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July 2010 Archive for In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

"Non-Serviceable Component"

Jul 22, 2010
 I just finished some training in anticipation of the eventual release of Tier IV diesel engines, the EPA-mandated diesel engines that are supposed to have exhaust gases out of the exhaust stack as clean as the air over Los Angeles on a smoggy day. One of the things that stuck in my mind from the training is the term, "Non-Serviceable Component".

There are a lot of non-serviceable components on some of the pending Tier IV engines. The training showed us the inner workings of EGR valves, Variable-Vane Turbochargers, and all sorts of other high-tech gadgets that help clean up diesel exhaust enough to meet the EPA's deadline in 2015. But even though they showed us the inner workings of the gadgets, those gadgets were often listed as non-serviceable components (NSC). In other words, if some small spring or valve or doo-hicky fails inside an NSC, the only "fix" is to replace the entire component. Even if the broken spring costs 5 cents, but the entire component costs $500.

I've blogged about how mechanics nowadays often "replace" rather than "fix" because the labor to fix things is often more than the cost of the new component. There are definitely times when it is better to replace than fix.  But I like being able to offer customers the option of fixing rather than replacing because sometimes I can save them money if I know shortcuts or tricks to keep my labor charges lower than the cost of a new component.

Looks like we're going to lose that option more often in the future. I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

Trying To Keep Cool... Literally

Jul 18, 2010
 The only tool more common in farm shops than a hammer is some sort of fan to cool things off on hot summer days. In some shops that fan is a simple household fan pirated from the house when the wife wasn't looking. Other shops get by with the lazy air movement from ceiling fans. Neither of those options move enough air to satisfy me on a hot midwestern day, so I bought  a couple 2-foot-diameter, large-bladed shop fans that roll on wheels so I can move them around to direct cooling air where I need it most. I've considered and priced huge, 6-foot diameter industrial-grade fans used in factories, but couldn't afford them and worried that their ability to move massive amounts of cfm might be too much in a conventional shop setting.

My co-worker Mark the Scavenger "found" a large squirrel-cage fan with a 20-inch diameter housing, "discovered" an unused 220-volt motor (I'm fairly confident larceny wasn't involved), and created an air-moving-monster that's been know to make grown men stumble if they pass too close to its discharge chute. It creates a nice breeze for quite a distance across the shop, and can create quite a dust storm if a prankster pounds a dirty air filter near the intake hole duct.

But even with store-bought or home-built fans, it's hot in most shops this time of year. Cold water taken internally and applied externally is often the only solace. I've never understood those folks who blissfully work in withering heat without apparent major discomfort. Maybe it's my Scandanavian heritage, but any time the thermometer climbs higher than the upper 80s makes me long for the first frost of the year.

I Shoulda Replaced It

Jul 12, 2010
 I'm frustrated tonight because I spent all day and a lot of a customer's money rebuilding a hydraulic pump on his machine. I should have replaced the entire pump, but when I told the customer a new pump would cost more than $1000, he swore and asked, "How much is a rebuild kit?" I told him the seal kit cost around $50. He then asked, "How much will the labor be to rebuild it? I reluctantly quoted a couple hundred bucks. His response: "Well, that's a no-brainer--$300 bucks to rebuild versus $1000 to replace it?  Why would you even think about putting on a new pump when you can rebuild it for 1/3 the cost?"

So I spent most of today rebuilding the hydraulic pump. He now has new seals in a pump that has several thousand field hours on it. Everything is worn except for the new seals. I predict the worn components will quickly eat up the new seals, and the customer will be calling me everything in the book next fall when he has to spend $1000 to replace the pump during harvest. 

I'm going to be the villain either way, so I might as well have got the shouting and swearing over with now. As we say in the shop, "Turning wrenches is the easiest part of being a mechanic."

Maybe You Know...

Jul 08, 2010
 There are several kits or tools in tool catalogs that caught my interest. They're outside my area of expertise (ag equipment) so I thought I'd toss them out to see if any of you have had experience with them, and whether they're a good deal or not.

The first kit is an automotive headlight lens restoration kit. Several manufacturers make them, and they're designed to remove yellowing, minor pitting and haziness from the big headlight lenses on modern cars and trucks. They'd probably work on tractor headlight lenses, too. The general theory is to use a buffing pad on an electric drill with a progression of buffing compounds to remove the damaged layer until the lens is again bright and clear. The headlights lenses on my wife's car would benefit from "restoration," but I'm reluctant to spend the money and time unless I'm sure it will make things better.

The second kit/process I'm contemplating is a do-it-yourself rubberized pickup truck bed liner. Commercial spray-on bed liners cost hundreds of dollars but use special, high-tech techniques and chemicals to coat the bed with a nearly impregnable coating. I've seen several DIY kits that promise near-professional results at much less expense. I've been told that all it takes is 4 to 5 hours, a buffing wheel on a drill, a roller to apply several coats of the compound, and the resulting bed liner is comparable to a professional job. "Professional jobs" generally cost more because the pros use special tools, techniques and chemicals unavailable to amateurs, so I'm skeptical that a DIY kit can actually produce a near-professional job.

So, this time I'm asking for YOUR input on these two kits/processes. With your help, we'll all know whether these are good ideas that we can use, or if we should pursue alternate solutions.

Don't Do This:

Jul 04, 2010
 A reader's tongue-in-cheek response to my blog last week about using an air hammer to install hammer-rivets (gosh, I hope it was tongue-in-cheek...) prompted me to ponder all the times I've damaged in the shop various fingers, hands or other body components. While I'm extremely capable of doing bodily harm using simple hand tools--hammer, saw, screwdriver---my specialty for self-inflicted wounds is power tools. My "Don't Do This Again" list includes:

- Don't take a step to reposition your feet while using a cutting torch to cut metal. If you do, and feel warmth on the sole of your shoe, immediately dislodge the glowing chunk of metal that is melting its way through your work shoe on its way to the sensitive skin on the bottom of your foot.

-In that same vein, even if you're doing a brief personal project on a weekend, never cut or weld metal while wearing athletic shoes with cloth panels. Even worse are athletic shoes with cloth panels ventilated with small holes. (Who knew some synthetic fibers actually burst into small, colorful flames?)

-Don't use a die grinder with a cut-off disk without wearing gloves. Skin cut/burned by the ragged edges of cut-off wheels takes forever to heal.

-Air hammers tend to "walk" during use. Do not use your free hand to hold steady small objects you're attempting to air hammer. Unless you like blood blisters.

-Do not use a 1/2-inch drill at full extension of your right arm while standing on the last rung of a 5-rung step ladder.

--Do not use a sledge hammer when angry.

-And finally, in honor of the 4th of July, even though you did it dozens of times when you were younger, don't light and throw a firecracker. Either fuses have gotten faster or my reflexes have slowed down.
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