flanging 35

Jack S. looked like a used Q-tip.  He was tall and skinny, with a dirty brown wafro (white afro) that was popular back in the 70’s.  He was quiet and low-key.  He worked quickly to get his work done so he could slack off at the end of the day.  He was a good flanger operator who rarely missed.  At least at first.

Jack ran the flanging machine that got the first new machining arm.  This was in the early 80’s, and we were both on first shift.  This machining arm was the prototype.  The supervisor, Geoff L, had pushed hard for these new arms, so they were his babies.  They were state of the art hydraulic machining arms, and they weren’t cheap.  He expected them to be well taken care of.  Every day he would come out into the shop just to watch Jack use it, to see how it was working.  One day I saw Jack leave his flanging machine to head for the bathroom at the same time Geoff came out to make his rounds.  So I found a long four by four and leaned it up against the new machining arm, to make it look like Jack had been using it.  On the new machining arm.  We were all still leaning on these four by fours on the old machining arms to make them cut better and to keep the chatter out.  But the new machining arm didn’t need this.  When Geoff arrived and saw that four by four on his new machining arm, he took off for the office like a shot.  I heard him page Jack on the intercom.  But I never heard what was said.  Jack wouldn’t tell me.

I said Jack was low-key.  That’s an understatement.  He was ice.  Nothing on a flanging machine ever upset him.  Believe me, there is a lot that can go wrong that can seriously distress you.  But not Jack.  He was the calmest operator I ever knew at Brighton. When a new flanging machine was bought in the late 70’s, which is still the biggest flanging machine in the shop, Jack was the first to run it.  The largest and thickest heads we flange are done on this machine, and he broke it in.

Jack hardly spoke about his personal life.  He was divorced.  Sort of.  It was complicated. And other people were involved.  He had a son who was a star baseball player in high school.  Who went on to become a county deputy.  Jack hunted, mostly I think with a compound bow.  He liked to play baseball and poker.

Jack and I got involved with the Steelworkers union at the same time.  When Trinity bought Brighton in 1987, most of the old union officers resigned.  Being bought out was stressful, and there were a lot of high emotions and raw feelings.  I’ll get into the particulars another time, but many of the members blamed the union officers for the pay cut Trinity forced on us.  Also, Brighton was a small family-run business, but Trinity was a large conglomerate that owned over 50 companies.  Only 3 of which was unionized.  Our new owners were strongly anti-union.  Ollie B., who had been union president since the local first organized in 1970, resigned and soon after retired.  The vice-president, Tom B., took over, but he was part of the old regime everyone was so upset with, so he only lasted a year.  Harry S. became president, and he got Jack to be his recording secretary and I became financial secretary. There was no election.  No one else wanted the positions. They were all scared of the new owners.  But neither me nor Jack gave a damn.  Jack for reasons I’ll get into, and me because I’d just gone through my second divorce and was feeling pretty bitter at the time.

I lost track of Jack when I transferred to metal polishing in 1988.  The polishing department was in a different part of the plant, even in a different building for a while. So I didn’t see him every day.  In fact, I mostly only saw him at the monthly union meetings. In the early 90’s he began missing work.  A lot.  He started using cocaine.  This was before the company began drug testing.  He had grown up pretty wild and had always smoked pot, but cocaine is a much bigger beast. When he was at work he was high, you could see it in his eyes. Sometimes he would stand back and watch the head he was running spin and spin, without doing anything to it.  By this time Geoff L. had moved him off the big new flanging machine to a smaller one.  He and Geoff L. had always been tight, so Geoff helped him get a physical disability, I think on his nerves. He quit working in the early 90’s.

I went to Jack’s funeral.  He officially died of a heart attack.  But it was the drugs that got him.  His kids were all grown by then.  He never remarried, which would have been difficult since he never legally divorced.  He was buried with a baseball in his hands.  Attending funerals is a depressing but important rite.  You show respect, and remember what the person was like in their best years.  There are plenty more funerals to relate.  That’s what happens when you get to be my age.  You know a lot of dead people.


flanging 34

Next up on the work order is straight flange:

work order sf

An inch and a half straight flange is the default.  But customers can order whatever length straight flange they want.  And they do.  The trickiest straight flanges are the ones that aren’t there.  Zero straight flange.  The circumference measurement is taken at the top of the icr.  Very difficult.  Also difficult are straight flanges of 3 inches or more.  That is a long stretch of metal to keep straight.  The flanging machine I normally run is rated to do a 2 and 1/2 inch max straight flange, so for ones longer than that I have to get creative.

You wouldn’t think making something straight would be that difficult.  But there are no dials on a flanging machine that tells us we have the straight flange straight.  So we eyeball it while the head is spinning.  I had a hard time learning how to do this.  Roy H., who trained me, told me to line the edge of the spinning head up with the lines of the cement blocks in the wall in front of my machine.  Now I can glance at a head and tell how straight the flange is.  But it took a long time to learn this.

When I think the flange is straight I stop the machine to check it.  I do this by placing a straight edge across the head, then reading my protractor off it.  It has to read between 88 and 92 degrees.  I am allowed by ASME code to be toed in or out 2 degrees.  Except for one of our biggest customers that wants no toe in or toe out at all.  Also, the straight flange is held by the ASME code to plus or minus a quarter-inch in length.  So a 1 and 1/2 inch straight flange can be between 1 and 1/4 and 1 and 3/4 inch long.

Our engineers have some convoluted formula for figuring blank size.  If the metal circle is too large to begin with, then there is too much straight flange, which not only makes the head needlessly difficult to flange but also creates excess metal to be machined off.  If the the circle is too small, then we come up short on the straight flange.  The formula has to account for the size of the head, the length of the straight flange, the size of the icr, the depth of the radius, even how much the metal will stretch while being pressed.  Extra metal can always be cut off, but if there isn’t enough metal there isn’t much you can do about it.  So they tend to order slightly bigger circles than required, to ensure there is enough metal.  That means we spend a lot of time machining off a lot of excess metal.

You have to be careful with heads with only a 1 inch or less straight flange because the head will be in size before you realize it.  I am used to a 1 and 1/2 inch straight flange, since that is what most heads call for, so when you have a head with only a 1 inch straight flange and you form it with the 1 and 1/2 inch you are used to, then you are in trouble because that head will be way small.  On the other hand, a straight flange longer than 3 inches can be very difficult, especially if the metal is thin.  By the time you flange that much metal above the icr roll it is usually hardened, or wrinkled, or bowed.  And if extra large blanks were ordered to ensure there is enough metal, you can easily end up with 4 or more inches of straight flange.  I have actually formed a head with 6 inches of straight flange.  That was a challenge.

Of course,the straight flange and the circumference have to agree.  If you have a head with the correct circumference but it is toed out 5 degrees, then by the time you straighten the flange that head is small.  Or if you have a head with a perfectly straight flange, but it is still a half-inch big in circumference, then you aren’t finished, you have to make the head smaller, which will mess up the perfectly straight flange.  It’s a constant struggle.

One other note about the straight flange.  It can be measured inside or out, depending if the circumference is to be measured inside or out.  The customer determines which measurement he wants, and the straight flange has to agree with this.  You wouldn’t think it would make any difference, but it is much easier forming a good straight flange if you measure it on the outside.  Don’t ask me why.  “Flanging machine bery mysterious.”  I paraphrased Mathiessen from “Far Tortuga”, and I meant to write ‘bery’.


flanging 33

John M. was a press operator about 20 years older than me.  He was another one of those old guys (I was in my early twenties at the time, so he seemed old) who worked on second shift so he could hold down a day job.  Only in his case his day job was his business.  His company did construction and remodeling.  He hired several people on second shift to work part-time for him.  He used them as laborers on his sites.  I never did work for him.  At the time one job was enough for me.  Although later I held several part-time jobs (another post).

John was a blustery guy.  What I mean by that is he talked tough, but I never saw him actually hurt anybody.  But he did carry a gun in his car, which I heard he pointed at people on occasion.  He probably did this on account of what happened between him and Bernie T. and Big Roy.  Big Roy was one of the three men fired for drinking on company property about a year after I started work here.  He was huge and crazy mean and strong as a bull.  Most everybody was glad to see him go.  I won’t go into what happened between the three of them because the story is way too ribald, and I don’t know if it’s even true.  I didn’t see it happen, thank God, so it’s merely hearsay.  But if it’s true I can understand why John would want to carry a gun to work.  The confrontation came about because of John’s penchant for telling tall tales.  How much he actually lied about I don’t know.  But he had that reputation.

John could cuss a blue streak.  During the 80’s there was a fashion to put as many running lights as could fit on pick-up trucks.  In the parking lot at Brighton, pick-up trucks outnumber cars at least 2 to 1.  Anyway, John’s pick-up had more running lights on it than anybody’s.  I told him it looked like he was driving a Christmas tree.  I’d catch him starting it up in the parking lot after work and when all those lights came on I’d start singing Christmas carols.  Then he’d roll down his window and the cussing would commence.  Eventually, the fashion ran its course, like they all do, and our parking lot grew dimmer.

John was vain about his appearance.  He had a thick shock of blond hair, which many claimed he bleached.  He denied it, but it remained a shiny blond into his sixties.

John operated the largest press in the shop.  He climbed a tall set of metal stairs to reach the metal platform that was twenty feet or so in the air, high enough so he could look down to see what was going on inside the huge heads he pressed. The small platform was surrounded by a waist-high railing, and was just big enough for the controls and a chair.  One night I came by and saw him dozing off in the chair, with the press running on automatic.  So I found a sledgehammer and BANGED!! the bottom of the stairs.  I swear to God I thought he was going to nose-dive into the head. He shot up up out of his chair and was half-way over the railing before he caught himself.  I doubled over laughing.  Until he came charging down the stairs, cussing of course.  But like I said he was an old man and I was in my early twenties, so I easily outran him.

It was said, once again mere hearsay, I never saw it happen, that whenever supplies came into the shop, like brooms or shovels or such, half of them would end up in the back of his pick-up.  I could see where those things would be useful with his business.

John M. worked at Brighton into his 60’s.  Why I don’t know.  His construction business was successful, and he had more money than he could spend.  And he was free with it. Whenever a collection was taken up for someone who was off from work because of an injury or illness, or for someone who had lost a family member, he always gave at least twice as much as anybody else.  Once when he was off from work, I forget why, we took up a collection for him.  He gave it back. We knew he didn’t need the money, it’s more the thought that counts, and I thought it ungracious of him. Only time I’ve ever seen someone turn down a collection.

One day at one of his job sites John drove his pick-up truck through a garage door of a house he was building.  He’d had a heart attack at the wheel, and died.  I went to his funeral, one of many I’ve attended of co-workers. Dying like John did is something I dread.  He worked, at two jobs, until his dying day.  I want some time off.  I want to relax a while.  I want to enjoy this little bit of money I’ve saved up.  I feel healthy enough at 64 to continue working, but I’m not going to.  I’m retiring at 65.  I’m going to travel and write and hike and read and ride my bicycle, while I’ve still got a body and mind that functions.



flanging 32

The next several items on the work order can be covered briefly.

work order2

Finish Inside: Mill finish and Finish Outside:  Mill Finish merely means there is no polishing done on this head.  I’ll get into polishing when I post about my 7-year vacation from flanging when I operated a polisher.

Form Code:  Cold Formed & Pickled means there is no heat treatment performed on this head. All stainless steel heads get pickled, or acid cleaned.  Carbon steel, aluminum, and other exotic metals don’t.  Titanium get sand-blasted.

Diameter:  90 inches OD is self-explanatory, with the OD meaning the measurement is to be taken on the outside of the head.  We check the diameter until we come close enough to being in size that we need to start checking the circumference.  Then during the final inspection we check the diameter to check for out of roundness.  By ASME code we are allowed to be 1 per cent of the diameter out of round.  That means this 90 inch diameter head could be as much as 7/8 inch out of round.  We are rarely more than 1/4 inch out of round, usually 1/8 inch or less.  Also, it’s good to compare the final diameter to the final circumference and make sure they agree, just to ensure we are reading our tapes correctly.  It is easy to be off by an inch, especially when checking an inside circumference with a wheel.  When you have so many numbers whirling through your head all day it is easy to mis-read a wheel or a tape.

RD:  90 inches specifies the shape of the dish.  This is mainly for the press operator, to inform them which dies to use.  We just find the radius template the press operator used to press the head and check the final radius with it.  We can use too much side roll pressure and distort the radius just below the icr, causing crush up.  Or we can make a head small.  When we pull it back out into size the radius gets deeper than how the press operator pressed it.  This causes endless disputes between flanger operators and press operators.  If the radius of a head ends up too deep or too shallow, the blame shifts back and forth.  We claim the head wasn’t pressed deep enough or was pressed too deep to start with.  The press operator will claim we crushed-up the radius if it ends up too shallow, or that we made the head small and pulled it back out if the radius ends up too deep.  A lot of finger pointing.

ICR:  1 inch denotes the size of the inside corner radius.

ASME flanged & dished

In this drawing, the icr is the curved part of the head with the D.R., or dish radius, above it and the S.F., or straight flange, below it.  We flanger operators bend the metal on the edge of a pressed head around an icr roll and make the metal below the icr, the straight flange, straight.  The customer can request any size icr.  On the flanging machine I usually operate, we can fashion an icr from three-quarter inch up to thirteen and a half inches.  On the larger flanging machines the corners can be much larger.  The general rule is that an icr can be bigger than requested, but not smaller.  We have many different sized rolls we can bolt onto the machine for different icr’s.  If a customer requests a size that we don’t have a roll for, we can use the closest icr roll we have, then either make the corner tight by using a lot of side roll pressure or leave the corner loose by using little side roll pressure.

The icr is the critical area of a flanged head.  The icr roll is bolted onto the end of the drive shaft, and the rotating shaft is what makes the head spin in the machine. This is where the head gets thinned out, because the metal as it spins is squeezed between the forming roll and the icr roll.  Also, if the head has grease in it, or if the operator tries to flange too quickly, or if the operator tries to trim the edge too quickly, the head can skid and the icr roll will mar the surface.  This is especially bad on stainless steel heads, since these skid marks will rust.  Also, if the flanger operator uses too much pressure he can leave rough ridges on the outside of the icr.  Also, if the flanger operator makes a head small and has to pull it back out, it is the icr area he works.  He can make humps in the icr doing this.  Which he has to roll out.  And pulling a small head back out into size can also make the icr too big.  So the operator will have to tighten the corner back up once the head is no longer small.  There is a lot of work to maintaining a good icr.

Rolling out humps in an icr of a head that has been made small and pulled back out into size is one of the hardest things to learn on a flanging machine.  There is a real skill to doing this.  Of course it’s better not to make a head small to start with, but inevitably you will.  Geoff L. tried installing a laser on a flanging machine that would warn you if you were making the head too small.  But that never worked.  There are just too many variables to consider.  A  sixty inch standard head with a one inch icr is much different from a sixty inch elliptical head with an eight and five eighths inch icr.  And the flanging machines vibrate too much, disrupting the laser.  And carbon steel heads stir up too much dust, making the environment too dirty for the lasers to work properly.  It just didn’t work out for our shop.



flanging 31

I mentioned Denis T. before.  He hired on at Brighton about the same time I did and started on a flanging machine, then transferred to the shear bay. There he operated plasma cutters, metal shears, radial drills, band saws, and metal punches.  The metal shears are gone now.  They were difficult and dangerous to operate.  A center hole was drilled, or punched, into a square of steel, the square was placed on a center pin, the table the center pin was set in was moved to the position necessary to cut a certain diameter circle out of the square, then the metal square turned between two thick blades that cut the circle.  This was the kind of machine Bill R., the inspector whose glove I used to mess with, operated when he lost a finger. The operator had to hold an arm down to make the square rotate on the pin.  Somehow the arm kicked back so hard on him it caught his hand against the side of the machine and pinched a finger off.

Metal shears were replaced by a burning table which uses plasma cutters. The squares or rectangles of metal are loaded onto a long water table, and the diameters that need to be cut out of them are programmed into a computer and the machine runs on its own.  Much better.


We also have plasma cutters on wheels that crawl across the square of metal and cut a  circle as they go.  This is done on the floor, sometimes outside for the larger circles.

We have two radial drills, a large one and a small one.  I like this image I found because it has a person in it, so you get an idea of the scale.  This would be equivalent to our small drill.

radial drill

They are used almost exclusively for drilling center holes.  The biggest chore with them is sharpening the drill bits.  We have some large drill bits, going up to three inches.  Heads too large to fit on the large drill have their center holes burned with a cutting torch.

The metal punches could punch a center hole through quarter inch thick steel.  Anything thicker had to be drilled.  But they are gone now, like the metal shears.  Everything gets drilled now.

The only operation the band saw was ever used for was to to cut the flare of a flared and dished head to a certain length.  Now we do that on a flanging machine.

Dennis T. was a tinkerer.  He couldn’t leave anything alone.  People used to tell him the best thing he could ever do to fix his car would be to buy a lock for the hood that he didn’t have a key for.  He was always fiddling with the motor.  He was working on a way to blend water in with gasoline to extend gas mileage.  All his system ever did was strand him on the side of the road with a fouled carburetor.  Also, if he was going down the road and the radio stopped playing, he would pull over onto the shoulder to work on it.

Perhaps the reason he couldn’t drive without music was that he was a musician. He played in a bluegrass band.  He also wrote song lyrics, and would often stop what he was doing to jot some down.  I regret I never heard any of his songs.

Dennis T. worked at Brighton until Enerfab bought us.  He wasn’t hired, they already had their own metal cutters.  We lost about half our people then, in December of 2002.  Enerfab was mainly interested in flanger operators, press operators, and welders.  Over time as we grew larger some of the old employees were hired back.  But not Dennis.  I don’t know what became of him after he left Brighton.

One memory I have of him is the time the nozzle of a propane cylinder was broken and a foot long flame shot out of it.  I was already headed for the door when I saw him calmly walk up and close the valve, extinguishing the flame.  He must have known the cylinder wouldn’t explode.  I would have let it burn until the propane was gone, I wouldn’t have gone near the thing.  I’ve heard stories about a propane cylinder toppling over and having the nozzle broken off, then being propelled like a torpedo by the escaping gas across the floor and through a block wall.  There is that much pressure in those cylinders.  So Dennis either knew what he was doing, or he was foolhardy.  With him, it was a tossup.