As I have said before, I really enjoy the opportunity that client site visits afford my love of machine design. Job walks at dams and other facilities allow me to be around amazing industrial machinery.
When you are inside a power house at a dam on the Columbia River system, you look up 60 feet at bridge cranes that span 75 feet. With a mechanical purr, those cranes will pick up and move a 1.2-million-pound payload. It’s even more amazing when you realize that cranes have been doing this – without failure – since the mid-twentieth century.
If you are not impressed by this, you are not paying attention.
Another impressive part of dam machinery is the penstock valves. Recently, we were out at a dam and just looking at butterfly penstock valves over 10 feet in diameter that are being replaced. The valve bodies and valve disk are precision-machined steel castings. The valve is actuated by a 15-inch diameter hydraulic cylinder 100 inches long with a 50-inch stroke producing over 400,000 pounds of force. The valves are rated at 300 psi and are connected to the dam with 152 2-3/8 inch diameter bolts. These valves have been in continual service without failure for over 40 years.
Again, I hope you are paying attention.
There are good reasons why these machines are lasting for so long. When the machinery was first designed and manufactured, the US Army Corps of Engineers had exacting specifications for the suppliers. The raw material refining processes after World War II were fully developed. The machines were fully engineered and documented. And, the owners (the operators of the dams) have faithfully maintained and upgraded the machinery over time.
The result is a system of machines that are working just as well today, and in many ways better, as the day they were put into service.
Perhaps I am being romantic in a misplaced way, but when I am around these machines I can’t help but think of the men and women that first designed, manufactured, and installed this incredible infrastructure. What a country they built, and now it is all passed along to us.
We get to carry on this most amazing legacy. How great is that?
~ David Browning
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