Summer 2013

Making Parts Work in Harmony

Ron Smith working on the ice coring machine for IDDO.

Sitting across the table and listening to Ron Smith discuss his years of work, you see someone who really appreciates the coincidences that brought him to PSL. Ron had been working as a welder at a dairy steel tank company, but then came layoffs. His next job was at a stainless tank and equipment company and once again there were layoffs. At the time, he was attending Madison Area Technical College for a degree in machining and welding. His teacher knew that he had received another layoff notice and gave him a job announcement for PSL, “Ron you are a perfect fit for that” he said.

In order to apply, he had to take a state test on a Saturday morning, not easy to do after finishing the third shift on Friday. As Ron said, “I almost blew it off”, but he went in, completed the test and two weeks later he received a call. The call was from former PSL Shop Supervisor Bill Cotter asking him to come in. Ron went to PSL dressed for a formal interview, but he was handed an apron and given a practical test. The tests consisted of the most difficult procedures with brazing joints, tig welding and copper fitting together. “They did everything to make it as difficult as possible” Ron said, “I thought I was going in for an interview, but this interview turned into a practical test.” At the end of the test, the piece was cut in half to test its strength. Two weeks later, Bill called and offered him the job.

He started as a maintenance mechanic to repair general items; this was short lived, it was not long before he was working on ultra-high vacuum chambers and monochromators. Once again he headed for campus to take a test, this time to suit the work that he was doing. He passed the test, yet there was no position opening for that title at PSL. “It was close, I almost ended up at UW Hospital to become a prosthetic technician, but PSL was able to open a position for that title” Ron explains.

That was almost thirty years ago and Ron is happy that he made the choice. “It is nice to be able to work here. It stabilized and changed the course of my life” Ron said. Over the course of his work here, he has seen many projects, from the small to the extreme. His favorites were the ones that included travel to Germany, Korea and Taiwan and had to do with monochromators. “It was really different being in a country like Korea or Taiwan, I couldn’t even tell if I was on the same street that I had traveled earlier that day” he laughed, “but inside the foreign facilities it was really nice”.

Ron working on a monochromator.

Although his favorite jobs included travel, it seems that his real passion is to work on monochromators. “Monochromators had to be the best to work on. It is the art of making the parts work in harmony that is fun” he said. He emphasizes also the great people that he has worked with over the years and the teamwork. The team that he refers to is Don Holly, Bill Mason, Tim Sailor and himself. “Some of our work made the front cover of Physics Today. On the front cover was a monochromator with some small writing on it, Leak check “O.K.” with the project name and the date” according to Ron that was his mark after all testing was cleared. He goes on to explain that within the science community, PSL was known to build the Cadillac of monochromators. And when speaking to others abroad in the science community, with the mention of PSL they would hear, “We know about PSL”.

Ron goes on to say, “What is nice about working here is that you never see the same things twice. It is a very unique place to work and no matter what it is; we always figure it out and accomplish the task.” Thirty years later, his teacher had it right, PSL is a perfect fit.


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