Thursday, May 18, 2006

One of my coolest projects...

. Thursday, May 18, 2006

Being an engineer, I'm sure a lot of people think all I do is sit in front of a computer all day. I certainly use my computer a lot, but there are a lot of other things I do you might not think about. At one of my previous jobs, we did a lot of work in the industrial sector. One job I worked on was for Dupont Sodium in Niagra Falls, New York. They make (among other things) elemental sodium. The pharmaceutical industry uses sodium in the development of many drugs. In order to make sodium, you essentially heat sodium chloride REALLY REALLY HOT (over 1,000F I think) in order to break the molecular bonds between the sodium and the chlorine molecules.

The sodium plant is over 100 years old, and one of their claims to fame is they have never had a plant shut down as a result of an accident during that entire period. It would seem kind of obvious that the atmoshpere in a place like this is pretty corrosive. It's also HOTTER THAN FUCKIN SHIT in there. And the fact that elemental sodium violently reacts with oxygen adds an element of danger. Workers had to wear thermal underwear and a Nomex (fire resistant) jumpsuit while working amongst the cells. When working on the catwalks above the cells, they had to wear respirators because of the chlorine gas given off as a byproduct. I don't know if they're unionized but the rules were that workers worked 15 minutes on and 45 minutes off because of the working conditions.

We were tasked with improving the work environment in the plant. My boss and I had to get all suited up just like the workers. Wore the whole jumpsuit, respirators and everything. We investigated the airflow patterns and took numerous temperature readings amongst the sodium cells. A lot of the big-ass fans that remove the heat and the chlorine gas were corroded (surprise, surprise). I wish I had still had pictures of the fans because (1) they were BIG-ASS FANS and (2) they were so corroded that they were help together with scotch tape and bubble gum. We investigated the existing conditions and came up with some recommendations.

So the next time you think all I do is a sit at a computer all day, think again!