Monday, May 27, 2013

Modular Housing, Factory-produced.

Factory produced housing components have been around since the 1870's (look at early Kauri Timber Co catalogues....) but the transition to producing sections is painfully slow (roof trusses, some pre-built simple walls, some exceedingly simple modules).

Benefits of real production-volume and high-design-quality builds of this sort would be:
  • Real QC. On the factory floor. Instead of which we get 'Inspections' on site by underpaid, ratty, barely competent TLA staff, who do however have the fulll power to halt the job until that weather seal or bracket or widget is tweaked, adjusted, or otherwise have Yet Mo' Cost sunk into it. And the Next 'Inspection' will be by a different minion, with different ideas, but just as much Power to Obstruct.....
  • Real assembly, by staff who can be closely supervised, timed, who use highly automated tools, and a whole lotta CNC wizardry. Instead of the slapped together on site approach, by drug-addled hammer hands, loosely supervised, but of course wearing HiVis, and wearing Approved Safety Hats (tin-foil lined on Karamea and Waiheke jurisdictions) and Steel-capped Boots. Talking around with earthquake repair guys, it seems that having floors 30-40mm out of level, gibbing ceilings that are the same out of square, etc, is par for the course in new on-site builds....
  • Real design. Conduits and designated ducts for all services (black/grey/potable water, electrics of various voltages (solar, 12vDC for marine-style LED's, 400V or 230V AC for appliances, workshop etc), gas, refrigerant (for heat transfer from fridges, driers, hot water etc to where it's needed) and so on. Maintainability is just so poor (because not designed in) in most current housing. Doesn't need to be this way.
  • Real cost advantages. High-volume, yet customised production lines. Low, but highly skilled, labour requirements. Low margin possible if enough volume passes through. Possibility of deals with financing to provide an end-to-end type cover, and cut out the plethora of middle layers (ranging from the TLA Pre-Consent Discussion session (un-needed), through architects (replaced by CAD design, imported electronically), quantity surveyors (replaced by a BOM), and of course those Hammer Hands (and their local Tinny House).

But this approach will be thwarted, obstructed and outright blocked by the usual suspects:

  • TLA's and employee guilds, who are not gonna let the real 'inspection' pass out of their clammy ineptocratic hands, into whole-product factorys' certification....
  • TLA's who see a luvverly lucrative revenue stream, produced by demanding Extra Time Everywhere at an Exorbitant Hourly Rate, threatened.
  • Building Standards wallahs, who will have about as much to do with eventual housing quailty as happens with vehicles or boats (Peter Cresswell's favourite example)
  • The materials cartel, who have a really nice lock of the individual-component market, and who will find ways to either take over or block any such real 'competition'
  • I'm sure eager common taters can thinka more along these lines.

So I have a confident Prediction.

Nice thought.

Won't Happen.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Scrapers

A follow-up piece - how Did I manage to Break a Scraper in Half?

First up, I was working for the Copulating Spiders - the ol' MoW insignia. The gear was probably 20+ years old (in 1972-3), and instead of a proper Cat tow-pin between dozer and scraper, MoW being the cheapskates they always were, had thoughtfully supplied a shortened piece of truck axle. Didn't quite fit the hole - rattled around a bit.

A fully loaded scraper could hold around 15-20 cubic metres of spoil (roughly a 3x3 floor pan, and could be crowded in good stiff clay to 3+ metres high) so I guess total weight could run 35-45 tons all up. A twin-drum winch on the dozer needed for the two operation cables: one for blade height, one for apron trim and material eject/spread.  Dozer was a 3T series Caterpillar D7 - see one at work here.

The usual round (this was topsoil stripping, to a temporary heap) was

  • run the dozer in high gear to the pickup, 
  • change (on the fly, yes, possible) to low, 
  • drop the blade into the material, 
  • let the material crowd (if it would) until it spilled over, 
  • raise the pan to travel position, 
  • crawl back to the heap and up it, 
  • wind the dump winch which first raised up the front apron and let the material out, and then pushed the whole rear wall of the scraper forward, ejecting all material. 
  •  Bring 'er back to travel mode, high gear, off the heap, 
  • wash, rinse, repeat. 50-100 times per day - an average round was perhaps 3-5 minutes.

Working this gear gets quite repetitive, so the old mind tended to wander.

So it was, coming off the heap in high gear, with quite some surprise that I was awakened from my reverie to hear both winches screaming their heads off. Turned around to ascertain the cause.

Oh dear.

The tow-pin had sheared. The scraper was in two pieces, quite a few metres back from the accustomed position. The cables were running out against the brakes, hence the screams.

The scraper, empty but running down a 20-degree slope, had promptly dug in the towbar to the ruffled surface of Gaia, run clean over it tilting it around 180 degrees so it ended up facing backwards, and comprehensively foobarred the ball joint that joined the front set of wheels plus towbar, to the rest of the scraper. Not a good look. A two-piece scraper.  Here's a one-piece....

What to do?

Uncouple the cables from the winches (hammer and wedge), run back for the dozer blade and hook it on, string its cable onto one winch, and proceed to move the pieces out of the way of the heap.

Then confess all to the bosses, but point out that a Real Caterpillar Towpin would be henceforth a Good Idea.

We ended up (days later, this was Gummint work, y'unnerstand) going way out to the backblocks of Fortrose, and bringing back another even more ancient scraper, with which I (lopsidedly - darn thing had two different sized tyres on the back, which controls cutting attitude) completed the earthworks.

With (what joy!) a Real Caterpillar Towpin which appeared, along with the immortal words 'Let's see if you can manage to f... This one Too!'

A little addition, about Elfin Safety.

The old D7 had zero electrics: it was a hand-crank petrol pony motor start.

But the crank handle was vertical.

So, the Elfin Safety issues to start the beast:
  • stand, in yer gummies, on an iced-up top track, in a typical Invercargill frost.
  • prime the pony motor and offer up a small prayer to the appropriate deities
  • Insert the crank handle from on top of the bonnet (about chest height IIRC)
  • Pull it gently around to compression on the pony motor.
  • Take another purchase on the crank (no thumbs around the handle...) and mutter another smaller prayer.
  • Pull the crank smartly towards you.
  • If lucky, pony fires and runs. Trim it, engage the clutch and turn over the main donk.
  • If not lucky, pony backfires and pulls you straight into the edge of the bonnet (curved, fortunately).
  • If really not lucky, bounce off bonnet, slip on top track, clobber appendages on the way down to the cold hard ground a metre below.
  • If inclined to Push the crank to start, expect the backfire to merely throw you off of the track. No bonnet edge. Take yer pick.

Ah, and they call 'em the good 'ol days....

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ancient History ( a slice of a younger , machine-operator Waymad)

The context is that common taters aver that a residential subdivision needs a lotta Plannin'.


A much younger Waymad built the rough levels in a section of an entire subdivision (Newfield - the hilly bit, Invercargill) with a Cat D7 and a cable scraper (which I broke in half, but that's a story for another day.) Yes, there were Plans - and a few sticks in the ground, and the occasional surveyor with a dumpy, but nothing a tech drawing refugee from the local Technical College could not handle. Strip the topsoil out to a temporary heap, cut out the main road and footpath levels to 20mm or so, level the sections, respread the topsoil on siad sections, done. Services, K&C etc, laters. Not a lot to it.

Te Anau useta be grass verges and gravel tracks, off the main drag. Making streets was a two-man operation: a grader with towed vibratory roller, tractor to buzz around, sweep and tow, contractors for K&C and gravel, sealing last. Services (water only) already there. Not a lot to it.

We useta seal 20+ miles per year, from a starting point of average County gravel roads. One rough-cut grader, one do-everything-else grader (Cat 112, me), contractors for gravel, make yer own topcourse from screened river run and clay from a likely local roadside bank, excavated with - what else - a grader. No plans. No surveyors (a level bolted to the front cab rail in the graders was all we ever used). No engineers (except if they fancied a long drive into the sticks, which was not often). Experience, feel, a taste for the right clay, and the knowledge that every single person ya met was a ratepayer, who Paid you, and who Expected Service. Not a lot to it.

Them were the days, so you can see why I get a little excited about the current ways: 12-tonne diggers everywhere, mostly at idle, Elfin Safety up the wazoo, a whole lotta jobs for the unskilled, and 'a lot of planning needed for a subdivision'.


A lotta Cost fer a subdiv, more like......

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lifestyle Blocks

Well, lemme just tee up the Broken Record for another spin. Right.
RPM - check.
No dust on needle - check.
Lower needle - check

The popularity of lifestyle blocks is a direct response to the relative unavailability of, and exceedingly high price of, serviced urban plots.
There are roughly 175,000 lifestyle blocks scattered around the larger cities in NZ.
Auckland - every direction.
Wellington - the Wairarapa,and the West Coast (Plimmerton to Foxton)
Christchurch - all directions
The agricultural production from these blocks is negligible.
The commute distance for these blocks is typically 50-80km.
The average lifestyle block is of the order of 1 to 3 ha (a typical urban plot is 0.06 ha or 600 sq m)
The average lifestyle block is serviced as to power and water, but disposes its own sewerage on site.
Few lifestyle blocks have public transport connections in a reasonable distance, of a type suitable for business commuting.
Most lifestyle blocks therefore have heavy dependence on private, fossil fuelled vehicles, with low vehicle occupancy.

And yet most common taters wail about the Weevils of Urban Sprawl......and uphold the Sanctity of MUL's, RUB's and other squiggles on Planning Maps.

Funny ol' world, innit.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Green reaction to Whiteware Initiative

Mr Normal Russian, spokesperson for the Alliance of Indigenous Laundrettes (AIL), had this to say about the initiative to bulk-buy whiteware for lower-decile consumers:

"We absolutely oppose this initiative, for seven reasons.
1 - the whiteware is made of plastic and metal, substances that don't occur in that form in Nature.
2 - the whiteware is foreign-made and denies Aotearoans the chance to make their own (from substances other than metal and plastic, of course)
3 - the whiteware is dangerous - there have been many - well, dozens, OK, one in Aotearoa - fires and explosions caused by the operation of these devices
4 - the whiteware uses electricity, which now has to be bought from Rich Aotearoans since the MRP float, further perpetuating the inequalities in this allegedly egalitarian land.
5 - the whiteware is to be made available for private usage, which denies the possibility of community, joint or shared use to the recipients.
6 - the whiteware is to be financed using dollars which have been earned by the export of Dairy, Meat and Oil - all products which to be perfectly Francesca we would all be better off not producing.
7 - the whiteware is in any case unnecessary - there are many rivers throughout Aotearoa full of Large Stones , which in combination can be (and are to this day in many, many countries) used to launder clothes quite satisfactorily.

There are many, many more reasons, but we regard Seven as a Particularly Significant (if not Magical) number, so that's it.