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Sherlock Ohms

The A/C Blew Up the Earth Station

Rod Hine
11/29/2013  
25 comments
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jmiller
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Platinum
Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
jmiller   11/30/2013 9:11:21 AM
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Interesting it appears the low guy on the totem pole got canned. No mention of how the company didn't have policies in place to make sure this didn't happen.

a.saji
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Silver
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
a.saji   11/30/2013 11:20:02 AM
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@jmiller: Yes and most of the time the employees get the blame for things which the company had no clue. I think in most cases even though its not implemented the company believes that the employees will not do it, which is wrong                                

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
jmiller   11/30/2013 2:38:58 PM
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Interesting how the company assumes you won't do anything stupid like this. Working in management has taught me never to believe that someone won't do something stupid. Assuming someone knows better will result in disaster at some point. Managers need to make a point of saying, "show me." It's not an insult it's just making sure.

shehan
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Gold
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
shehan   11/30/2013 9:33:27 PM
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@jmiller – it's always good to assume that there might be a chance that something might go wrong, so it's good to be prepared to face that situation. 

taimoortariq
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Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
taimoortariq   11/30/2013 10:07:46 PM
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Shehan, and thats why many large scale companies have fully developed quality control and safety departments.

shehan
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Gold
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
shehan   11/30/2013 9:30:55 PM
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@a.saji – yes in many cases the employee takes the blame. It's always good if the company could monitor and ensure that everything goes smooth. 

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
jmiller   12/30/2013 8:36:18 PM
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In my current position I am finding out more and more of situations like this come down to training. Like you said, companies think people won't do something, but they don't train people so that they won't do it. We shouldn;'t be holding employees accountable for things that we haven't clearly communicated.

notarboca
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Gold
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
notarboca   11/30/2013 12:11:40 PM
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Yes, I would think there would have been some design review and QA before deployment

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
jmiller   11/30/2013 2:52:41 PM
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I think one of the most important skills that we just do not teach very well is the design review before you build the darn thing.  A lot of times a few questions will keep a large mistake from happening and the world of acedemia just doesn't teach that well to our young engineers.

shehan
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Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
shehan   11/30/2013 9:36:27 PM
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@jmiller – yes design review before you really create the product will add value to it. Being open to input from experts is a must.

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
jmiller   12/30/2013 8:18:28 PM
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I think the being open comment is really good. I remember when I first got into engineering I was a young punk out of college that thought I knew everything. I look back and remember a few different times when I wouldn't listen to the experts that were trying to help. Since then I have learned the more I listen, the more I learn.

taimoortariq
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Gold
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
taimoortariq   11/30/2013 10:05:38 PM
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Definitely, techniques of design review and saftey design should be given attention in academia as well, but that can never be relied upon. A company has to have proper quality checks on every final design that its engineers make and also it should be reviewed by different specialist to make the design more robust as well.

shehan
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Gold
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
shehan   11/30/2013 9:29:14 PM
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@Jmiller – How come they didn't have procedures to ensure they don't repeat the same mistake. 

taimoortariq
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Gold
Re: Blame the guy at the bottom of the food chain.
taimoortariq   11/30/2013 10:00:14 PM
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Jmiller I agree with you, people should have not blamed the so called young engineer. If you are undertaking a project this big there should be proper measures and verification levels to it. Certainly, back then the quality control departments were not given a proper amount of attention.

tekochip
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Platinum
No Protection?
tekochip   12/2/2013 10:33:10 AM
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How is it possible that something drawing so much power had no circuit protection?
 
The only time I ever saw something like that was while my band was playing at a small club.  There was a big name act coming in that we were to warm-up for, and the roadies for the big band were dissatisfied with the power that he night club had available for lighting.  With that the roadies attached metal welding clamps to the incoming power, ahead of the breaker boxes, with large diameter cables affixed to the clamps.  The cables were insulated, but the clamps were just bare metal exposed to anyone foolish enough to stumble by the cables, and no breakers to stop anything like a clamp coming lose.


jmiller
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Platinum
Re: No Protection?
jmiller   12/30/2013 8:23:17 PM
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Scary how many times I have seen someone do  something just like this to make it work.  Now I realize how dangerous stuff like this can be.  Electricity is not necessarily the best thing to "rig" when it comes to making it work.

wbswenberg
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Gold
Bad Management
wbswenberg   12/2/2013 11:59:41 AM
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It was not the kids fault.  Its bad management. With so many engineers looking for advancement management seems to be the way.  Then management training negates the engineering training.  It just not right to let a kid take the blame.  He should have been working under an experienced engineer.  Or have the design reviewed by one.  The installation techs should have been screaming code violations.  Now the code is not the end all.  There are cases where it is inadequate.  

We just got a new young lady engineer.  I worked with her as our designs need to be coordinated.  Since I'm the interconnect — connector focal, people come to me.  I had my connector sex ed class.  One has to be very careful in todays environment.  But there is a lot to learn.  Since I was very busy she asked another senior engineer to do a detailed review.  We were committed to not let her or her project fail.  

I also do over current and voltage protection.  I dont think there was a singe class that even mentioned connectivity or over current protection. I do remember some over voltage protection.

wbswenberg
User Rank
Gold
Bad Management
wbswenberg   12/2/2013 11:59:41 AM
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It was not the kids fault.  Its bad management. With so many engineers looking for advancement management seems to be the way.  Then management training negates the engineering training.  It just not right to let a kid take the blame.  He should have been working under an experienced engineer.  Or have the design reviewed by one.  The installation techs should have been screaming code violations.  Now the code is not the end all.  There are cases where it is inadequate.  

We just got a new young lady engineer.  I worked with her as our designs need to be coordinated.  Since I'm the interconnect — connector focal, people come to me.  I had my connector sex ed class.  One has to be very careful in todays environment.  But there is a lot to learn.  Since I was very busy she asked another senior engineer to do a detailed review.  We were committed to not let her or her project fail.  

I also do over current and voltage protection.  I dont think there was a singe class that even mentioned connectivity or over current protection. I do remember some over voltage protection.

jmiller
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Bad Management
jmiller   12/30/2013 8:28:55 PM
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I think it's sad that there are so few ways for engineers to get ahead and some of the best end up in management.  Rather than being able to mentor and help young engineers they are forced to go into management. 

William K.
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Platinum
A management problem all right!
William K.   12/2/2013 7:17:48 PM
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The problem was certainly a management problem on the customer side. How could anybody agree to an installation design without seeing it? In my career designing all kinds of industrial systems I have always presented a design for approval prior to starting to build. And if the manager didn't have the knowledge to understand the design then they should have had engineers who were able to understand it do the evaluation. I have done quite a few of those evaluations as well, and have had to ask questions as to "how does this work?" That is a great way to either point out a mistake or to learn something. Usually it has been leading some designer to realize an error when they start to explain and realize that it does not work. The advantage of that method is that it does not put anybody on their defensive, which gets me better cooperation. In addition, if it does work, their designer gets to feel good, and I may learn something.

Tool_maker
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Platinum
Re: A management problem all right!
Tool_maker   12/18/2013 10:12:17 AM
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@William K: I think there is enough blame to go around here. Of course you are correct in that someone up the food chain should have inspected and signed off on the design prior to build, but by the same token, if the designer did not have the knowledge to do the job right someone should been alerted.

  When I first left the shop and began designing dies I was warned by the man training me to never forget, "You are the only one who signs his name to the project." It is a fact. There have been times in my career where we have had numerous meeting and consultations on a job with input and suggestions from all over the place. Many times the changes are incorporated into the design and if the tool did not work as expected, all eyes were turned to me and everyone wanted to know what I was thinking when I drew that. What is that old saw: "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." Well not exactly, because there is a name on the design and he/she better have broad shoulders, or a relative as CEO.

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
They should have known back at day #1
William K.   1/6/2014 5:47:45 PM
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The person or persons who did not put in any overcurrent protection was actually guilty of serious fraud on day 1, when they represented that they knew what they were doing. To represent that one has knowledge and understanding that they don't have is just plain fraud. I have come across a few of those in my career and in most cases been able to assign them tasks that I could adequately describe the requirements of, so that they were able to produce useable results. But sometimes I was not the one assigning the tasks to be done, but still the one who had to make all of the pieces work when it was assembled into a system. Sometimes it was a matter of asking the designer how the package was going to provide the functions that I needed, and sometimes it was a case of asking the manager to explain to me how it was going to work. But I only did that when there was no hope of things working.

But the really important thing is to find and fix the problems while it is still only a paper design. Goofs in wire and steel are much harder, and a lot more expensive, to correct.

And now I wonder, would "whole system simulation" have detected the problem of no overcurrent protection?

akili
User Rank
Iron
Never take things for granted...
akili   1/15/2014 9:47:54 AM
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I certainly set off some good discussions with this anecdote!  I think I can make some defence for "our" contracts staff.  Anything that formed part of the actual earth station system was subjected to thorough scrutiny.  About ten years after I left the original company I was approached and subsequently employed as consultant on a number of occasions to evaluate tenders for upgrades and replacements and spent many hours going through detailed proposals right down to circuit diagram level, or visiting the stations to assist in surveys and upgrade programs.

However, I suspect that local contracts for ancillary services like air-conditioning were just evaluated to ensure that they would perform their function at the right price, but I doubt that we would have asked for detailed wiring diagrams.  After all, even the manager of the air-conditioning company was shocked and embarrassed when confronted with the evidence on the drawings.  Clearly the "young engineer" had not been trained or supervised properly and was not ready for the responsibility of carrying out the detailed electrical design.  I recall that he had personally supervised the work on site and his African techs would not have had the confidence to challenge the design - a regrettable but understandable attitude in post-colonial Kenya.  Anyway, I think a purchaser has a certain right to expect that routine installations of equipment will be done correctly and in conformity to relevant regulations and standards.

But I do agree about "not taking anything for granted" before, during or after a project build.  My next job was in meteorological telecomms in Nairobi and I once had difficulty persuading my assistant engineers to do something as mundane as locating and testing all the domestic mains sockets in the newly-built extension wing of our HF transmitter station.  They said "there's no point testing them, they've only just been installed so they can't have broken yet".  However, I handed Peter a desk lamp and said "Plug this into every socket and check them all out".  I insisted they did this while the electricians were still on site and sure enough, a couple of the sockets didn't work!  The faults were rectified within the hour and Peter and John conceded that they had learned an invaluable lesson.  One wonders who had trained and supervised the electricians...

Cabe Atwell
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Blogger
Re: Never take things for granted...
Cabe Atwell   1/20/2014 5:42:30 PM
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Some managers are notorious when it comes to shifting blame onto other but quick to take the accolades when the project runs flawlessly.

akili
User Rank
Iron
Re: Never take things for granted...
akili   1/23/2014 11:31:44 AM
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Very true.  Some managers also annoy junior staff by the "not invented here" tactic.  You put a lot of effort into your own idea to improve something and the manager rejects it out of hand.  A bit later the manager proposes the same idea to his superiors and you get no acknowledgment at all when it turns out to be the success you knew it would be all along.

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