Any properly indoctrinated citizen of a given country has the potential to be a bit of a fanatic. In the US the term patriot is arbitrarily conferred on such persons.
If one wishes to debate the “yank” concept of what constitutes a patriot, read the following citation, (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) and then perhaps we can chat. I consider myself a patriot, almost to a fault.
Those things germane to the proper execution of my government in its duties to do all that “The Preamble” stuff is important to me. My apologies to those who have no affinity or inkling of how the US does its thing. It is however, a convenient and well-defined frame of reference for the author. Chief among those “things” is the inner workings of the Defense Industrial Complex’s contracting practices; especially ship repair and ship building. Given that all the US Navy’s “men of war”, save the USS Constitution, are metal, there is typically a great deal of welding involved.
That’s kind of why we met. I have participated mostly on the repair side of the house. On the occasions, (and sadly only occasionally) when I found myself in lower management in this industry, I have been asked to help estimate the cost of welding activities. I love this, and I hate it.
For those unfamiliar I provide a very simple model here (Mason, 2022). Without question, regardless of the exact method used, one must consider 1) the total length of a weld, 2) the width of the weld, 3) the process used, and 4) the efficiency of welding operations.
Simply put, one must determine total mass or weight of deposited metal first, and then calculate how fast it can be deposited and “sold” (inspected, accepted by the contractee, and credited toward completion).
My estimates are given in person-hours. As a low-level manager, I have yet to be entrusted with the actual labor cost charged to the customer and the overhead tied to it. The government customer will asses a properly completed estimate based on a “fair and reasonable” standard. Basically, if the cost can be rationalized, they are likely to pay it.
I have shared the structure I use to perform these estimates in the citation above. Now for the good part. The government customer has its own frame of reference for judging the fairness of the bid. I can sum it up in one word: length. They just want to know how many linear inches (oops millimeters, gosh darned imperial system!) of weld are to be deposited. This presents a few problems.
First, they don’t have a metric to determine the level of difficulty for a given weld. A 2m-long weld accomplished in an easy to access area is very different from one located in a confined corner of a tank seven stories below the surface. Not to mention the additional accouterments that must accompany the welder way down there.
Second, they don’t take account of the weight or volume of a weld. Given the same 2m weldment, one with a 3mm fillet size costs substantially less then a 19mm fillet. They don’t have a metric for that.
No seriously, they don’t. They own the blueprints used to make the estimates, and they basically ask the contractor to read it for them. Last, and this one is particularly shameful, they don’t have a metric for the Operating Factor or Arc Time that they expect of their contractors…at all (American Welding Society;, n.d.).
So, hopefully, if you’ve been paying attention, you uttered at least one “pffft!” (555 Gear, 2012) derived from amusement or disgust and are now asking, “Why is this last thing so particularly egregious?”.
If not, get off the phone, and tell the kids to pipe down. This is important! The government shipyards actually have their own welders, thousands of them. They have extensive standards and processes in place that predetermine the operating factor for a given welding task based on years of data from their internally performed projects. The questions, then, beg of themselves, “Why don’t they use their own welders? Why don’t they dictate the length of welding that needs to be done? Why don’t they scrutinize the contractor’s operating factor with theirs?” Well, now that you are finally with me, let me tell you. The government shipyards are notoriously inefficient, much like their government parent groups. So much in fact, that Congress mandated the use of profit incentivized contractors to bring down costs (Sorry I couldn’t find a reference or an exact date, but the old yard birds have made this clear to me throughout the years. Many of them are retired government shipyard workers.).
The other major problem here is wholesale lack of expertise of the government administrators who award these contracts. So, without hyperbolizing the ridiculous instances I’ve witnessed of my colleagues essentially guessing an inflated weld cost, and having said cost funded by the government customer, I’ll tell you it sickens me. To sum it up, the senior project manager and I were discussing one of my estimates. I explained how the, let’s say 10 hours, labor estimate must be divided by our .1 (dimensionless constant) operating factor. He exclaimed, “So you’re telling me that it takes 100 hours for a welder to do 10 hours of work!”. I responded, “Absolutely”. In truth, this was one of the few honest estimates I’ve seen.
Ephron the welder..
The references are provided in alphabetic order
555 Gear. (2012, October 5). 555 Gear. Retrieved from Pfft Baby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvDZikDIfbA
American Welding Society;. (n.d.). Operating Factor. Retrieved from American Welding Society Learning: https://awo.aws.org/glossary/operating-factor/
Mason, A. (2022, March 22). Determining Welding Cost. Retrieved from Welding Pros: https://weldingpros.net/determining-welding-cost/
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patriot
This text belongs to Ephron the welder and it is part of “The death of welding” column.
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