Avoid getting hammered: Pay for quality!

I should have known better.  I really, REALLY should have known better.  But the temptation of a low price at the discount tool store for a hammer I needed was too much to resist.  It got me most of the way through the job before the ears of the claw broke off.  So I finished the job using a nail puller.  Which of course proved to be the better tool for pulling nails out of my brother’s roof anyway.  (Note: further experience has taught me one of those special flat shovels with the grooves cut in the end actually work better.  And I have been assured by @EXAIR_JP that my future experiences will actually prove the checkbook and a reputable roofer are the best tools for the job).

So for a few years after that job, it sat on the pegboard of the garage, getting occasional use, but mostly being overlooked in favor of its superior quality replacement.  As it so happened, I picked it up to drive an axle into a bearing hub on a motorcycle the other night with this result:

That’s when it struck me: (not literally, thankfully) Why did I waste my money on this piece of junk and why didn’t I throw it away when it broke the first time?  Answer to the latter is that I detest the throwaway society we have become and thought I could eek a few more years out of the business end of the hammer.  Which I did, but to what good I’m not sure.

As to the why I wasted my money in the first place, it’s simple:  I succumbed to the temptation of a low price.  Fortunately, it only meant the loss of a few dollars, but as you can see from the picture, it could’ve been much worse if the broken piece had decided to fly towards my head and not the ground.

You’ve heard it from countless places, including here :  you get what you pay for.  It’s true of hammers and for air nozzles. Investing in our engineered nozzles can provide immediate air savings and prevent future break outs of cold sweat when your friendly, neighborhood OSHA inspector pops in for a visit.

Got an application? Give us a call.  We’ll find you a solution and promise you there’ll be no broken hammers.

Dan Preston

Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com

Question Everything

My boss questions everything.  Not in a bad way, like ‘Why did you do that?!?!’ or ‘What were you thinking!’  But in a good way – he asks questions because he wants to know why or how something works, not because he doesn’t trust or believe people.  Now, maybe he’s just inquisitive by nature, or maybe he’s just learned to leave nothing assumed over the years, or perhaps he’s just fascinated by my profound depth of understanding and eloquent speech on whatever the subject at hand might be.  I suspect it’s a little of each.  Well, the first two anyway. 

At any rate, I’ve learned over the years the value of asking questions.  And in turn, I’ve really come to appreciate the ‘art’ of the question.  Both in asking and in answering.  The questions he asks me have helped me be a better engineer.  Because I’ve learned to anticipate the questions he might ask about a particular part or situation, I know the questions I need to be asking of others in advance.  For example, I can apply this lesson to a supplier who wants to ask for a design change to a part:  Why is this needed? Is there a cost associated with the change? Will it affect our lead time or any agency listing?  On the flip side, I know the questions I need to ask a customer who wants to use one of our products in an application:  What’s your current air pressure? Why doesn’t the setup you have now work for you? How fast is your conveyor moving?

Now, when it comes to answering questions, let me say by appreciating the ‘art’ of answering them, I don’t mean doing a tap dance.  You know what I’m talking about.  You ask what you think is a straightforward question and get an answer that looks something like this:

I’m a firm believer in telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  But the art comes in explaining it in terms that make sense to the customer.  For example, if someone is trying to cool down a 700 degree F casting and wants to use a vortex tube to do it, we don’t just say ‘The heat load created by your casting exceeds the practical limitations of the cooling capacity of a vortex tube.’  Instead, you might hear a phrase like ‘Imagine trying to cool down a Jacuzzi using a single ice-cube.’  Such an analogy allows them to see in their mind’s eye the problem at hand.  We might then say something like ‘You can cool your coffee with your breath, right?’  and proceed to explain that a large amount of ambient temperature airflow is more effective at cooling something very hot than a small amount of cold airflow.

You’ve heard the saying ‘You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.’  That’s certainly true here at EXAIR, but don’t be surprised if we ask a few questions first to make sure we give you the answer you need.

Dan Preston
Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com

Everybody Makes Mistakes, Just Some More Than Others

It was what my brother always told me when I made a mistake.  Everybody does it, but some do it more often (or in more spectacular fashion) than others.  And although you won’t find it written anywhere, one of the main functions written in your job description is ‘keep mistakes from happening.’ 

The good thing about mistakes is that we don’t have to personally make them to learn from them.  As an engineer, I always think of the (in)famous Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse. 

Few engineers had heard of resonant frequency, let alone given it serious thought prior to Nov 7, 1940.  And had they worried incessantly about it, chances are no bridge would have ever been built there, period.  But now I dare say there’s not a civil or aerospace engineer out there who doesn’t look at this critical factor when creating a new design.  It’s interesting to note that there is still some debate as to whether forced resonance was the real cause for the collapse.  You can read more here

Regardless the cause, I still remember watching this filmstrip (yes, filmstrip) in high school and college level physics courses.  It has always fascinated me and served as a stark reminder of the responsibilities of the engineering world at large.  But here’s the thing.  The old cliché is true.  We all DO make mistakes.  Whether it’s in a design, accounting, customer service, wherever.  While no man will every completely avoid making mistakes in his life, we should be well-rounded enough to try to consider factors outside the normal mode of operation that can affect our desired outcome.

So a mistake has occurred.  Obviously we want to learn from it and avoid making it (or one like it) again.  Good.  Now what?  There’s a corollary to that unwritten job function that goes like this ‘When you do make a mistake, correct it quickly AND with complete disclosure.’  It’s that latter part that makes us squirm in our seats.  Having to tell the boss, the customer and possibly the world that something you did (or didn’t) do was going to cost the company time, money and perhaps most importantly, respect.

Whatever you do, DON’T try to skip this step.  I have tried.  It ends poorly.  GM, Ford, Toyota have all tried.  I don’t think I need to tell you how it ended (is ending) for them. What might seem like a ‘little’ problem and what might seem like ‘well intentioned efforts’ to minimize damage can wind up destroying your reputation.  Quite frankly, anything less than complete disclosure is a lie.  You can debate this point if you like, but I’m betting your customer would agree with me.

It’s been said that no man is an island (sorry, yet another cliché) and this is particularly true when a mistake we made starts to affect others.  Sometimes the hardest thing is sucking it up and asking for a little help.  It’s tough, but we all need a little help now and again, even if it’s just emotional support and advice.

In summary:

Don’t be afraid to explore new things.

Try to avoid, but don’t be afraid to make, mistakes.

When you mess up, fess up.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And when all is said and done, chances are very good you’ll get a chance to do it all again.

Dan Preston
Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com

I’m an engineer, and I carry a badge (sometimes)

Have you ever thought you were getting one thing, only to wind up with something other than what you expected?  It might have evolved from a conversation that went something like this:

You: Hi there! I need a replacement widget model ABC123.

CSR on the other end: Okay, I don’t show that in my computer system, but I do show an ABC123-A.

You: Okay, will that still work?

CSR: Let me check…

At this point, you’re put on hold, and the CSR (wanting to expend as little energy as possible), spins around in their chair and asks the guy in the next cubicle.  He shrugs his shoulders and says ‘I dunno, probably.’  Which is promptly and courteously translated back to you as:

‘Okay, I checked with a senior technician here and those do interchange, no problem.’  But of course, when the part arrives to, it’s not even close.  Few things are more frustrating.

This is NOT how EXAIR operates.  When our Customer Service reps don’t know the answer, they get up out of their chairs, walk over to the Application Engineering department and ask.  And if the Application Engineers don’t know, they get up out of their chairs and ask someone who does.  Often times, that’s me.  If I don’t know, I find out.  My name’s Dan.  I work at EXAIR, and I carry a badge.

Okay, so I don’t normally carry a badge, but you can often find me with a calculator and pair of dial calipers in my hip pocket.  But this isn’t a story about me, it’s a story about you, the customer. 

Here’s the thing – when there is a living, breathing human being on the phone or a live chat-er that is waiting patiently for an answer, we drop whatever we are doing and find that answer for them.  Not just our best guess, but the only answer that means anything – the correct one. 

Why do we do this?  The simple answer is because it’s the right thing to do.  Sure, it’s good customer service too, but I’m willing to bet everyone here has their own personal reasons as well.  Maybe it’s because we’ve all received poor customer service at one time or another.  Maybe it’s because of the sense of duty that our customers deserve the right answer, no matter how much personal effort it takes on our part.  Or maybe, if you’re like me, it’s because there’s something wrong with you. Just an engineer’s inquisitive nature I suppose.  I want to help you get the answer you need, but I also want to find the answer because I want to know. 

So, next time you have a question about one of our products, please don’t hesitate to ask.  You’re not inconveniencing anyone, and you may just be helping a compulsively curious engineer!

Dan Preston
Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com

You won’t get stuck with EXAIR

In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned working on the brakes of my pickup.  Well, I guess my other car was listening and felt like it had to get in on the act as well.  On the way home from work the other day, my brakes started making a horrendous grinding noise.  You know the one.  The kind you hear when someone neglects to check their brakes and lets it get to the point of metal on metal.  It makes me wince every time I hear it, especially if it’s on my car.  But here’s the thing: I had checked my brakes not too long ago and they were good.  And the noise didn’t start gradually, but all at once.  When I got home and pulled off the caliper I found my pads looked very much like this…

 Not worn down to a nub, but GONE on one side.  My first thought was a sticking caliper, but a quick checked proved it was working properly.  The only remaining possible explanation was that the pad itself had failed, coming completely delaminated.  While the pads were technically out of warranty, the manager of the parts store was willing to work with me.  He gave me a new set of pads at cost and faced the rotor for $11.  I knew it wasn’t the parts store manager’s fault, but I left the store feeling like the pad manufacturer should have replaced everything for free.  Never-the-less getting my car back on the road for $36 seemed like the prudent thing to do at the time, so I just let it go.

How about you?  Have you ever been in a situation where someone else’s problem became not only your problem to fix, but to pay for?  And it was more hassle to try to get your money back than just let it go?  I think we’ve all been there in one way or another.  But you won’t find yourself in that boat with EXAIR. 

EXAIR gives you 30 days to try our products out.  So if it doesn’t work out for your purpose, you’re not stuck with it.  Say you’ve got a project that got cancelled and you no longer need that air knife?  Give us a call within 30 days of the order and we’ll issue you a full refund.  Maybe you’re researching a project using a vortex tube and you’re about 28 days into your 30 day free trial and you need another week for testing?  No problem, give us a call and we can work it out. Beyond the 30 day trial, our compressed air products are covered under our “Built to Last” 5 year warranty.

Until then, I’m going to be patiently awaiting for the brakes on my wife’s van to go out next…

Dan Preston
Design Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com

Cooking: Offroad in a minivan without instructions

Do you like to cook?  I do.  As an engineer, it’s kind of a stress release for me and a welcome change to designing say, a custom air knife.  Sure, there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing that custom Super Air Knife built and perform to spec, but they don’t taste very good.  Or maybe I enjoy cooking because it appeals to my sense of structure.  Following a discrete number of steps to arrive at a prescribed solution.  Of course, sometimes the directions sound a lot easier than they are…

So while on one hand I do try to stick to the recipe when I cook (at least for the most part), I tend to be the kind of guy that will build his entire entertainment center, and in the course of cleaning up the various debris afterward, find a very well-preserved set of directions sealed in the little plastic bag they came in.  And stopping to ask for directions? HA!  I mean hey, I am after all, a guy and some things can’t be changed.  As I often tease my wife ‘I don’t read directions, I WRITE them.’  Of course, occasionally this can lead to problems, or as I like to call it ‘unplanned adventure.’  For example, one time on the way to Florida…

Okay, so that’s not actually me and my family, but we did have a similar experience in South Alabama one time.  And believe me, that’s a story my wife LOVES to remind me of every time I get lost, um, which is never. Right…

So regardless of your take on directions, we here at EXAIR understand you.  And you’ll understand us too.  We write all of our own Installation and Maintenance Instructions, so there’s no ‘mistranslations’ to deal with.  Unlike the set of directions we recently received with a promotional give-away R/C helicopoter…

The last sentence of paragraph b) is my favorite.

So, you’re the recipe following type?  Take a look at our Knowledge Base for a complete library of Installation and Maintenance Instructions (a one time registration gets you permanent access to instructions, 2D drawings and 3D models, a large application database, product Powerpoints and a video library!). Or maybe you like to try to do it on your own first, and only get help as a last possible resort.  Try our online chat or pick up the phone and call us a 1-800-903-9247.  Either way, it’s okay by us.  And we promise, if you do ask for help, we’ll keep it just between you and us…

Dan Preston
Design Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com

Are we not EXAIR?

I love quizzes.  They’re a chance to sharpen the ‘ol gray matter up a little bit and have some fun comparing notes afterwards.  I especially love ones about ‘You might be a child of the 80’s if…’  A lot of them revolve around music and, although I can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket (ask my co-workers), I’m pretty good at knowing the lyrics.  Here’s a few questions to test your 80’s mettle.  Needless to say, ‘no fair peekin’ on the internet:

1) What is the proper response to ‘Are we not men?’

2) What instrument was Thomas Dolby ‘playing’ in the ‘She blinded me with Science’ video?

3) Everyone remembers ‘Don’t You(Forget About Me)’ from the Breakfast Club.  Who sang it?

If you like those, check out this website http://www.yetanotherdot.com/asp/80s.html Great little diversion from the workday…  I got an 82.

Okay, now for a quiz of a different nature.

1)      Who is the only Air Knife manufacturer IN THE WORLD to have a 3D library of all their knives?

2)      Who has the only Cabinet Coolers IN THE WORLD with a CE mark?

3)      Who has the only Air Knives IN THE WORLD with a CE mark?

4)      Who offers the most -316 stainless steel and -PVDF products FROM STOCK?

5)      Who else has Professor Penurious?

Put your #2 pencils down, and exchange your paper with a neighbor.  It’s gradin’ time! 

1)      EXAIR.  That’s right baby, only one in the WORLD.  And if it’s not in a format you need, e-m me and I’ll get it right over to ya.

2)      EXAIR.  Sure a few others have 3rd party recognition, but NOBODY else has CE.

3)      EXAIR.  You heard it here first.

4)      EXAIR.  Check it out on our ‘Buy Now’ section.  Open 24/7/365.

5)      No one.  Actually, I don’t think we could get rid of him if we wanted to.  He’s a little eccentric to say the least, but harmless enough.  Besides, EXAIR is the only one within biking distance.

So if you’ve got a question about an application, a special material or if you just want to hear about my lifelong regret of deciding to buy Van Halen’s ‘1984’ on cassette rather than vinyl, pick up the phone and give me a call.

Dan Preston
Design Engineer
DanPreston@exair.com               

P.S. Answers to above:  1) We are Devo! 2) Violin/Viola/Cello 3) Simple Minds.  If you couldn’t answer this off the top of your head, your homework assignment is to go home and watch the ‘Brat Pack’ movie of your choosing.