May 19, 1992|
It was still difficult in 1938 to get a job and I remembered that I probably had an "in" at R & H and decided to follow up on it. I was lucky and they were looking for someone to be assistant manager of the Plexiglas plant which was just getting started in Bristol.
I had an interview with the Plant Manager, Plexiglas Manager, and others and before I got home there was a phone call telling me to go the Philly to see Mr. Haas. My interview with Mr. Haas was difficult because he had a heavy accent and was difficult to understand. In any case, I was sent off to Dr. Hollender's in Torresdale for a physical and I was employee No. 715 in record time.
The plant was very small, building No. 37 was the newest. Karl Kaiser, the Plexiglas manager, and I had our desks on the oven room floor in Bldg. 35. We started at 7:00 AM, took a short lunch break, and worked till about 5:00 PM plus better than a half day on Saturdays. All for a salary of about $1800 and no overtime pay. I lived at home with my family in Mt Airy.
During the days at Philco, I borrowed some spray equipment from Philco and painted the Pontiac. A little later when I got established at R & H, I bought a 1938 Oldsmobile Club Coupe.
Plexiglas was a new product. R & H got the know-how from their plant in Germany. Production was less than 50 sheets per day with a maximum size of 36 x 48 inches and about 1/4 inch thickness. There were many manufacturing problems to be solved and there was a continued push to increase production.
About this time I met Mary Elizabeth Card which will be the subject of Vol. 2. The plant had personnel problems and I was working the 4 to 12 shift. I'd take off at midnight and scoot to Rahway for my late date with "M.E". This developed into a beautiful friendship; more later.
The war years were coming and Plexiglas was being considered for many uses in the aircraft and advertising industries. The war created a big market for special formed sections for military aircraft canopies and since I had engineering and other production experience I gradually headed up the fabricating effort. We were on a three shift schedule.
I introduced many of the methods I had observed at Philco such as using routers and jigs for shaping pieces instead of Rohm and Haas' time consuming practice of band sawing and sanding to a scribed line. We developed vacuum forming to provide distortion free shapes, methods for polishing and cementing this new material, and other techniques to satisfy the requirements of industry.
At first three dimensional sections were formed in male and female molds which used hot oil under pressure to press the Plexiglas against the polished surface of the mold. Later, when we developed polishing techniques, we didn't have to be as careful and learned how to polish Plexiglas, we used stretch and vacuum forming methods.
The New York World Fair produced a demand for many Plexiglas displays and they all required estimates and engineering. One that I remember only too well was a project to make a Pontiac body of clear Plexiglas. They shipped us all of the necessary body parts and I spent a hectic period trying to estimate the cost and to provide some sample sections. Thank goodness Fisher Body decided to take over the project. The resulting display was impressive.
About this time I spent a week at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio where I was to instruct the air force personnel in techniques for the proper care of the Plexiglas sections. I wrote many letters to Mary Liz and it led up to our engagement in the Spring of '39.
Move to Plant Engineering
The Bristol plant was expanding rapidly. After about two years I was transferred to Plant Engineering as the Plant Electrical Engineer. I took over the responsibility for the Power House and the other utilities. In addition I was responsible for the electrical and instrument design and maintenance requirements of the plant. I also acted as Project Engineer for some of the new construction. At this time the department consisted of Harry Scott, Bob Edwards, and Peter Tarisoff who was the draftsman.
It would be boring and impossible to mention the many projects and experiences that were crammed into the period from 1938 to 1975 when I retired. It was a period of major growth by Rohm and Haas and of great change in the electrical and instrument field. Many new products and materials were becoming available and I'd like to feel that I had a major part in making them a part of Rohm and Haas.
Instruments went from air control mechanical types to electronic and computer designs. We had one of the first large installations of fluorescent lighting. Plastic was introduced for electrical insulation and in many other applications. Transformers went from single phase oil filled to three phase encapsulated units. There were many changes to motor control, switchgear, protective relaying, etc. The number and types of electrical and instrument devices available increased astronomically and it was a chore to keep up with the "state of the art". I always felt that we were very progressive in our use of the new improvements.
As a result I took various courses that the manufacturer's provided and took and active part in training the plant instrument and electrical personnel. Plant standards also became an important consideration.
In addition to upgrading, expanding, and modernizing the electrical and water distribution systems, which included many feeders, substations, water mains, and a river pumping station, there are a few major projects that should be mentioned.
I was given the job of project engineer for the construction of a new powerhouse in 1940, shortly after I moved to Plant Engineering. It included a turbine generator, three modern 400 psi boilers, and new coal and ash handling facilities. I gained a lot of experience through my contacts with the salesmen and contractors. Unfortunately there was a design flaw in the boilers which caused the tubes to rupture, blowing off the roof tiles. This would happen in the middle of the night and frequent enough that I was ready to tear out the phone in desperation.
We finally got things under control but by then the war years had increased the demand for steam and electricity enough to require expansion of the powerhouse. It was decided to increase the capacity of the boilers and at the same time to improve on the boiler design. This was done with great difficulty and planning to minimize plant interruptions and to maintain vital war production.
The plant demand in 1940 was about 750 KW and when I retired it had increased at least 10 times. We had converted the distribution system to 34 KV, added many new substations, capacitors, and feeders with the necessary switchgear to provide a modern distribution the an ever expanding Bristol plant. Two more turbine generators were installed and various load shedding and innovative relaying ideas were incorporated into the system to improve the system reliability. We were adding to the short circuit current potential of the system and I was concerned about limitations of existing switchgear. I wrote several memos making recommendations but nothing was done until several years after I retired. I was called back to R & H in a consulting capacity to make these improvements and this led to relatively infrequent part time work continuing up to the present
When I took over the electrical engineering responsibility for the plant, little had been done to protect against explosions due to electrical discharges.
I had some experience with this when I worked at Philco and I spoke out about the hazard in a chemical plant. Explosion proof installations were a rarity at that time and there was little approved equipment and few requirements. I conferred with DuPont's safety organization and others and then prepared standards and specifications for a practical solution in our plant. It took a few memos and some selling to get agreement to improve the existing installations. A few explosions and casualties at the Bristol plant emphasized the need.
This required identifying the hazardous areas, preparing recommendations, and then making the improvements without disturbing production. It was the start of a major upgrading of electrical construction in the plant.
During the war years we used many portable electrical tools in the fabrication of Plexiglas and the girls complained of the electric shock they sometimes received when a tool became defective. I sponsored a requirement that electrical outlets have a third connection, a safety ground. Apparently Bristol contacted the Bridesburg plant for their opinion which turned out to be negative. After more memos we went ahead of the program many years before it became a NEC code requirement.
The fellows I worked with always kidded about me recycling my memos every year. It was necessary because the management never gave the non chemical problems much consideration.
My years at Rohm and Haas were very interesting. I explain it like being in graduate school. My group was left on it's own and we were free to investigate the many new developments that were being released in the electrical and instrument field. I would get early releases of semiconductors, fiber optics, etc. and breadboard various circuits for temperature, speed, and automation control applications. This interest in the new developments led to my getting involved in projects which weren't usually the responsibility of a plant EE. A few of interest are:
When the Methylamine plant was built, I designed a unique temperature control for the electrically heated salt filled reactors. My system used an Ignitron welding control to modulate the voltage to all of the strip heaters instead of copying the complicated system of manually switching various strip heaters "On" and "Off" as was done in Bridesburg. This new system greatly simplified the wiring, was more reliable, and it provided much better temperature control.
Explosion Proof Transporters
Several electric trucks were used in the Plexiglas area and at that time there were no approved units for hazardous areas. I took on the project and designed new end bells for the motors and made other changes using explosion proof principals to modify our trucks to meet our requirements.
When new trucks were required, I worked with the Moto-Truck Co. in Cleveland, Ohio and they eventually obtained Underwriters' approval of the design and became the first manufacturers of approved electric transporters.
Mold Room Conveyor
R & H was the major producer of Plexiglas and it became necessary to increase production.
The company now had a Corporate Engineering Department and initially I did the electrical design for both Corporate and the plant. I was a part of the team on construction of the initial plant in Texas, the "F Process" which was built to expand the production of monomer.
DuPont received more publicity for their Lucite but they were only licensed by Rohm and Haas to produce 30% of R and H's production of Plexiglas.
Corporate Engineering were given the job of mechanizing the Plexiglas process to increase the efficiency. I made several suggestions regarding electrical design but Karl Kaiser ruled it was Corporate's job and we would not interfere. It turned out later, when we had to maintain the equipment, that it was desireable to simplified several of the control systems. The fellows always kidded me about giving the control cabinets a "hysterectomy".
One incident that improved my reputation as a trouble shooter occurred one Labor Day. The Mold Making Conveyor was in several section and the speed of the sections had to stay in synchronism. It was being installed as part of the mechanization over the Labor Day weekend and the manufacturer's service personnel and our engineers had been trying all weekend to keep the conveyor from "running away".
We were at a party in Seaside Park during a "Northeaster" when I received a call from Karl Kaiser, the Plant Superintendent. I slipped out of the party, did the 0job in Bristol, and was back at the party before I was missed. The "Gods smiled on me that day" and I found the trouble in a jiffy. By luck the trouble was in a simple overload device that everyone had failed to check.
Thickness Measuring Machine
Plexiglas production had increased to about 3000 sheets a day and there were many sizes. thicknesses, and colors. As part of the mechanization it was desired to automate the thickness inspection procedure. I designed a machine that used a system of caliper arms that passed over the sheet without damaging the surface. It used LVDT transducers to provide electrical signals that were equivalent to the thickness.
I worked closely with the Navcor Corp. on the development of a special purpose computer system that compared the signals with the range of acceptable thickness for the sheet being inspected. Finally the sheet was marked okay if there were no thicknesses out of tolerance.
The interesting part of this project was that it was done in the early 60's before there were computers as we now know them. The system had to be done with discrete components on printed circuit boards to provide the logic.
Another unit was built for our plant in Jarrow, England. I had an opportunity to go there to put the machine into operation. Mary Liz went with me on our first visit to Europe.
The "S" Degasser
One last project that I found interesting was the "S" degasser. Rohm and Haas had difficulty making thin Plexiglas sheets (1/32 & 1/16 inch) that were within thickness tolerances. The normal procedure was to weigh out the amount of monomer to put in the mold. Since the total weight was small, the normal error in weighing represented a large percentage error in thickness. I suggested measuring by volume and it developed into what I called the "S" degasser. It was a great success. The concept was to de-gas the monomer in the usual way and to collect it in a long vertical column like a laboratory graduate. The relatively small diameter stainless steel tube enclosed a float that triggered small reed switches at definite levels representing the quantity of monomer desired. The switches triggered solenoid valves to operate the degasser automatically to measure out a precise amount of monomer each time and to produce sheets well within thickness tolerance.
In 1975 I decided to retire at the age of 63, I called it graduation. It was before the big inflation in wages and before the many bonus plans offered to encourage early retirement. Mary Liz encouraged me to take the step on the basis that we were in good financial shape and the two extra years were important for us to enjoy in retirement. Also Ed Jr. had moved to the West coast and we wanted to spend some time with them.
I didn't do anything for pay until 1986 when Ed Cannon asked me to work as a consultant for DVA (his company) on upgrading the Rohm and Haas Bristol distribution system. In fact, it was to do work that had been the subject of some of my memos written years before. One thing followed another and I stayed on, working one or two days a week, until 1992 when I was 80. This time I called it retirement. However, they have called me back to do little jobs on a very infrequent schedule.
During this postgraduate period I had a lot of opportunity to become familiar with personal computers and to catch up with the new developments in my profession. I completed the modernization of the switchgear and distribution system. I was part of a project to install seven diesel generators to provide standby power. Also, there were many other projects including cooling towers, refrigeration, enviormental considerations, etc. that kept me busy on my limited schedule.
next: Appendix A