Eyes Of The Beholder

When I visited the Space Instrument Shop for the article Cutting With A 0. 001-Inch End Mill, I had the opportunity to look through the same microscopes that the guys there used all the time.

Columns From: 4/2/2007 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

When I visited the Space Instrument Shop for the article Cutting With A 0.001-Inch End Mill, I had the opportunity to look through the same microscopes that the guys there used all the time. As I peered into the eyepieces, they gave me prompts in the background: “Now look for…” or “When you see…”

Trouble was, I didn’t know what to look for or how to find it with my eyes. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at— at least not right away. Once, I even faked an “Oh, yeah—there it is” because I was getting a little flustered by my inability to observe what would have been plainly obvious to one of them.

This led to a discussion about working with microscopes in the shop. Hal and his team made several good points that helped me understand some aspects of my experience.

  1. It does take some getting used to. You have to learn what things look like when they are magnified 50 to 100 times or more. Being able to identify what you see is an acquired skill. See that hunk of mozzarella on the edge of the cutting board? That’s really a bit of skin from someone’s fingertip left on the corner of a milled slot. People need time to train their eyes.
  2. Microscopes are a tool, and you have to have the right tool for the job. The features and qualities you need vary according to the application, as does the cost. High-quality optics are usually a good investment in any case.
    Proper illumination is critical. The kind of light and how it is gathered and focused make a difference, too. Good lighting makes the work go faster and helps avoid fatigue. Lighting is the key to more accurate and effective results. What you get is what you see, to turn a phrase.
  3. Mounting microscopes on machine tools involves some interesting issues. Bridge-type machine configurations, for example, do not lend themselves to attaching this extra hardware. Where to put the microscope is one of the first things this shop thinks about when evaluating a machine tool acquisition.
  4. Microscopes will become more common in the typical U.S. shop. Applications requiring magnification of workpiece features and cutting tools are bound to grow. Work that everybody can see is work that anybody can do.
  5. Working with microscopes is interesting. You enter a world of wonder and discovery that often has the freshness and novelty of a dream. It’s mind-bending. Apparently, this effect doesn’t wear off. It’s one of the reasons that Hal, Pete and Dave like working in the instrument shop so much.
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