Great ideas begin in the simplest forms. A sketch on a napkin. A doodle on a scrap piece of paper. A few words to solidify the idea that has been formed in the mind. And the sketch or doodle, the short sentence or scribble, all start with a pencil. That’s why I’ve thought a fitting project for 2017 is WrTie, a titanium mechanical pencil.
This project symbolizes my desire to do things different. WrTIe will be a product designed to last a lifetime and pass onto your kids (like that pocket watch you received from your grandfather), a project that challenges design and manufacturing skills, and my desire to be an inspiration for everyone working in their garage. And that’s where great ideas start.
The real question is can a small shop with manual machines and one man design, prototype, and manufacturer something so simple … yet so complicated? This is a product made with a material that is difficult to manufacturer with even the best equipment. And I’ve never machined titanium. Not even once.
What will follow over the year is a series showing my progress on designing, prototyping and manufacturing a mechanical pencil made from titanium. There will be product tear downs, unique designs, tiny o-rings, CAD software, research, guesswork, calculated risks, material investigation, tool design and selection, deep hole drilling, tiny machining, the help of friends, many failures, frustrations, lessons from craft beer, and I hope in the end success.
I haven’t written or designed anything. This is not scripted. This isn’t a Kickstarter campaign. Through the power of video you will be coming along for the journey, every step of the way, watching ever failure, and every success. I want to learn and do something productive, and I hope you do as well.
And in the end if it all works, I hope to have something special that I can use every day. The drawings, the lessons learned, the tricks discovered, will all be here.
To show your support, I ask you to subscribe. I will start in early 2017.
Recently I had to fix a toy for the new addition in the family. It was a car seat toy. The toy is suppose to play a song when you push the dog’s nose. We’ve had this toy for a few years and all it needed was a new battery. I made a short video going through what I needed to do to change the battery.
I hate tamper proof screws. The only point to them is to either sell more tools, or force people to throw stuff out. They don’t keep people out. People who want to get in will get in, and people who don’t want to will not. And keeping people out of products so they can’t change batteries doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Then there is the problem of end of life. How many people would just chuck this item into the garbage?
End users or consumers should always be able to remove and replace batteries without the need for specialty tools so they can remove the batteries before they dispose of the device, or prolong the life of the device. Why is this such a big deal? Devices with non removable batteries cannot be automatically processed by waste recycling facilities (because these facilities grind up the entire device – which would cause major issues with batteries). This forces these types of devices to be shipped overseas where low cost labour disassembles them. Often kids are doing this work, and the waste is not disposed of properly.
Apple is one major manufacturer that insists on fully enclosed non removable batteries. This is terrible, but it helps their agenda: sell more devices or sell more over priced service. Numerous reasons are given for built in batteries in small electronic devices, but in reality they don’t have any merit. I have a inexpensive ($100) Android phone with a removable battery and it works great. And if the battery needs to be replaced, I don’t even need any tools to replace it. And when the device fails I can remove the battery and send them to appropriate recycling facilities, instead of across the globe.
We really have to stop designing for the dump and quickest assembly, and start designing for service and longevity.
Last Friday evening I received an urgent request for some shoulder bolt type screws. A job was in the works, and the screws on hand wouldn’t work. I needed to make up 3 screws. So after getting the kids to bed I headed out into the shop and went to work.
I made a video showing how I made them up:
I used a die to cut the threads. A lathe purist perhaps would have single pointed them, but I didn’t have time and it was getting late. I delivered them early Saturday morning, and I was told they did the job well. I did lose a bit of sleep that night, but it was fun to do and I was glad to help out someone else get another job done that couldn’t wait for another solution.
For my latest project, I made a concrete bench out of standard precast concrete blocks that are easily sourced. I filled them up with cement and steel reinforcement, grouted a piece of granite countertop on (to give a nice flat surface), and anchored my import lathe to it using sleeve anchors. I made a video of it here:
I also made a video of a quick analysis I did of the stiffness and damping properties of concrete and found concrete to be a great material to make a lathe bench out of:
It turned out well. I originally was going to build a steel bench out of 2×2 tubing to move the lathe to as the wood bench gave significant grief when trying to get the twist out of the bed. I then started thinking outside of the traditional box, and thought, hey what about concrete.
Now my lathe is pretty short – if you had a longer lathe you might want to support the granite countertop more with perhaps some steel bolted between the 2 supports.
I plan on making some shelves for below the lathe yet in between the 2 blocks. It was a fun project, and I learned a fair bit about cement and concrete in my reading. If you want to improve the damping even more, there are many studies on adding rubber pieces to the cement. You can also add steel wool to significantly improve the strength. Simple standard concrete alone though has the damping properties of cast iron.
Yes I can’t really move it, and I thought a lot about this, but I really don’t move my machines that often anyway.
The performance of the lathe is significantly improved, it is like day and night really. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference. Some slight shimming maybe required yet to get the last small amount of taper out (or it could be another issue – I haven’t investigated any further yet as the taper at this point is way better than the .003″ over 3 inches I was getting before).
Here is a picture of the bench itself:
And with the lathe (I previously made a drip pan the lathe is sitting on):
It didn’t take that long to do – not significantly longer than any other bench construction method. Plus I didn’t’ have to deal with steel distortion and residual stresses due to welding – something that can be a significant issue.
Often in conversations with people I’m asked what I do for a living. I reply that I am an engineering technologist. Many times a puzzled look is given and the question “What is an engineering technologist?” follows. Early in my work and studies I wasn’t sure either and I usually stammered to explain that while I’m not quite an engineer I do engineering type work and near the end of it all I’m almost as puzzled as the person asking the question. I really wanted to say I was an engineer because everybody knew what that meant, and knew the significance of it.
When I first started the program at McMaster to complete my degree, I was convinced that I wanted to be an engineer, and the Bachelor of Technology program was the quickest way to get my degree and pursue the required Professional Engineering challenge exams to get my designation.
Now that I’m almost finished the engineering technology program at McMaster University and preparing to take my Masters of Engineering, I’ve realized what being an engineering technologist is and the significant value an engineering technologist brings to the table.
Most traditional engineering programs have a significant focus on mathematics, and emphasizes the derivation of mathematical models to describe engineering phenomenon. They focus on creating mathematical models. The engineering technologist focuses on making known mathematical models work to solve a problem. Engineering technologists sacrifice some of the higher mathematics to practical lab time. This is to observe mathematical models in action. Engineering technologists also have a greater emphasis placed on work experience as part of their academic training. Nearly all engineering technologists are required (in Canada anyway) to complete some form of work placement as a graduating requirement. Engineering technologists with a Bachelor’s degree (Bachelor in Technology) also are accepted into higher level academic programs, including masters programs and doctorate programs.
Mark French, an associate professor at Purdue (http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rmfrench/) gives an interesting look into engineering technology in The Engineering Commons Podcast episode 59. It is well worth listening to.
In the working world, the lines are very blended between the 2 professions. It has been my experience that the broader approach to learning in a technology program leads many engineering technologists into management roles, especially interdisciplinary management such as Operations Management. This is the reason McMaster’s Bachelor of Technology program puts a heavy emphasis on traditional business type courses. Business courses make up almost 30% of their degree completion program.
Here is a graph that depicts the similarities, and some of the differences in the working world:
(Chart above from the American Society for Mechanical Engineers.)
An area where engineering and engineering technology differs significantly is the area of public liability. Generally engineering technologists are not permitted to take public liability for their work, although this has slowly been changing. If there is government legislation requiring public liability to be accounted for (use of the stamp), engineering technologists are required to have their work reviewed by a professional engineer.
I seriously enjoy engineering technology and I have been significantly blessed in my career – both in school and at work. Engineering technology is a great mix of hands on and theoretical. It is a field where you take something off the whiteboard and live it out on the shop floor. As an engineering technologist I can design a part (sometimes I may have to ask an engineer to verify some of my work – but that’s a good practice anyway), apply the appropriate manufacturing process, actually do the process, and observe the end result. It is a full understanding of an entire concept to completion process – a big picture approach.
So when somebody asks me what I do, I say I am an engineering technologist. What is an engineering technologist? Let’s go for a walk, and I’ll show you what I do. It’s easier than trying to explain it. I find the hands on approach emphasizing the end result easier for everyone to relate to.