Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  The most amazing customer support
People are quick to tell you about when they've had a bad experience with an airline, store clerks, a mechanic, or some snafu at the local restaurant; but our culture has become so focused on price that, let's face it, these days bad service is the norm. We're so cheap, that there's no money in taking care of us. When someone tells me they had an awful flight on Northwest, I'm thinking to myself, "so what." Tell me if you had a flight that was on time--that would be remarkable. Calling a business oh the phone has gotten so bad, that often you don't know what country you've connected to, and if the accent doesn't prevent communication, the cultural gap does. So when something does go smoothly, or I find I'm talking with someone that has any idea about the subject I'm enquiring about, its a pretty remarkable thing, and I think, worth mentioning.

But before we get to the amazing experience, a little backstory. Well, ok, a lot of backstory.

So I had purchased a miller XMT 304, along with a bunch of other welders; but in order to run the big machines right, you need 3-phase power. Unfortunately when we pulled a the dinosaur that was there before, it was only using single phase 480V and there weren't enough wires to use 3-phase. So a few days later I went and bought some solid #10 wire, and it turned out to be stiff enough that I was able to jamm it up through 30 feet of conduit (with three wires already in the conduit) and down into the outlet box behind the welder. Then I hooked up the wire to the 3-phase shutoff switch, wired in the welder, and it still was only single phase. Finally we broke out a volt-meter and verified that one of the leads feeding that panel was dead also. Sigh.

So, we back traced the wire upstairs to the main panel (which is not labeled), and after turning off just about everything in the shop, we found the breaker that was feeding it. Turns out its a 2-pole breaker, not a 3-pole breaker. Luckily the wire ran all the way to the panel, so the problem was just the breaker. But this was no ordinary namby-pamby breaker, this was a 3-phase 150A I-Line manly-man breaker.

Normal household breaker vs Industrial Breaker of DOOM.
[click through to large image for full manly effect]

Just to give you some appreciation for the difference in sizes we're talking here: the contact lugs on a normal breaker are designed to connect to a 12 or 14 gauge wire which is about the size of a pencil lead, and can handle a current of 15 to 20 amps. The lugs on this Square D breaker can handle wire so large, they don't have a gauge for it. Just the copper part is about the size of your average garden hose, and then there's a rubber jacket around that. Instead of a screw head, the tightening nut takes a giant 3/8 Allen wrench (the same size you use to unstick a 1/2 horsepower garbage disposal). Not something you're going to find in the average homeowner's toolbox.

Everything about this part is large. Including it's price, which is over $1,400. I found these breakers online in the Square D catalog. Well, almost. What I had was a KAB26150 and what I needed was a KAB36150, but the catalog didn't mention it. All they talked about was a KA26150 (2-pole) which was $1,463 and its big brother the KA36150 (3-pole) which was $1,820; and would supposedly solve all my problems.

Now, not wanting to spend twice as much as I paid for the welder itself, I turned to my solution of all things expensive: Ebay. There I found a wide variety of KA and FA (the smaller brother which goes up to 100amps) breakers ranging in price from $20 to $200. Still no sign of a KAB or FAB, but what the heck, it's probably not important anyways. I finally settled on a FA36100 (3-pole, 100 amp) for $52 and I figured I was good to go. Even that was overkill for the line, as only the single welder is on that circuit and it draws 18.3 amps at maximum power. The original breaker could have run an entire room full of welders and still not have broken a sweat.

So a few days later, the breaker arrived on my back doorstep, and the next day I went down and with the shop teacher took apart the main panel, and stuck the new breaker in. Thankfully I didn't electrocute myself, and after wrestling the main 800 amp shutoff switch back to the on position, we were in business and the welder was happy.

But that part number was still bugging me. What was the B for anyways?

On a lark, I decided to call and ask. So I pulled up the Contact Us page, got the phone number (888-778-2733), and called it. It started off with a typical voice mail routing system, "Press 1 for Motor Control, 2 for Automation and Control, blah blah blah." I pressed 4 for Circuit Protection, and then a guy came on the line.

"Hello, thanks for calling Square D. How can I help you."

  thinking I'd need to be routed to the right department/person, I started off somewhat high level:
"I have a question about a 3-phase I-Line circuit breaker part number."

"Yes, what is it?"

  um ok...
"I'm changing out a breaker from 2-pole to 3-pole and its currently a KAB26150. I was wondering what the difference between the KAB and a normal KA was."

"The KAB has a bolt on the clamp that attaches to the I-line rails to increase its holding power. This is in addition to the lugs for the wire side. There are a set of black caps at the top, along the I-line edge the pull up and expose the screw head which you loosen to remove the breaker from the panel."
  wow, I'm impressed
"But in reality, you don't really need it. What's your application?"

"This is going into a school shop."

"Right. Then the KA should be fine. The KAB was just in response to a holding specification that GE came up with in the 80s to try and lock us out of commercial bids. But the the KA & FA series have been in use for over 20 years now and they've proved themselves in the market. You should be fine."

No redirecting to somebody else, no looking it up, just rattled right off the top of his brain. The explanation, how to use it, and the entire political history behind it. This guy new his stuff.

Yup, there's the cap for the screw head and up inside (way up, look for it ...) is the screw that tightens up on the power rail. How cool is that.

I had a similar experience once; I bought (from eBay) a military surplus signal generator. It didn't work; it's valve based, and I noted that the battery pack wasn't producing the 90 volts it should. The 75v tap was working, but 90v was out.

There was a sticker on the battery pack saying who had made it and when with serial numbers and all that, so just on the offchance, I googled for the manufacturer and lo - they had a web site. They're a small specialist battery company that assemble unusual batteries. Anyway, I emailled their 'contact us' number saying I had this odd battery that wasn't working; I was going to cut it open; I didn't hold them responsible for my doing this, but if there's anything I ought to know before plunging a knife into a plastic container full of nasty chemicals, please say.

Anyway, later that day I had a reply from their chief technician saying exactly what to expect inside. He was very interested in the application the battery was in, since he said they'd made that set of batteries for the UK Navy, but they'd not been told what they'd be used for, so had had to guess what sorts of temperatures and forces the unit would experience.

I was so impressed by this that when I cut the battery open and found that the rubbery glue holding the cells together had hardened and cracked, causing the cells to rattle about and the soldered connections between two of them to break, I replied to the guy with a detailled description of how it had failed, along with observations of the large number of dents and scuffs on the case of the signal generator, suggesting that the battery was probably undergoing more abuse than they'd reckoned on!
Post a Comment

<< Home
Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / February 2009 / August 2009 / February 2010 / February 2011 / March 2011 / October 2011 / March 2012 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / December 2014 / February 2015 / March 2015 / July 2016 / September 2016 / December 2016 / April 2017 /

Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

Powered by Blogger