You can book 2 man weeks to the Rack
Mechanical engineers are a special breed.
Some of the one's I've known have been
very good but some have been awful.
Usually the awful ones get promoted
to keep them out of trouble. They usually rise to a point in
the organisation were their questionable mechanical engineering
doesn't get a chance to get tried out. This goes for Electrical
engineers and programmers as well.
Our bit of the Company was responsible
for the design of a rack assembly to hold a computer equipment
inside an Army Lorry.
I think the whole job was a fiasco from
beginning to end and the rack part was no different.
Because the business was quite busy
doing really interesting projects, the design of the rack was
given to a small team of young mechanical design engineers under
a manager who also had a background in mechanical engineering.
The latter chap could neither design
things mechanical nor could he understand finances. He was what's
now termed a "politician", and to help him with this
he wore built-up shoes.
The customer didn't know much about
mere mechanical engineering either and was probably pre-occupied
with other bits of the project.
From the start, things had gone pear-shaped.
We had won the total project in the
face of stiff competition, but afterwards, due to string pulling
in high places, another company had managed to substitute, for
our data processing system, a "white elephant" in the
shape of a computer, into which development, vast millions had
been poured to no avail because nobody wanted it.
It was the start of the time when as
soon as something new appeared, after being on the drawing board
for five years, it was already obsolete.
It was also getting near to the end
of the time when certain Customers issued cost-plus contracts.
A cost-plus contract enabled a company to spend virtually any
amount of money and get paid in full with a handsome bonus or
fixed percentage profit.
Why book two man weeks when you can
book 4 man weeks and get paid twice as much?
It's not easy to visualise the value
of money, looking back 20-25 years, because inflation has completely
distorted the pound.
Labour rates in the Computer Industry
were only 3 or 4 pounds an hour and a really good salary was
I only vaguely recall the Department
Head of the rack project at monthly meetings offering to do things
to help out other projects and book costs to the "
The day for the Acceptance of the Rack
Strangely, this was the first time the
end user had been involved and he was probably looking forward
to the days events and getting his new toy.
Well it wasn't accepted.
It was too big, too heavy and the computers
wouldn't fit in it.
It had cost, it transpired, £1,000,000
but I don't remember anyone getting into trouble.
The boss of the Department looking after
the Rack got promoted.
The engineers were moved to another
project, and a bit later the senior one also got promoted.
A new team was appointed and, after
a lot of promises by management, they started on a new venture
This was a totally new design and used
aluminium to keep the weight down and they promised to use the
same rulers and things as the mechanical engineers designing
For some reason, which I never fathomed,
I was asked to be "Chairman of the Acceptance Committee",
a device intended either to inspire customer confidence or maybe
to hoodwink him, I don't know but another member of the committee
was the previous boss of the Rack Project. I remember being told
what to do and what to say and the meeting minutes were to be
vetted before I could issue them. Something to do with "politics"
I guess, but maybe nearer to fibbing.
The new rack was accepted but it was
a miracle it was!
The weight was OK and all the dimensions
were correct but for some reason they had chosen a single gigantic
cooling fan for keeping the computers from getting too hot.
It was a sort of huge snail shaped thing
and, when switched on, made a horrendous noise like a Harrier
It was so bad that no-one thought to
mention it and I understand it was so loud that the design engineers
hadn't previously been allowed to turn it on in the lab for more
than a few moments.
I don't think the specification even
mentioned noise as it was just a metal rack.
Later I heard the Customers' people
discussing it but it was too late, they'd already signed everything.
If you ever meet a deaf soldier write
him a little note and ask if he ever worked on
the noisy cooling fan.