Dunn
Plant Maintenance Resource Center
Hydraulic accumulator maintenance|
While hydraulic accumulators can provide many years of reliable service,
they are a maintenance item. For a discussion of some of the maintenance issues to
consider, read my column in the July-August 2009 Issue of Machinery Lubrication
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About the Author: Brendan Casey has more than 20 years
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