Creativity and Diesel

Working on the diesel for our friendship sloop, might not be the first thing you think of when you think about creativity, but there are links. One link has to do with the installation. Unless you are working on a production boat, installation of a diesel differs from boat to boat because the space allowed in each boat for the engine tends to be unique. One of the first adjustments I had to make when I started learning about marine diesels was the idea that part of the engine might be in a different location than is shown in the manuals because of the special arrangement in the engine compartment.

Engine with overlay of cooling system, fuel system, and engine controls.

Ten years ago, when I first peered into our engine compartment, I assumed that each component of the system was located where it was because it was the result of careful and exacting planning. What I have since learned is just as likely that a part of the engine system was placed where it was without too much consideration for maintenance and the other systems competing for space. This is more typical than you might think.

I had a very good friend in school that became an aeronautical engineer. One of his first jobs was with a major jet engine manufacturer. He was excited because he was going to get to use all the stuff he had learned about metal tolerance and fatigue, and the precision of perfectly engineered design. He was quite shocked on his first day on the job when his boss told him that his job would consist of taking finished engine designs down to the maintenance guys and recording carefully all of their explanations for why the engine would fail.

At first he though this was part of a sort of “play a joke on the new guy” thing. So he took the new design down to the maintenance shop to see what would happen. Much to his surprise the “guys” in maintenance shot holes in the design in about thirty seconds. The designers were looking at how all the pieces fit together to function smoothly. The maintenance people were looking at how to take the thing apart when it did not. The design had not accounted for things like room to rotate a tool to extract a bolt, or room to back out the bolt without first removing half the engine. My friend was further surprised when the jet engine design had to be totally reworked to accommodate the needs of both function and maintenance.

I recount this little tale, because in our stewardship of the boat I have too often run into the same kind of problem; the location of some element of the engine components seems fine, until you have to work on it. As a result, much of this winter I have been struggling with the approach of the “maintenance guys.” Since the engine has been in the shop, I am making what adjustments I can to allow for a little better access to those parts of the system that need maintenance.

The engine compartment of the friendship sloop is the one part of the boat that I am not keen to spend a lot of time in, but if I can spend time now while the boat is in the shed doing this re-thinking, then perhaps I can spend less time in the engine compartment when the boat is in the water. Or, if I do have to make repairs on the water, I might at least be able to get to the parts that need repair a little easier. The hard part of this process is very three-dimensional. I seem to spend a lot of time visualizing things like: if I put a wrench on that, and turn it clockwise, what do my knuckles, hit? You can take the same question and substitute another part of the body for “knuckle”, and you get a more complex twist to the puzzle.

We are getting to the point where the systems should be coming back together in the next week or two. The engine has been completely overhauled. The main jobs were the removal of the heat exchange system so that it could be cleaned, and painted, and so that I could add protective insulation to the electrical harness, which, for reasons that escape me, runs directly over the engine block and under the heat exchanger. Seems to me to be one of the hotter parts of the engine (someone should have asked the Maintenance guys). Anyway, with that done the heat exchanger and fuel pumps could all be reassembled. I am waiting on one gasket for the exhaust elbow and I can reship the diesel.

The next part of the creative process with the diesel is how to make the reinstallation “fun.” When I have the answer to that one, I will let you know….


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