Whenever I put something together, I always have the odd piece left over. No matter how careful I am, there it will be.
Other than a little mild confusion, the only consequence seems to be yet another item tossed into the junk drawer.
But I worry about the symmetry of this. If I have an extra part, who is short one?
While I am chucking something into the drawer, who is making an angry call to customer service?
Maybe no one.
Manufactures are catching on. They know how much nuts, bolts and washers love to spring out of boxes and roll under the refrigerator, so they toss in a few extras.
That is why we have the extra parts – or so I tell myself. But sometimes, the reason for an extra part is just plain weird. Let me tell you about that.
Back when I had the strength of an ox and the common sense of a mule, I worked in a steel foundry. To pick up extra cash, I volunteered to work shut-down.
Shut-down is the time during which factories close for maintenance and redesign.
My job was to assist a mechanic with the task of over-hauling the biggest machine in the foundry. THE SHAKER was an incredible beast. Twice the size of a Tyrannosaurus, it was four times as loud and eight times as mean.
Its job was to devour steaming 24 ton molds and spit out the red-hot castings. When it ran, you got as far away as possible because its roar rattled the girders. When it rested, you got further away, because it reeked. Steel foundries use sugars and starches to bind the sand together – and that stuff rots. In other words, its breath was worse than a dinosaur who refused to floss.
So for three stinking days, I helped the mechanic rip THE SHAKER apart. As we worked, we thoroughly cleaned everything and carefully arranged each piece on the floor in the sequence we would use to put it together. Only then did we begin the slow methodical process of reassembly.
Once we were done, we called the engineer to sign off our work. No sooner had he arrived than he scowled and pointed the toe of his steel-toed shoe at an O-ring lying in the middle of the floor, obscured by dust.
The mechanic dug out his manuals and searched for anything that looked like the part.
Soon the engineer joined him because now his job was on the line. While they scoured the manuals, I was told to make myself useful by contacting the manufacturer.
I placed the part on the Xerox machine, made a copy, looked up the support line fax number and sent them the image. Soon one of their mechanics called back laughing.
“So where does it go?” I asked.
“Nowhere,” he said.
“Then what is it?”
“It’s a belly-button,” he said.
Some parts on a machine, just like parts on people are there purely for manufacture. We all have belly-buttons which are an artifact of us being manufactured.
So it was with the O-ring. Its purpose was to hold bearings in place while one assembly was mounted onto another. After the two pieces came together, the O-ring dropped harmlessly to the bottom of the oil pan where it lived until we came across it.
Returning to the shop floor, I started to deliver my report – but the engineer waved me off.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” he said, “we found out where it goes.”
“Where’s that?” I asked.
Well, suffice it to say, it didn’t go where they thought it did.