Monday, February 24, 2014

Mechanical Failures

I am a service manager at an automobile dealership for my day job. While performing routine maintenance on most vehicles, I also regularly have to play ‘doctor’ and sometimes break bad news to the owners regarding major repairs. Often I get questions such as “what caused it?” or “was it something I did?”
Many times the response is as simple as explaining that their vehicle consists of different mechanical systems, and anytime you have something mechanical it is prone to break due to rotating parts and wear over time.
What makes certain mechanical devices extraordinary are the ones that can keep things simple with fewer moving parts and survive over time.
In 1910, John Browning, who was a firearm designer for Colt before launching his own firearm manufacturing company, developed a repeating pistol. The U.S. military began trials for their next carry piston with six manufacturers. One by one, pistols were eliminated due to failures until Colt and Savage Arms remained. Over a two day period, with John Browning observing the trials personally, his M1911 pistol fired 6000 rounds without failure. When the pistol became too hot, it was simply dipped in a bucket of water to cool it down to continue testing. Over the same trial, the Savage failed 37 times. A simple but tested design that proved to be the hallmark for future firearms.
Now, why am I paying attention to mechanical failures? Well, for one I went through one on something I did not expect the other weekend. I have experienced failures before, even on firearms. I once had a shotgun fire with the safety still engaged. Fortunately, the person that was holding it had the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and no one or nothing was harmed in the accidental discharge. Not only did it teach the person that was holding the shotgun a little respect for potential mishaps, but it reinforced something I already knew. I knew things like that could happen because it is mechanical in nature.
The weekend in reference I was setting up a new bow. The bow did fine. The problem came with my release. For those that do not know, a release is a device that has a set of jaws that hold the bow string while drawing and holding. When the shooter is ready to release the string, his finger or thumb, depending on the style, squeezes a trigger which opens the jaws.
I was getting ready to pull the string back on the bow to check if the peep sight, which is located in the string, was positioned properly for my line of sight. Just before drawing the bow, I decided to nock an arrow on the string ‘just in case’. The person who was installing the peep sight asked was I going to shoot since the sight was not properly tied in yet, but I explained I was not going to shoot but I wanted to be safe instead.
The reason it is safe to actually nock an arrow on the bow is a ‘dry fire’ can destroy a bow. So, if I had an accidental discharge, an arrow would fly and the bow would be intact.
Forethought is wonderful. The release I have had since 2005 and shot thousands upon thousands of arrows with broke, releasing the arrow down range, lodged high on the wall 30 yards away. Bow was ok, arrow was salvaged, two people completely startled but ok, and a broken $45 release.
You cannot predict when something mechanical will fail. You can do everything possible to prevent it from failing and take precautions in case it does.  

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