What’s my work really like?

English: A Melroe Bobcat skid steer loader, mo...
Oh, if I were Dracula . . .  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

. . . and by my work I mean the things I do at my day job. Now technically, I’m not supposed to talk about where I work as part of my job’s social networking policy – it might be construed as I am speaking as a representative of the company I work for or of our customer, the big-time skid-steer manufacturer whose name gets thrown around by Mike Rowe like he’s trying to ruin their trademark for good.

One line sums up how I feel at the end of most days:

“I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust.”

This is the third line of the Imagine Dragons song Radioactive. Okay, well technically it depends on how you write the lyrics out, but it feels like the third line to me, and it always reminds me of my job because for the most part I operate a plasma punch. The fabulous Whitney 3400XP (click to see one prior to its first hour of operation) is a terrible and awe-inspiring machine that will put you in the doghouse at a moment’s notice, and yet if you know exactly how to treat her, that kind of action is kept to a bare minimum and she just purrs like a kitten. Or rather, she goes BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG SSSHSSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSH and that’s pretty much what I like to hear from her.

The whole point of a plasma punch is that it punches holes and then cuts parts out of sheet metal, and it has its advantages and drawbacks. You can use thicker sheet than a punch press and your machine has a smaller footprint and easier repairs (try replacing the flywheel on a 4-kiloton punch press – it took an outside company almost a month just to get one off recently.) Compared to a laser fabricator – we just call them lasers – it’s faster, because the holes are punched instantly, vs. each one taking significantly longer to cut with a laser. The drawback vs. lasers and punch presses, however, is that a plasma torch doesn’t make nearly as nice an edge. But it does the trick and if you know how to work it, it’s not terrible.

And believe me when I say a plasma punch is miles ahead of using a drill and a jigsaw.

So, it cuts sheet metal, yes. But not with a plasma torch. I know I said that, but it’s technically a little more complicated than just that. See, the plasma torch doesn’t really cut the metal, as plenty of welders and fabricators will attest. All the torch can do is heat it up, maybe make it drip. . . but the plasma torch creates a relatively fine beam of heat – though not as fine as a laser – and then a jet of compressed air blows the metal out of the “cut”; and where does this metal go? Good, you’re staying on track. It’s blown downward, because the torch hangs down from a track and cuts from the top of the sheet. There’s a sort of chute around the cutting slot that extends down to a slag bin that catches molten metal and particulates that have solidified on the way down.

It’s like Martian dirt.

The stuff amazed me at first, but since I have to clean it up every day it’s a little more ‘lah-di-dah’ at this point. But it’s funny because the metal isn’t rusty, but my theory is that the molten particles that come down like sparkage and solidify on the way down are catalyzed by heat and oxidize rapidly, causing them to become particles of “rust dust”, much of which falls in the bin, and the lighter particles of which are sucked into a dust collector that dumps them into a barrel that has to be emptied at the end of every shift. That barrel is just chock full of orangey-red dust that is so fine it’s impossible not to get it on you. You could look clean as a whistle, I swear, and then you go wash your hands and arms at the end of the shift, and when you take a paper towel and dry off your arms it comes away orange.

And when I say the slag falls downward into the slag bin, that really does depend upon what’s going on. Some of it likes to collect around the cutting slot and eventually builds up to the point where I have to take an air chisel and take it all off the edge; fortunately there’s a parts drop table attached, and if you drop it you have enough room to really get in there and clean out all the big steel stalactites that are building up in there. It feels like operating a jackhammer in the bowels of Hell, and by the time you’re done you’re literally sweating rust.

And that’s part of why I love my job.


This post was prompted by Thursday’s Daily Post prompt.

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