flanging 26

The next item of interest on the work order is this:

work order center hole

This lets you know if the head has a center hole or not.  If there is a center hole, it lets you know what size the hole can be.  The default size is two and three-eighths inch max.  Most orders with center holes have this.  This doesn’t mean the center hole has to be this big, only that it can’t be any bigger than this.  Only the thickest heads have a two and a quarter inch center hole.  The most common size for the center hole is an inch and nine sixteenths.  Some customers require a center hole of a certain dimension.  Some customers cut out nearly all of the radius; all they want is the a ring of the icr and straight flange.  These heads are re-drilled, or cut, after they are flanged.

When heads with center holes are loaded into the machine, the center holes fit snugly around the pin in the lower center post bearing.  The upper center post bearing locks down around the pin, to hold the head in place while it is spinning.

But on this order there is no center hole in the head.  It is the dreaded no-hole.  No-hole heads can be a pain in the ass.  First, you have to line them up manually.  Since there is no center hole, you load it onto the lower center post bearing pack, eyeballing where you think the center is.   Then using the forming roll you nudge it into place as it spins, until it spins true.  Once you have the head centered, you clamp down on it with the upper center post bearing pack to lock it in place.

Lock is hardly the word.  It is easy for the head to slip off center.  While you are flanging the head you are moving it and putting a lot of pressure on it.  Also, if the metal is very thick, about a half-inch, the smaller flanging machines don’t have enough pressure to hold it in place.  These heads are constantly slipping off-center.  When that happens you have to stop what you are doing and re-center the head.  Also, in order to flange the smallest heads, you have to off-set the upper center post.  It is difficult to describe this, so I’ll try to illustrate the point.

flanging machine center post (2)

The bearing pack on the upper center post on this flanging machine is centered.  Here is a close-up view.

flanging machine center post (3)

See how the flat oblong blue plate the bearing pack is bolted to extends to the right, toward the machine controls.  For the smallest heads this machine can run, the bearing pack can be moved to the front, or the right side, of the blue plate, so the center post can fit even more snugly up against the spinning icr roll.  Now it’s difficult enough keeping no-hole heads centered when the bearing pack is centered, when the pressure exerted by the upper center post is pushing straight down on the bearing pack which is making contact with the spinning head.  But when you have to off-set the bearing pack for a small head and the center post is no longer pushing straight down, but instead is pushing down on the back edge of the bearing pack, it becomes much more difficult to keep these heads centered.  Add to that a thick head.  Add to that a poor press job.  Add to that the fact that our flanging machines aren’t the newest, are in fact pretty worn out.  And it becomes extremely difficult to run small thick badly-pressed no-hole heads.  You are constantly spinning the head, stopping to re-center it, then spinning some more, then stopping to re-center it again.  You get the point.  That is why I called it the dreaded no-hole.

But that is why we are paid a decent wage.  If anyone could walk in off the street and do this stuff, then we wouldn’t be paid as much.  There are tricks to running no-hole heads that you can only learn the hard way, by doing it over and over.  I’ve learned never to move a no-hole head while it is spinning.  I’ll spin the head, stop, move it to where I want it, then start spinning it again.  It takes more patience doing it that way, but it’s easier and faster than constantly stopping to re-center the head.

This was the kind of problem that would make Badeye take a hammer to his machine.  But I’ve learned to let it go.  Just like the song.


flanging 25

Ron H. was bad about wrinkling heads.  I’ve seen him wrinkle metal so badly it would hardly spin in the machine.  And what a racket.  Badly-wrinkled metal bangs loudly as it spins between the icr roll and the forming roll.  Then he would go back and smooth the wrinkles out.  He would get the wrinkles because he worked too much metal at once.  He would try to flange the heads into size too quickly.  But by the time he smoothed the wrinkles out he was practically in size.  It’s just the way he flanged.

Ron didn’t flange that way because he was in a hurry.  He got his work done quickly so he could then stand around and tell stories.   A lot of people worked that way.  They would bust their ass getting a job done, then goof off.  Once when our foreman, Jim D., went on vacation, the first shift foreman, Al B., came on second shift to cover for him.  He thought he was going to straighten us out.  He was always onto us to keep working.  This one old guy called his bluff.  Al B. gave him an impossible amount of work to do for the shift.  The old guy asked Al if he cared what he did after he got the work done.  Al told him he didn’t care if the guy went skiing, because there was no way he could get all that done.  The old guy got the work done.  Then he busted up a wooden skid, tied two broken slats to his feet,  and went around the shop the rest of the night acting like he was skiing.

Ron H. worked like that.  He did his work quickly so that he had plenty of time to stand around telling hunting or fishing stories. My favorite one was this time he was squirrel hunting.  He saw a squirrel sitting up in a tree, so he took careful aim and fired.  The squirrel fell.  Then it fell again.  He’d been hunting for a while, so he thought maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him.  But when he went looking for the squirrel he found two of them dead on the ground.  Apparently the second squirrel had been sitting directly behind the first, and he had shot the pair with one bullet.

He was that kind of hunter, and fisherman.  He spent a lot of time out in the woods, or on riverbanks and lake sides.  He owned hunting dogs he had trained himself, and often went out after work to hunt nocturnal creatures such as raccoon and possum.  He was all the time bringing in game meat he had shot and cleaned and butchered and cooked himself, for us to try.  I sampled it all.  The worst I ever tasted was groundhog.  It was really greasy.

That was one reason he was on second shift.  He liked to go out after work and hunt all night, then sleep until time for work.  Another reason was he had little seniority.  He was ten or fifteen years older than me (I don’t think Ron was exactly sure  how old he was), and had worked at least that many years at Brighton by the time I started there.  But he had quit several times.  The longest stretch he was off work was two years.  He said he went two years without, as he put it, hitting a lick.  But Brighton was always ready to hire him back because he was a trained flanger operator.

Ron’s work area stank.  He chewed tobacco and spit everywhere.  On the floor, in the heads, in the scrap dumpsters, in the garbage cans.  His machine always stank of foul tobacco juice.  If you think tobacco smoke reeks, you should be around someone who chews.  When smoking was prohibited in the shop, he kept right on chewing, and spitting.

Ron eventually transferred to first shift.  But when Enerfab bought Brighton from Trinity, he quit.  For about six months.  Of course, when he came back to work he had to go to second shift because he was starting over.  About ten years later he retired.  For about six months.  Once again, Brighton was happy to hire him back because he was such a good flanger operator.  He was the Brett Favre of Brighton.  But a couple years after that he retired for good.

What Brighton really missed when he retired was his training skill.  Badeye would fix (nearly) everything I messed up, and you learned how to do what he did by watching him.  But Ron would take the time to explain what he was doing as he fixed your mistakes.  He was very good at explaining why metal acted the way it did, and showing you little tricks on the flanging machine.

I don’t know how Ron lasted as long as he did.  He claimed to only have half a lung, the other lung and a half lost to cancer.  Of course that never stopped him from chewing.  Or from telling stories.  Which I always enjoyed listening to.

flanging 24

The next important item on the work order is the thickness:

work order thickness

This is the one thing that can’t be fixed.  Wrinkles can be smoothed out.  Humps can be pressed out.  Hard metal can be softened by annealing (a form of heat treatment).  Cracks can be welded.  But once the metal is thinned out, it can’t be made thicker.  Well, actually, it can be.  But it is a very laborious and expensive process.  I’ve seen thinned-out heads overlaid with weld in the thin places, then ground down smooth to blend in with the parent metal.  But that takes a lot of weld and a lot of man-hours.  Ninety-nine per cent of the time if a head is thinned out it is scrapped.  Or the customer is called.  If I thin out a head, I take a detailed reading with a sonic device which we call a thickness checker.  Don’t laugh.  A screwdriver is called a screwdriver because it drives screws.  I then map out the thinned-out region on paper and give it to the foreman.  The customer is called and given the bad news.  Most of the time, if it’s not under minimum by a lot, they’ll take it.  Hell, if it is under by a lot they still might take it, depends on how quickly they need that head.  If they won’t accept it, then a replacement piece is rushed through the shop, hopefully not to be thinned out again.  Of course, all of the material and labor costs are eaten by Brighton.  So thinning out heads is really frowned upon.

You might wonder how I can still thin out heads, considering how long I’ve worked there.  I don’t do it as much as I used to, but it still happens.  Every time you make a pass on a head, which means using the flanging roll to force it around the icr roll while it is spinning, in order to make the head smaller or bigger, you are thinning out the metal.  You are squeezing the metal between two spinning rolls.  The harder metals don’t thin out much, and you usually don’t have to worry about them.  But you really have to watch the softer metals.  Also, you are more likely to thin out heads formed on a sharper, or smaller, icr roll.  Also, some of our customers order impossibly tight minimum thicknesses.  They usually do this when they are trying to keep the weight of the head down.  They want a head a certain thickness, but only weighing so much.  Sometimes they do this because they are ignorant fools.  They don’t have a clue what happens to metal while it is being formed into a head.  So sometimes there is simply no way.  Whenever I point this out to the foreman, I usually get, “Just do the best you can.”

Also, some operators, especially the newer ones, really squeeze the metal while they are forming it.  I’ve got a light touch.  I can wrap metal around the icr roll tightly with very little squeeze.  But some operators try to smash the metal into shape.  You hope over time they’ll learn to be gentler with the metal.

Sometimes heads are thinned out so badly they are totally ruined.  The thin out usually occurs in the icr area.  This can be cut off, and the radius, which is still plenty thick enough, is saved and used for a smaller head.  Other times the smaller thinned out heads are made into fire pits.  Thinned out stainless steel heads work great for this.  The edge of the head is laid out flat, or turned down a little, then its polished, and legs are welded onto it.  Polished stainless steel fire pits make good retirement presents.  I want one when I retire.  If I’ve still got this blog going when I retire, a little over a year from now, I’ll let you know if I get one.  Hell, I’ll take a picture of it in my backyard and post it

There are other difficulties with the thickness of the metal besides thin-out.  The thicker metals can be very difficult to bend into shape.  Sometimes it takes all the pressure the machine can generate to form the head into the shape it needs to be.  And thick metal loses its malleability quickly.  You had better get a thick head into shape quickly, or it can become too hardened to work with.  On the other hand, thin heads wrinkle easily.  You have to flange thin heads more slowly with little pressure to keep the wrinkles out; otherwise you have to roll the wrinkles out, which can be laborious.  But thin heads are more likely to crack if you work them too long.

These are difficulties, but not insurmountable problems.  Over time you learn how different metals and different thicknesses behave while you are flanging them.  It just takes time.  You learn by repetition.  Only there are so many different combinations of metals and thicknesses and shapes and other details that you seldom have true repetition, you are always encountering novel situations.  That’s what keeps the job interesting.  But it also keeps you cussing.

flanging 23

Leotis W, aka Badeye, never looked up from his work.  He was classic balls-to-the-wall for eight hours straight.  Except, of course, when I interrupted him by asking him to come fix something I’d screwed up.  He always would, willingly, but only after hurling a few epithets and insults at me.  Otherwise, he was always at his machine flanging away.  That’s why people liked to prank him.  He would return to his machine from the bathroom or water fountain and rush back to work, to find someone had slopped grease all over his controls.  But he was in such a hurry to get back to work he wouldn’t notice this until he grabbed them, and got grease all over his hands.  Then he’d cuss and look around to see who was laughing at him, then stop to wipe the grease off his machine and his hands.  If the grease was really bad, he’d go off to the bathroom to wash his hands.  Of course, as soon as he’d walk away the controls would get greased again.  Another trick was to close the valve on the propane tank on the forklift he was using.  The forklift would start, with the propane that was already in the line, go a few feet, then die.  He would have to get off the forklift to open up the valve.

But that is another post, or several more.  The pranks we have pulled on each other at work are legion.  Management disparagingly calls it horseplay, but we call it fun.

Badeye was a good car mechanic.  He did auto repair at a service station during the day.  All of the older employees on second shift had day jobs.  We young guys didn’t have the seniority to get off second shift, we were stuck.  But the old guys chose to remain on second shift so they could hold down two jobs.  He related this story about his day job.  He repaired a young woman’s car.  He never said what was wrong with it, but she owed him money.  When she came to pick her car up, she pulled up her dress – she didn’t have anything on underneath it – and said he could have her instead of the money she owed.  He laughed in her face (his story) and demanded his money.  She yanked her dress back down and stormed out.  Eventually, her husband came by and paid the bill.

Badeye built a Jeep at Brighton.  He built the body from scrap steel, at least most of it was scrap, he got in the shop.  He did a lot of the welding and cutting and bending and grinding and drilling at work.  Whatever work he did on the motor and transmission he did at the garage he part-timed at.  But it ran.  He took it off-road a lot.  Whenever he wrecked it he would bring it back in to work on it some more.

Leotis was from Kentucky, so he knew all kinds of places to run off-road in the mountains.  And it nearly killed him.  After he sold the Jeep…  Let me stop that story to relate this one.  He sold the Jeep to a young guy in the office.  I forget his name.  He took over as quality control manager after Ray M. retired.  Big mistake on Badeye’s part.  Every time something went wrong with the Jeep this guy would bring it in expecting Badeye to fix it.  Badeye told him the Jeep didn’t come with a lifetime warranty.  Then Badeye would fix it anyway.  Now back to the other story.  After he sold the Jeep he bought an ATV to go off-road with.  And flipped it.  He nearly died.  He was off work for months.  But that’s the way he was, reckless as hell. He got pissed off at the company one time and quit to drive a truck.  Which he wrecked.  And lost his CDL.  Of course, Brighton was more than happy to hire him back.

Later, he was promoted to foreman one of the several times Brighton has started up a third shift.  Which surprised me, I never thought they would allow someone so productive off the floor.  But then a year or so later, when they shut down third shift, as they inevitably do, he was expected to return to work on the floor.  He refused, and quit again.  By this time Jeff Hock had begun the tank head division at Enerfab, so he was happy to have Badeye come work for him.  Badeye finished out his career working for Jeff Hock, and retired from Enerfab.

Badeye was always looking for ways to flange heads faster.  He learned a different way to machine a head than the way he had been trained.  The operator who ran the same machine on first shift, Leroy W., complained that Badeye was abusing the machine.  So one of the brothers who owned Brighton, Alvin H. Jr., watched him machine a head.  It was reported Alvin said, “If that’s abuse, then everyone should abuse the hell out of the machines.”  I think Badeye is the most productive operator ever to run a flanging machine.  Hell of it is, Leroy was right.  The way Badeye machined heads wore out the machining arm.  And the metal screamed bloody murder as he peeled it off, god what an awful racket.  But it actually didn’t matter. New machining arms were designed once Geoff L. was supervisor.  But that’s another post.

Another anecdote involves me.  I found his wallet on the locker room floor one time.  So I stuck it in my pocket, then walked up to the machine he was working on and asked if I could borrow five dollars for lunch.  He said sure, reached back for his wallet, which wasn’t there, then got that sick look on his face a guy gets when he discovers his wallet is missing.  Without another word he shot off toward the locker room.  But I stopped him and gave the wallet back.  Then I asked him if he knew how much money he had in his wallet.  He said no.  I said good, and walked off.  But I don’t think he’d really believe I’d steal from him.


flanging 22

Now that I’ve posted a work order, I can post about the difficulties encountered with the different aspects of the work order.  Let’s start with material.  Here is the material type from the work order I posted.

work order material

The vast majority of our heads are formed with steel.  But there are all kinds of steel.  The cheapest is carbon steel, also know as black iron.  It is soft and malleable, relatively easy to form.  It also machines easily.  It has a high carbon content, hence its name.  This makes it very dusty and dirty.  Carbon steel dust covers everything in the shop.  It can be filthy.

Much cleaner is stainless steel.  There are different grades of this.  316 and 304 are the most common grades.  It is a little more difficult to form, being harder than carbon steel.  And it doesn’t machine as smoothly as carbon steel.  Also, if the icr roll skids while the head is spinning, because you put too much pressure on it or there is grease in the head, it can mar the surface.  Skid marks in the inside corner radius should be polished out; otherwise, these marks will rust over time.  Rusty stainless steel looks terrible.

There are other grades of stainless steel.  Some are springy, with high tension, and are difficult to bend into shape.  These steels require a lot of pressure to form.  Other grades have a high hastalloy content, which makes them not only very difficult to bend but also very hard to machine.  You wear out insert after insert trying to machine these heads.  The same goes for drilling a center hole in a hastalloy head.  You can quickly burn up a drill bit if you don’t take it slowly.  Monel is a grade of stainless that’s a little harder than 304 or 316, but not as hard as hastalloy.

Then there are the exotic metals.  Aluminum is very soft, much softer than carbon steel.  But it is not very malleable, it hardens and loses its elasticity quickly.  So aluminum is flanged hot.  Usually a hand torch is sufficient, a temperature of about 500-700 degrees is all that’s required.  It machines easily.  But there are different grades.  Some grades are so soft it bends if you stare too long at it.  Honestly.  You have to be very careful with metal this soft, it will thin out in a second.

Copper is also very soft, like aluminum.  It forms easily and machines easily, like aluminum.  But it is more malleable, and does not need to be flanged hot.  Heads of pure copper are rare.  More common are cupernickle heads, an allow of copper and nickle.  The nickle gives the copper more strength.  This copper alloy is easy to form, but difficult to machine.

Then there is zirconium and titanium.  These are very tricky metals to work with.  They must be heated and maintained at a steady temperature between 500 to 700 degrees.  They warp easily if you use too much pressure, or not enough pressure.  They bend easily, when heated, and machine easily.  Zirconium burns.  It flames and the shavings catch fire while you machine it.  Weird, metal burning.  And titanium does not shrink.  Aluminum shrinks a lot when it cools down from being heated; you have to provide for that, leave it a little big, when you flange it.  Steel shrinks, too, especially when it is heated to 2000 degrees, the temperature the really thick heads – an inch, or an inch and a half – need to be flanged at.  So they, too, are left big, so when they cool down they will shrink near to the correct size.  But titanium doesn’t shrink.  You can flange it right into size, and it will stay there.  Or defy the laws of physics and actually get bigger upon cooling.  I’ve seen that happen with some grades.

There are a lot of different metals we work with, and different grades of each metal.  You learn how each acts merely by working with them over the years.  By this point I know how every kind metal will behave when I put it into a flanging machine.  But acquiring this knowledge has caused me many headaches.