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A Forklift Load Of Attitude

, , , | Working | September 23, 2021

I work for a small company that services industrial laser cutting machines. Since there are only a handful of us service engineers, most of our clients’ employees know all of us. They also know that I’m the least experienced one by far, having joined the company less than two years ago.

One day, I come to service a client complaining that his machine is suddenly cutting very poorly.

Me: “Good morning. What seems to be the issue?”

The client’s employee, who’s the one usually operating the machine, responds.

Employee: “All was fine until yesterday evening, and then it suddenly started cutting like crap. One of the mirrors must have cracked.”

Older laser cutting machines use moving mirrors to deliver the laser beam to the cutting point, and those do occasionally crack due to overheating.

Me: “This may very well be the case, but I need to do some testing first to see what’s going on.”

Employee: “You’re wasting your time. We’re behind schedule already because of this breakdown. Just check the mirrors.”

I ignore him and do my tests. True to his word, the cutting is, indeed, of unacceptably poor quality, but not evenly so across the cutting area, which suggests an entirely different problem.

Me: “It seems that your mirrors somehow got misaligned, not that one of them cracked.”

Employee: “But you didn’t even open the casings to look at them! And why would the mirrors move? Do you know what you’re doing?”

Me: “I’m not going to open the casings, expose the mirrors to dust, and then spend a couple of hours cleaning them if that’s not the issue. Please, let me do my job.”

The employee leaves for a break while I realign the mirrors. He comes back when I’m just about finished.

Employee: “Are you still with that crap? Why don’t you look at the mirrors already?”

Me: “Just finished. Now, time to verify that the alignment is correct. Please load up any of your programs and try cutting.”

Muttering that I don’t know what I’m doing, he does as I ask. The machine cuts perfectly.

Employee: “Well, I’ll be d***ed. But why would the mirrors move?”

Me: “I don’t know. Did anyone hit them by accident?”

Employee: “Not that I know of. What do you think we are, a bunch of apes? We take care of our machines.”

I’m about to leave it at that and write off the reason for the alignment issue as unknown, but then I decide to have a closer look. I’m glad that I did because I notice that the whole laser generator, which weighs over a ton, is not exactly where it used to be judging by the marks on the dirty floor and the bent bolts that hold it in place. Lightbulb moment.

Me: “[Employee], did anyone, by any chance, drive a forklift into the generator just prior to when you started having issues?”

Employee: *Sheepishly* “Um, yeah. Something like that may have happened yesterday.”

Cue me banging my head on the wall. Thankfully, the manager didn’t write off my conclusions as “inexperience” and agreed to install a barrier to prevent this from happening again.

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