Monday, January 19, 2009

Manual Labour

I helped to install the new hardware into the robot today. Since most of the plant is shutdown, the noise level was tolerable so we could get by without earplugs. This plant is one of the noisiest I've worked in, so it was a change that I did not have to make myself hoarse while trying to have a conversation.

The air in this plant contains oily, metallic particles. It is not a health risk but it plays havoc with electronics, as I found out a few years ago. In 2003 I developed a simple system for testing if a barcode label had been applied to the part. The system runs on a normal PC which I assumed would be put into a cabinet for protection. After a year, they started having problems. The PC had been used, unprotected, in this environment all that time. The PC still worked, so after a thorough cleaning, it went back to the plant. Another year later, the PC died completely. I assume the metallic grease had finally overloaded something critical, because even a cleaning did not help. They finally got a clue and put the replacement PC into a cabinet.

But I digress. The work to day went smoothly, but I ache like I've been doing manual labour. Bending over for long periods, crawling under the robot, lifting heavy parts, all takes it toll. Even though I'm a programmer, developing industrial automation and control systems means you will get your hands dirty occasionally. I suspect that this is enough to keep most programmers away from of this type of work. The software is not finished yet so I'll be in the plant a lot this week. Programming in hostile, uncomfortable surroundings is always unpleasant. I've lost count of how many times I've had to work that way.

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