Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. My Son, the Ventilator Maker

 

I’ve posted before about my oldest son, a 24-year-old sergeant in the Marine reserves. He had an active duty deployment last year to Latin America, returning home shortly before Christmas. He remained on active duty for another couple of months, through early February (approximately), then returned to his civilian job.

It turns out that he makes ventilator parts. He is a manufacturing tech at a small Tucson company called Alicat Scientific (website here). Alicat makes devices like flow controllers, flow meters, and pressure controllers for dealing with gas flow. Shown is a sample product.

Alicat’s products are used in ventilators, among many other applications. My son’s job is to operate a computer-controlled milling machine that makes the metal portion of the device (the part at the bottom of the picture).

When the COVID-19 crisis hit a couple of weeks ago, Alicat apparently received a great many orders for its products for use in ventilators. My son has been working overtime for the past two weeks as a consequence and expects this to continue for the foreseeable future.

It is a strange coincidence that a little company, located about two miles from my house and at which my son works, is a part of the effort to solve this crisis and save lives. American manufacturing appears to be extremely flexible and adaptable, if Alicat is any indication.

My son is a bit frazzled, as he’s working 60-70 hours a week, and the job does involve significant concentration. On the bright side, in a time when many are unemployed, his income has significantly increased because of the overtime. Plus, just yesterday, the company gave all employees a raise due to the volume of orders that it had received.

From reports from my son, the company seems to be managed by excellent people. Their first concern was the health and safety of their employees. The companywide raises sound like “spreading the wealth around,” but I think that it is motivated not by benevolence, but by rational calculation. This is not to say that the managers aren’t good people, but they are business people who need to make decisions based on economics. When you have a large increase in the volume of your business, and it’s not easy to replace your employees (as there is significant training time), it makes sense to give the employees a raise to keep them working hard.

I have a funny story about this from last weekend. My son called me at about 5 in the afternoon Sunday, the end of his workday, saying that he was a bit burned out. He explained about the overtime. I told him that I was proud of him for doing his part in the pandemic crisis, and asked what I could do to help.

His requests were home-cooked food and laundry. So I made him some spaghetti right away, and made arrangements to do his laundry when he dropped it off (which I did later, on Tuesday). He wanted to come by the house, which is on his way home anyway. He showed up with one of his guns that was jammed (with a shell casing stuck in the barrel and engaged to the extractor, so the entire bolt/carrier assembly wouldn’t slide). It must have been bugging him, so he brought it to his old man.

His middle-aged, kinda-fat, kinda-nerdy, lawyer of an old man. I cleared the jam in about 10 minutes. Did I mention that he’s a Marine Sergeant and works as a manufacturing tech? But I cleared the jam. I felt like a cross between MacGyver and Chesty Puller. Oh, and Michael Corleone, because I was still cooking his spaghetti. I did the little things that I could do, to help keep him at work.

Back to the main point. The manufacturing supply chain for ventilators responded almost immediately. Command-and-control economics was not necessary, as far as I can tell. Private companies are far more efficient in manufacturing ventilators than the government. The important job for government is to place the orders — which they did — and make sure that credit facilities are available to the manufacturers, if necessary, as they expand production — which they seem to be doing.

There are bound to be bottlenecks in the process. I would imagine that a great many parts go into a ventilator, and the companies that do the final assembly may be more specialized and less able to ramp up production rapidly. Further, production of ventilators is not the only potential bottleneck, as the goal is not a bunch of ventilators in a hospital storage room. The goal is a rapid expansion in the ability of hospitals, doctors, and nurses to have fully-functioning ICU (or ICU-type) beds available if needed, with the necessary ventilators and trained medical personnel to operate them.

Our country is full of amazing people. It turns out that my son is one of them, doing his part. I have great confidence in the ability of American manufacturers, hospitals, doctors, and nurses to rapidly respond to this crisis, if it turns out to be necessary.

ChiCom delenda est.

Published in Healthcare
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  1. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    We are all so blessed that your son combines the discipline of the Marine Corps with his sophisticated manufacturing position at this critical time. He could have majored in Grievance Studies and been a barista. Great job, Dad.

    • #1
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Henry Racette Contributor

    Like. Like like like.

    Because there’s just a lot to like here. I’ve long told my sons that skilled trade — and CNC operation is absolutely in that list — is a wonderful career direction. It provides a wonderful balance of educational requirements and reward, allowing people to provide a valuable and well-compensated service without the cost of an overpriced degree and the time lost pursuing one. And there’s the added security, for a lot of skilled trades, that they can’t practically be outsourced to low-cost foreign producers.

    I’m working on a project right now that includes a mass flow meter and several digital pressure sensors. (The vendor is not your son’s company, though the products are similar.) And I spend a lot of my time working with equipment manufacturers, small and medium-sized machine shops, and the people who develop automation technology. I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver. But I enjoy the expertise and precision of the people who work with metal and machines. I also like the clarity of it, the direct connection between the effort made and the real-world product produced. Engineers, machinists, and skilled machine operators deal with things as they are, with a crisp and no-nonsense aspect of the world that people removed from physical production rarely get to enjoy.

    Like many, I hope the current crisis eventually drives more of this kind of essential work back to our country.

    • #2
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:05 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. Ralphie Member

    Proud Papa, and deservedly so.

    • #3
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:08 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Gary Robbins Reagan

    Not only should your son be proud of what he is doing, you should be proud of raising such a son.

    • #4
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:30 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Gary Robbins Reagan

    I sure hope your son is not called up; what he is doing is so essential.

    • #5
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:32 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    We are all so blessed that your son combines the discipline of the Marine Corps with his sophisticated manufacturing position at this critical time. He could have majored in Grievance Studies and been a barista. Great job, Dad.

    I think that my wife deserves more credit than I, and the Corps deserves quite a bit of credit. Though he chose to join the Corps. My son was homeschooled through elementary school, which is the path that we followed with our second son, too. We’re homeschooling my two daughters (younger than the boys) through high school, at least so far (they are 15 and 10). Again, my wife deserves most of the credit for this, though I support it.

    I agree about the grievance studies part, but actually there’s no shame in being a barista. Anyone doing an honest day’s work is worthy of our respect.

    • #6
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:45 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. EODmom Coolidge

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    We are all so blessed that your son combines the discipline of the Marine Corps with his sophisticated manufacturing position at this critical time. He could have majored in Grievance Studies and been a barista. Great job, Dad.

    I think that my wife deserves more credit than I, and the Corps deserves quite a bit of credit. Though he chose to join the Corps. My son was homeschooled through elementary school, which is the path that we followed with our second son, too. We’re homeschooling my two daughters (younger than the boys) through high school, at least so far (they are 15 and 10). Again, my wife deserves most of the credit for this, though I support it.

    I agree about the grievance studies part, but actually there’s no shame in being a barista. Anyone doing an honest day’s work is worthy of our respect.

    There is a lot of solid clever ingenious manufacturing going on in the old USA in surprising places that are not Austin, Mountain View or Seattle. There are also a lot of clever ingenious resourceful people thinking up new things in places that are not those. We are truly partial to sweet boys like your son and @henryracette I, too, hope companies like his will form the nucleus of leadership that wrenches back key industries from those who would happily do in our whole country. ChiCom depends est indeed. 

    • #7
    • March 28, 2020, at 10:09 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…: So I made him some spaghetti right away, and made arrangements to do his laundry

    Nice. This is an all hands situation. I am sure it easier for your son’s company to double their production than it is for GM/Ford to make a single ventilator. Most politicians (like most people) don’t understand how manufacturing works these days. 

    • #8
    • March 28, 2020, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. Rodin Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I agree about the grievance studies part, but actually there’s no shame in being a barista. Anyone doing an honest day’s work is worthy of our respect.

    There’s no shame in any job that is part of a balanced and intended life. But lives of disappointment are another matter — suffering from unrealistic expectations given the path they have chosen. 

    • #9
    • March 28, 2020, at 10:48 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. TheRightNurse Member

    I appreciate everything your son is doing to help us help others. Please send him my personal thanks from a nurse in CA. It isn’t a home cooked meal or laundry, but it’s the best I can do from this distance.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • #10
    • March 28, 2020, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    In other interesting family news, my older daughter (age 15) is using the living room for dance lessons today, using an internet video link. My wife teaches at a homeschooling co-op, and she has been doing classes via a similar link this week. So we’re adjusting.

    And you’re going to like this one. We have plenty of toilet paper, thanks to our buddy Hector.

    Hector is quite a character. He’s a tiny, wiry Puerto Rican dude, about 75-80 years old. He’s about most charming and hilarious guy that I’ve ever met. We met him because he lives 2 doors down from my mother-in-law. He often helps my wife with landscaping and handyman-type work. Like me, he is an evangelical Christian. Unlike me, he’s quite the dancer, and has sometimes gone out dancing with my older son. I mean that they go out and dance with girls, not with each other.

    Anyway, in the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020, most of the stores in Tucson were out of this most important of resources this week. Some of the stores adopted a policy of opening to senior citizens only during their first hour of operation. So our buddy Hector was looking out for us, and picked up a few packages of the Precious Rolls for us.

    What a country!

    • #11
    • March 28, 2020, at 12:25 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  12. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver.

    How do you tell the difference between a technician and an Engineer? By which end of the soldering iron they pick up.

    How do you tell the difference between an Engineer and a Senior Research Scientist? If they drop it or not*

     

    *I have had all three titles in my career, so I think I can tell this.

    • #12
    • March 28, 2020, at 12:38 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  13. Housebroken Thatcher

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver.

    How do you tell the difference between a technician and an Engineer? By which end of the soldering iron they pick up.

    How do you tell the difference between an Engineer and a Senior Research Scientist? If they drop it or not*

    *I have had all three titles in my career, so I think I can tell this.

    How often have I spoken to people – including technicians – that don’t understand I’m only an engineer, not a technician. Or that an EE isn’t automatically able to fix just about anything that uses electricity.

    • #13
    • March 28, 2020, at 2:47 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  14. Henry Racette Contributor

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver.

    How do you tell the difference between a technician and an Engineer? By which end of the soldering iron they pick up.

    How do you tell the difference between an Engineer and a Senior Research Scientist? If they drop it or not*

    *I have had all three titles in my career, so I think I can tell this.

    How often have I spoken to people – including technicians – that don’t understand I’m only an engineer, not a technician. Or that an EE isn’t automatically able to fix just about anything that uses electricity.

    I’ve been writing software for just over 40 years (which, when I say that, seems like a long time). I remain in awe of anyone who knows when you need a pull-up resister and how large it should be, or who has an intuitive sense of when a torque wrench is necessary.

    • #14
    • March 28, 2020, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Private companies are far more efficient in manufacturing ventilators than the government

    I stood in line for an hour and a half last Tuesday morning at the Costco by Oracle and Orange Grove with a thousand seniors for the 8 to 9 “Senior shopping hour.” We did not need TP but I got a bunch other stuff, including paper towels which my wife used for everything. Maybe your neighbor was there, too. The line for the paper goods went all the way to the back of the store.

    Private companies are far more efficient in manufacturing or doing anything than government.

    • #15
    • March 28, 2020, at 3:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Headedwest Coolidge

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver.

    How do you tell the difference between a technician and an Engineer? By which end of the soldering iron they pick up.

    How do you tell the difference between an Engineer and a Senior Research Scientist? If they drop it or not*

    *I have had all three titles in my career, so I think I can tell this.

    How often have I spoken to people – including technicians – that don’t understand I’m only an engineer, not a technician. Or that an EE isn’t automatically able to fix just about anything that uses electricity.

    In my USAF career, I was an electrical engineer. I worked on both theoretical and practical radio reception problems and had anywhere from one to a half dozen enlisted technicians reporting to me on any given project. Now, in my youth, I had done much electrical circuit experimentation, and had built a number of Heathkits (you have to be pretty old to know what those were), so unlike many engineers, I was pretty comfortable around soldering and other electrical chores.

    I wasn’t smart about everything, but I was smart enough to never touch a tool during any of those projects. I had my role, and the technicians had theirs. Made everybody more comfortable.

    • #16
    • March 28, 2020, at 3:39 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  17. Skyler Coolidge

    That’s the most reassuring story I’ve heard in weeks! Thanks. 

    • #17
    • March 28, 2020, at 3:57 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver.

    How do you tell the difference between a technician and an Engineer? By which end of the soldering iron they pick up.

    How do you tell the difference between an Engineer and a Senior Research Scientist? If they drop it or not*

    *I have had all three titles in my career, so I think I can tell this.

    How often have I spoken to people – including technicians – that don’t understand I’m only an engineer, not a technician. Or that an EE isn’t automatically able to fix just about anything that uses electricity.

    I’ve been writing software for just over 40 years (which, when I say that, seems like a long time). I remain in awe of anyone who knows when you need a pull-up resister and how large it should be, or who has an intuitive sense of when a torque wrench is necessary.

    Well, us multi-skilled folk are out there: I’ve also been writing software for 40+ years (started with 8080 machine language on a Heathkit at age 11), built my own etched circuit boards, wired my own industrial panels, designed and hand-machined (manual 20″ mill) robot end-effector tooling, and assembled prototype machinery. On the personal side, I’ve designed and 3D modeled a porch expansion, welded and installed its structural steel and steel fittings, forged and installed brass accessories, and painted. I do my own household plumbing and wiring, work on my vehicles (including engine rebuild, transmission replacement, and A/C service), and am currently laying 3/4″ real hardwood flooring in my house.

    I know I’m not alone. Jokes aside, it isn’t wise to assume an engineer can’t handle tools. I started learning how from my father–also an electrical engineer. And I’ve had similarly-capable peers densely scattered through my career. For the record: I burned my palm on a soldering iron when I was 11–quite a few years before I became an engineer. Also for the record: I dropped it immediately, so though blistered, I did not need medical attention. (:

    • #18
    • March 28, 2020, at 4:29 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Henry Racette Contributor

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I’m mechanically incompetent: I write software, and everyone gets uncomfortable if I so much as pick up a screwdriver.

    How do you tell the difference between a technician and an Engineer? By which end of the soldering iron they pick up.

    How do you tell the difference between an Engineer and a Senior Research Scientist? If they drop it or not*

    *I have had all three titles in my career, so I think I can tell this.

    How often have I spoken to people – including technicians – that don’t understand I’m only an engineer, not a technician. Or that an EE isn’t automatically able to fix just about anything that uses electricity.

    I’ve been writing software for just over 40 years (which, when I say that, seems like a long time). I remain in awe of anyone who knows when you need a pull-up resister and how large it should be, or who has an intuitive sense of when a torque wrench is necessary.

    Well, us multi-skilled folk are out there: I’ve also been writing software for 40+ years (started with 8080 machine language on a Heathkit at age 11), built my own etched circuit boards, wired my own industrial panels, designed and hand-machined (manual 20″ mill) robot end-effector tooling, and assembled prototype machinery. On the personal side, I’ve designed and 3D modeled a porch expansion, welded and installed its structural steel and steel fittings, forged and installed brass accessories, and painted. I do my own household plumbing and wiring, work on my vehicles (including engine rebuild, transmission replacement, and A/C service), and am currently laying 3/4″ real hardwood flooring in my house.

    I know I’m not alone. Jokes aside, it isn’t wise to assume an engineer can’t handle tools. I started learning how from my father–also an electrical engineer. And I’ve had similarly-capable peers densely scattered through my career. For the record: I burned my palm on a soldering iron when I was 11–quite a few years before I became an engineer. Also for the record: I dropped it immediately, so though blistered, I did not need medical attention. (:

    You are what we call a universal man. I have endless respect for guys like you. My friend Dave, out in Colorado Springs, is like you in that regard. He’s the guy I call whenever a project requires electronic work. He and I are building a CNC milling machine right now.

    (I overstated my ineptitude just a tiny bit: my second desk is covered with breadboards and discrete parts right now, including a bunch of I2C I/O modules and A/D converters. I built my first computer in 1978, while I was in high school, based on a Popular Electronics plan using the RCA 1802 microprocessor. It had 256 bytes of memory. But, while I remember E=IR just fine and can do serial and parallel resistor math, I really don’t have a clue how to build a circuit. When I need to know, I turn to search engines, or just call Dave.)

    • #19
    • March 28, 2020, at 5:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Skyler Coolidge

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I know I’m not alone. Jokes aside, it isn’t wise to assume an engineer can’t handle tools.

    They usually are very good with them in my experience.

    • #20
    • March 28, 2020, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Rodin Member

    Headedwest (View Comment):
    Heathkits (you have to be pretty old to know what those were)

    I am.

    • #21
    • March 28, 2020, at 6:15 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  22. Skyler Coolidge

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Headedwest (View Comment):
    Heathkits (you have to be pretty old to know what those were)

    I am.

    They were pretty cool kits. My dad loved them, he was an electronics geek back when electronics wasn’t yet solid state. He loved to trouble shoot the TV, we would go to the hobby shop and put the vacuum tubes in this machine to test them.

    And he loved the heath kit. Always tried to get us to be interested in them. I think I built a radio one time, but by the 70’s heath kits were getting to be passe. I guess they still exist but I’ve never seen them since the 70’s.

    • #22
    • March 28, 2020, at 7:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    Is your son’s company hiring temp/seasonal workers to keep up with rising demand?

     

    • #23
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:37 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    I hate to say this but any state governor who has banned the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine should not receive your son’s company’s ventilators.

    These drugs reduce the need for ventilators.

    Why reward stupidity and Trump derangement syndrome?

    Michigan

    Nevada

    New York

     

    • #24
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Snirtler Inactive

    Awesome!

    • #25
    • March 28, 2020, at 9:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Skyler Coolidge

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    I hate to say this but any state governor who has banned the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine should not receive your son’s company’s ventilators.

    These drugs reduce the need for ventilators.

    Why reward stupidity and Trump derangement syndrome?

    Michigan

    Nevada

    New York

     

    We should not equate governors with the people in the states. Anyone relying on a politician for medical advice is bound to be misled.

    • #26
    • March 28, 2020, at 10:09 PM PDT
    • Like
  27. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    I hate to say this but any state governor who has banned the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine should not receive your son’s company’s ventilators.

    These drugs reduce the need for ventilators.

    Why reward stupidity and Trump derangement syndrome?

    Michigan

    Nevada

    New York

     

    We should not equate governors with the people in the states. Anyone relying on a politician for medical advice is bound to be misled.

    you’re right, that’s a fair point.

    with the exception of NYC

     

    • #27
    • March 28, 2020, at 10:12 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Full Size Tabby Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…: So I made him some spaghetti right away, and made arrangements to do his laundry

    Nice. This is an all hands situation. I am sure it easier for your son’s company to double their production than it is for GM/Ford to make a single ventilator. Most politicians (like most people) don’t understand how manufacturing works these days.

    Another benefit of a free society. The people around a person who has critically needed skills step in to support by doing other things. How long would it take a command and control government to figure out that people working overtime to build needed equipment need someone else to prepare food and do laundry (and possibly housecleaning too) to free up time for equipment building? Then the government would have to figure out who should do that work. In a free society family, friends, and neighbors step in to meet needs (see also Hector, deliverer of toilet paper). 

    • #28
    • March 29, 2020, at 5:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Is your son’s company hiring temp/seasonal workers to keep up with rising demand?

     

    I don’t know. I don’t think that temps would help much, as it takes some training to do the work. Not a huge amount of training. My impression is that it’s somewhere around 3-6 weeks, but I don’t have details.

    They’re also limited by the number of machines available.

    • #29
    • March 29, 2020, at 7:07 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…: His middle-aged, kinda-fat, kinda-nerdy, lawyer of an old man. I cleared the jam in about 10 minutes. Did I mention that he’s a Marine Sergeant and works as a manufacturing tech? But I cleared the jam.

    Love this. I get a thrill every time my kids get stuck and I am able to solve the problem. And my kids, like yours, are seriously competent people.

    • #30
    • March 29, 2020, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 2 likes