Top Lead Two – a continuation

By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]

Okay, if you are a hard core battery man then you truly did read Top Lead One and you have been reminded of the many changes to our industry that came when the plastic polypropylene battery cases were introduced for automotive SLIG batteries. Out went the individual rubber cell covers,the small round cell post and the bow tie shaped cell connectors. In came the one piece cover, half round (sometimes square) cell post and the up and over the partition cell connecting technology. Along with these changes in construction materials came the beginning of many reductions in the number of people required to man our battery assembly lines.

So change was good for some and not so good for others. As in most cases of industrial change it has been a good change for the consumers and until some kind of unknown economic system comes along this is what it is all about. Still it seems only fair to me that we give a little thought once in awhile to the absolute contrariness of such a system. On the one hand we want to sell and manufacture more batteries this year than we did last year and we want to do it with less material and less people. On the other hand in order to keep this process on-going we need more people with sufficient incomes to consume our production. My calling this contrary is mild. I am very limited here so I cannot stay on the subject but I suggest that if one wanted to then one could make a big time use here of the word – “CHANGE”. Yes – change begets change. As the works of industry change to produce more for less then the way we live and enjoy the benefits introduces a likewise change in our consumer society. I know I have to stop with this chain of thought for this is suppose to be about what we love – batteries. Please allow me though just one further observation especially since it is related to batteries. Us battery people know a lot about change for we make a product that undergoes change as it loses its power but then through a revitalizing and completely opposite change it can be restored to its original good stuff. Our society does not have this benefit. We change things here and it changes things there. So, our society has to welcome change but unlike our battery we have to make sure we do not lose the good stuff as we do it. Now if you would like to quit eliminating material and people ……

I am sure you get the point.

Now back to Battery Production History 101: (How C.O.S. became a household name.) After the invasion of plastic battery cases and the ability to have a single one piece cover for the entire battery it did not take long at all for the “whomevers” to see the opportunity to eliminate battery assembly by torch burning. Today, there are people in our industry being successful and earning good money that do not know what I am talking about but there was a time that to fuse one battery plate to another it was done with a hand held torch. Today, this task is known as a Cast On Strap process or COS for short. I hear it pronounced as letters, C – O – S and as a word which sounds like (kaas). The battery cells with the sandwiched together assembly of plates and separators only had to be changed slightly. The plate lugs had to be shortened and for the full “Cadillac” change the ends of these lugs would be altered to have knife like tapers on the end.

The idea of it all was to use an open mold where molten Pb could be poured into it to form little puddles. These puddles of molten Pb would become the :Strap’ or a bar that fused all the Neg. plates together and the Pos. plates together. At the same time this mold would be used to form the cell post. So, in one motion all six cells for a 12 volt battery cold have its plates properly fused together and each cell would have the required cell terminal post. It was like magic. It was a technical change that brought with it increased production rates, less material requirements and a big reduction in man-power requirements. In our world at the time it was all about change. We now were believing in miracles. In my section of the world I was chosen to deliver the miracle. I was selected because I was new and I was a part of the Indirect bunch so if it all failed I would be a minor loss.

I was at the tail end of a two year Management Training Course. I had worked in all the jobs out in the factories. I had been moved to the site of the Home Office where I was finishing training in the Q.C. Lab. one morning out of the blue I was told to report to the office of the company’s Vice President Of Manufacturing. I hardly knew him even though he had hired me two years before and after that it was only a brief encounter here and there that we were around each other.

There was not anybody else in the room with us. The meeting did not take long at all because I was simply told that out back at the factory there was a transport truck being unloaded. The truck had brought in a new machine. The brand name of it was MAC. There was mentioned something about the name coming from the designer – a Mr. McAlpine. {I seriously hope I have the name right}. I was told that someone from his company would be in soon to start it up but in the meantime I was to assist maintenance in getting it installed and then I would be the one to be trained. After that I would train others. Another machine was coming for this factory and two more were on order for our other three factories. I would be expected to go start all of them and train all the machinist.

Mr. McAlpine himself came for the start up and it was the only time I was around him. I do remember the time to have been totally interesting . We did have some talks by phone and yes a bad time did come and it was from this time that I really learned about the word – “Facetious”. Mr. McAlpine labeled one of my reports to be “Facetious”. Now, it is all funny to me but then it was devastating.The truth is that Mr. McAlpine did not fully understand the situation. The truth is that Mr. McAlpine had created a fantastic unique and viable machine and my own Mfg. V-President, Mr. John Kossow, had made a beast out of it. And all this was possible because of my own inexperience. I can assure you of this though: when I came out of this project on the other end I was experienced.

As mentioned the first phase was to install the machine near an existing production line. None of the existing production machines would be moved. Now, in our factory which was located in Florida this was not difficult to do at all. You see, our Florida factory had removable walls. In fact in the heat of the summer it had no walls at all. A Conservatives dream. Anyway the new machine was installed and I was given instructions that showed me how all the switches worked. What followed next was the instructions that made a miracle into a nightmare.

Before I can go into the those instructions though I need to give a snap shot of the machine itself. Now it was a COS machine even though this term was not in use yet. It was actually two machines connected to one central Pb furnace. Each machine was rated, (Keep in mind that this was one of the first ever of this machine so an established day in and day out production rate was weak), at 400 batteries per 8 hours. This works out for both machines to be around 2 batteries per minute for a typical working shift.

It has already been explained that a COS casting includes the cell terminal post. In these days when the cells were placed into the battery case the cell post stuck up above the partitions about 3/8 of an inch. Another process using a hand held torch was required to join one cell to another by fusing the two adjacent cell post together in what was called an up and over connection. This meant that the cell post from one cell went up to the top of the case partition and was joined to the other post and this gave a connection that was up and over the cell wall.

This MAC COS though went beyond this restriction. When the casting was removed from the mold the cell post were complete and connected to its adjacent cell. There was not any need for a torch burner to make the cell to cell connection.The most amazing thing though was that when the cells were released from the machine they would be inserted directly into the battery case. Amazing!!

Mr. Kossow’s final instructions were not strange to me because of my inexperience. It was the experienced folks in the factory that made comments like -“He told you to do what?”. Even then I did not have doubt. Doubt came later. It is not connected but as a time frame of all this I remember there to be a war. It was the Israeli 6 Day War. It was being mentioned on the radio all the time.

My final instructions were to operate both machines, put on the covers and torch burn the outer main terminal post. The battery would be complete with the only things left to do was to dispense epoxy into the cover, cure it and send it to the formation department. No problem! Just make sure to do it 800 times a day. Yes! Doubt was just around the corner.

Just to fill in the gaps about the manufacturing times involved here I can now easily do these in my head. For example: a typical battery has 12 pounds of metallic Pb and the Top Pb accounts for about 2 pounds of this. Just to keep the furnace full of Pb would require about 30 minutes of the day. 800 batteries would use 1600 lbs of Pb. A Pb pig weighs about 60 lbs. so 27 of them a day would need to be fed into the furnace. If you include the time to move around to the stack of pigs, clean away the oxide, physically place the pig into the furnace and return to the machines it approximates the 30 minutes. It takes around 30 seconds to burn on the top terminals of one battery. Right here is 400 minutes and with the 30 we are at 430 minutes and there has not been anytime given to attending the machines. A typical 8 hour day has about 420 working minutes. Mr. Kossow was reasonable about facing up to the fact that the burning or the building of the top terminals would have to be done by someone else so after a few days of failure I was given some relief. Now though there should not be any hold backs to get on with producing 800 batteries per day. Okay so now after getting the furnace up to temperature and molten Pb being pumped to the machines the only thing to do is to load the cells properly into the clamping baskets and push the start button. I only had to do this 400 times a day on each machine. I did get up to around 150 to 175 batteries per machine but Mr. Kossow believed that the problem was me and so he let the factory choose one of its most durable burning machine operators to come over let me show him where all the buttons and switches were. This guy was certainly physically capable. He worked at our factory all day and spent most nights playing professional Jai Alai. He was a leading producer in our factory. The two of us together would be able to get the production up above 200 batteries per machine per shift but when I left it all for him to do it went immediately back down below the 200. In other words we were at about one half of the expectations.

Other good workers tried out but without success. This is when I was told I was just being “Facetious”. I had been instructed to write a report all along which explained our problem areas and to send this report to Mr. AlPine. He would dutifully send back instructions that helped but not anything that allowed us to double our production when only using one person as an operator. I then wrote a report telling Mr. AlPine that his suggestions were helpful but we did not need help to get us 5 to 10% improvements we were looking for and needed 100% improvements. Thus my facetious attitude became known not only to me but to any and all the bosses I had at the time.

It still is too early to find an end to Battery Top Pb History but it is a good time to find a stopping place. At this point in time I was very heavy into COS production but I did not have a clue who John Farmer was and I certainly did not know he was also making a Cast On Machine. That story has to wait for TOP Pb lll for I was a MAC Engineering machine operator and Mr. Kossow was sizing me up. In the mean time we had not eliminated any people but the factory was producing more with less.