Don't Discount Feel

Who among us hasn't whipped out their trusty box-end wrench, put it on a rusty bolt, leaned into it and stripped the threads right off? Or, even worse, snapped the bolt or stud in two. It's not only frustrating, it's humbling too.

Columns From: 5/1/1996 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

Who among us hasn't whipped out their trusty box-end wrench, put it on a rusty bolt, leaned into it and stripped the threads right off? Or, even worse, snapped the bolt or stud in two. It's not only frustrating, it's humbling too.

The act of stripping a thread conjures up numerous competency questions in the wrench-totter's mind. While some of these insecurities can be allayed with success on the next bolt, something of the stripped thread lingers--never far from the surface. It's an experience--that sinking feeling you get as the bolt tightens then loosens in a way that's indescribable yet unmistakable.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things a stripped bolt is not very significant. It can, however, serve as a metaphor for other, bigger events in our working lives.

For example, there is the intellectual approach to over-torquing a bolt. One can devote numerous lines of calculations to describe the bolt stripping event. Measurement of torque, calculation of the mechanical advantage of thread pitch, hardness of the thread and seat, and more, can mathematically explain stripping a bolt.

This exercise may allow one to vicariously experience a stripped thread, but that's fairly useless information when it's just you, your wrench and that bolt. After stripping a few threads, you just know when it's going to go. Explain it? You can't. It's feel, pure and simple.

The point is, for much of what we do in manufacturing there is a certain amount of intuitive and experiential calculations that go on automatically, and which fall outside the scientifically definable. Perhaps more credence needs to be given to "feel."

It's possible that in an effort to get control of processes, and consider every possible manufacturing ramification, too much time, effort and money gets spent to quantify, document and otherwise containerize operations and tasks that might be better left to the feel of the people directly involved.

At the very least, "feel" is an operational factor that deserves consideration in process analysis. If your people are good, feel free to trust them to exercise what they know. In many cases, it's a better use of resources allowing them to get the work done than requiring them to explain--in triplicate--what they did.

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