What goes on in the MACHINE SHOP?

The machinists are responsible for fabricating the newly designed parts that go into antenna upgrades and repairs as well as making replacements for parts that have broken or worn out.

NRAO antennas are unique: we can't run down to Radio Shack to buy off-the-shelf parts. Our engineers and design technicians create the drawings for the new items and pass them on to the machinists to manufacture them. The machine shop participates in the research and design of our new antenna systms by creating the prototypes that are then tested, re-designed, tweaked, re-machined or re-created. When the design is perfect, it is outsourced for high volume manufacture.

Most jobs start with a print, sent either as a print or as an autocad file, though occasionally the machinists will get a sketch drawn on a piece of paper. Gary is studying the specifications for VLBA encoders he is producing from a column of acrylic.

Greg is using the Mazak Vertical Machining Center to manufacture gussets for the VLBA dichroic panel. He uses a computer to program the machine, telling it what to do and what tools to use. The software converts his commands to machine language, he sets up the materials, and then monitors the machine as it makes the precision part.
Unfortunately the machines and computers can't do all of the work. Don has to file some of the small parts for the ALMA project by hand so that the fit is perfect.
Our machinists have over 100 years combined machining experience. They are called upon to make parts for nearly every sector of the observatory, from small electronics to large feedhorn prototypes to latches for VLBA tape cases to exhibits for the visitor center. Usually they make the part according to the print and may never know exactly where it fits into the whole scheme of the antenna. Other times they know exactly where the piece goes and what it is used for and will make suggestions for improvements. The shop has the equipment and expertise capable of machining parts from brass, copper, steel, stainless steel, fiberglass, and plastics. Without the machinists, NRAO would not have the scientific instruments appreciated by astronomers around the world.
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Modified on Friday, 26-Sep-2008 12:09:36 MDT