Being an Engineer

S2E28 Test Stands, X-ray, & Other Instrumentation | William Gabler

June 25, 2021 William Gabler Season 2 Episode 28
Being an Engineer
S2E28 Test Stands, X-ray, & Other Instrumentation | William Gabler
Show Notes Transcript

William is an applications scientist at Shimadzu where they provide analytical measurement and testing instrumentation for various industries including foods, pharmaceuticals, life science, environmental, clinical, material science, and forensics. Ever wondered how some of these instruments work? How does X-ray fluorescence characterize a material? How do medical device OEMs know a device is mechanically safe to use? Join us for this episode to learn the answers to these and other fascinating questions in the world of instrumentation and measurement.

The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us.  

Presenter:

The Being an Angineer Podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.

Aaron Moncur:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Being an Engineer Podcast. We have William Gabler with us today who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry, a Master's in Textile Chemistry and a PhD in Fiber and Polymer Science. William is currently a Senior Application Scientist at Shimadzu Scientific Instruments where they provide analytical measurement and testing instrumentation for various industries, including foods, pharmaceuticals, life science, environmental, clinical material science, and forensics, to name a few. William, welcome to the show.

William Gabler:

Thanks for having me.

Aaron Moncur:

So tell me a little bit about your your, your path here, you know, you are a scientist, which is fine. We don't discriminate against scientists here on the Being an Engineer Podcast, how did you decide to become a scientist? And what led you to your current role at Shimadzu?

William Gabler:

Yeah, so um, I think I've always kind of been a science-oriented kid. You know, as a kid, I was also interested in the sciences and engineering actually thought I was going to be an architect. But then I heard that architects have to go to school for something like seven or eight years and also continually get, you know, certified. But I...

Aaron Moncur:

Ended up a doctor.

William Gabler:

Yeah, exactly. But then I ended up going to get my PhD and get staying in school for seven years anyway. So

Aaron Moncur:

They got you in.

William Gabler:

Yeah. And also, you know, grew to learn that being a lifelong learner is just part of, you know, being in the in the science and engineering field. But yeah, so my undergrad was in chemistry, I had a really good chemistry, high school teacher that that kind of got me into that field. And also kind of my favorite class in undergrad was of Analytical Instrumentation. So learning about chromatography, spectroscopy, NMR, and just kind of all of those interesting ways that you can take a chemical or physical phenomenon and turn it into a technique. So then I got interested in textile chemistry, specifically kind of how it applies to polymer polymeric materials. And that's how I found found the graduate program that I went to at NC State. And kind of stumbled into a program there researching protective clothing. So all the different techniques used to characterize and test fire protective clothing, and chemical protective clothing. And also, you know, even, you know, impact protection. So mechanical testing.

Aaron Moncur:

nteresting, very ool. So you're at Shimadzu. ow, and, and I've learned a ittle bit about Shimadzu, esearching for this episode. hat I when I think of easurement instrumentation, the hings that I'm used to, right he like, kind of the equipment hat I see in my world a lot is test frame, a CMM, maybe some D scanning, but that's that's ind of it. I mean, for the most art, the things that we use ften Shimadzu has quite a lot f different technology under ts roof, though, far more than han the the few items that I ust listed. Can you talk riefly about all the different echnologies that you employ at himadzu?

William Gabler:

Sure, yeah. Just briefly about the company itself, it was actually it's cool, because it was founded in 1875. Wow. Yeah. And it's the founder Genzo was, is kind of around the time that X-ray, X-rays were being discovered and used for medical imaging. So he was the first person to use medical X-ray imaging technology in Japan. And then just kind of along that line, basically, at every instance, that kind of a very important analytical instrumentation. tool was developed shimadzu would also develop it and deploy it and in Japan, so that's kind of how it's it's built and grown over the years as they basically incorporate all of these different analytical techniques. So it really spans the whole gamut of chemical and material characterization. So the way that we kind of group that is, there's chromatography, you know, which is separation science used to separate chemicals and analyze those there's spectroscopy techniques. So using light to identify either the elements that are in a material or what compounds are in the material. And then there's materials, testing, and inspection. So the strength of materials, and also X-ray imaging, thermal analysis, it's, I always leave something out because there's so much kind of there's so much yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

Now I was going through the Shimadzu website, and I kind of had this impression that she mostly did like test frames. I mean, it was basically a competitor to instrument but it's a lot more than that a lot more diverse offering. What are some of the the services that companies who have been customers of Shimadzu for years might not know that you even do there?

William Gabler:

Yeah, actually, our test frames are actually kind of one of the least known product line so so people that are in the chromatography world, or mass spectroscopy world know about Shimadzu, but it's, it's actually the test frames and stuff that is the group that I'm part of this is kind of lesser known. And then just associated with selling instruments. There's, it's basically the whole operation of servicing and supporting them as well. So, you know, repairing instruments, doing tech support, helping customers with their applications, developing new applications.

Aaron Moncur:

Cool. And what, what are some of the most common reasons that companies engaged with Shimadzu? Like, you mentioned that if you're in the science realm that you probably know about the, the, what was it the mass spectroscopy and all the the X-ray services that you guys provide? Are those the most common types of things that are done at Shimadzu? Or are the more mechanical tests equally as common?

William Gabler:

Yeah, they're all equally as common. I'd say it's, it's yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

Okay.

William Gabler:

And, and yeah, we primarily sell, sell these instruments. So people are coming to us that either operating quality assurance lab or doing some some basic, fundamental research, and they need to get this instrument to perform that testing.

Aaron Moncur:

Got it? How big is Shimadzu? Like, where are your facilities?

William Gabler:

We've got a couple 100 employees across the US, our headquarters are in Columbia, Maryland. But we basically have to be wherever the customer is, because we go and install these instruments and service them. So within the US couple 100, but across the whole country, it's several 1000 employees.

Aaron Moncur:

Wow. Okay. And can you share, like, has there been any particularly interesting project applications that you've been a part of supporting during your time there?

William Gabler:

Oh, it's, it's hard to choose one. I'd kind of say that's the third. Kind of the interesting part of it is that it's it's different every day. So we've got, you know, within the test frame, market, we've got customers that are, you know, developing new allies within, you know, the automotive industry. So that the kind of extreme testing that they need to do for that the composites industry is huge as well. So testing different composite materials for aerospace, and automotive I can't think of one right now that stands out.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, while you think about that a little bit, I'm going to take a very short break here and share with the listeners that teampipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize inspect, assemble, manufacturer, and perform verification testing on your devices. We're speaking with William Gabler, today Senior Application Scientist a Shimadzu. Now, I think you yo may have just answered this, bu does Shimadzu sell instruments or is it Shimadzu mainly service provider

William Gabler:

We only sell instruments, so we sell them and then support them afterwards.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah. And and if folks need the service, like they don't want to buy the full equipment, but they just need someone to do you know, some kind of tensile testing that Shimadzu do that as well or do you only sell the equipment?

William Gabler:

Just sell themso we have an applications lab. So we'll help customers before purchasing kind of like do some testing to make sure that they're getting the right equipment that they need. But then there's a lot of basically contract testing labs which we supply instruments to, that wouldn't be able to provide services.

Aaron Moncur:

Got it. Okay. So if I needed some kind of mechanical test, I might reach out to you and you would put me in touch with XYZ testing lab in my area that has Shimadzu equipment.

William Gabler:

Uh-huh.

Aaron Moncur:

Got it. Now, it seems like you serve as kind of two separate classes or groups of customers. One is kind of the scientist sphere, and then the other one is more the engineering sphere, is that more or less accurate?

William Gabler:

Um, yeah, you could make that distinction, although, you know, it's, it's interesting to see the different kind of environments that especially our test frames are used in there often, there's sometimes in in quality assurance labs, which are nice and clean, but then, you know, some some like automotive labs, I'm thinking of a customer, that customer that makes rubber components, automotive supplier, and there, it's the test frame is basically on this factory floor where they're pressing and curing these these rubber components. And it's, it's smoky, and it smells and and then they throw it on the test frame and pull it apart. And, you know, rubber flies everywhere. And it's it's pretty, pretty intense usage. And so, yeah, we kind of span both, both. spectrums, I'd say, but...

Aaron Moncur:

cool. Now, let's get really basic here. I'm guessing that most people listening to this know what a test frame is, but there might be a few people who don't really understand what that is. So when we talk about test frames, can you explain a little bit about what that means?

William Gabler:

Sure. Yeah, that's a, that's a good question. And they go by a lot of different names, too. So some people call them test frames, some people use, you know, you know, use the name in strong because that's the brand that they're familiar with. We call it...

Aaron Moncur:

Kleenex. Right?

William Gabler:

Exactly. But we call them universal test machines. And the basic idea is that you have, so there's two types. They're either hydraulically, actuated, or electromechanical. And basically, with the, say, starting with the electromechanical one, you basically have a servo motor, which is turning a column, which is a ball screw, and that moves across, head up and down. And then mounted on that crosshead is a load cell, which is going to measure the force that's being applied. So you basically have a way to, to either apply a tensile or compressive force, and you have the ability to measure how far that cross had moved, and then how much force it applied. And then between that, within that test space between the load cell and the table, you know, you can attach hundreds of different types of accessories. So that's why they call them universal test machines, which is kind of a ludicrous title to say, you know, something that can test anything, but basically anything you can fit in there that you can grip, you can pull apart, or press and measure the force. And so, so what does that actually tell you? So, the most common types of tests that people are familiar with is, say you're doing a tensile test on a material, you're pulling it apart, you know, the the stress that you're applying to the material and the displacement. And so, you get something called a stress strain curve for that material, which tells you some very basic fundamental material properties. So, what is the strength required to to stretch the material and at what force does it break. So so it is used to, to characterize some very fundamental material properties. But then it can also be used to basically test the strength of, of, like I said, anything that you can fit in there, so you can put in bending jigs to get a bending strength, you can put in compression plates to get a compressive strength, or you can get some very complex jigs, which I think is what was your familiar with, and you kind of specializes, and is testing actual components. So how much force does it take to twist this part until it breaks? Or? Here's an interesting customer, actually, it's a company that makes the whole steering wheel assembly for a car and they have basically created this table where they can mount the actual steering wheel assembly, and they compress it and bend it, and basically 1020 different orientations. And there's actually specifications for those. So they say, you know, this part is good because we tested it. We tested this lot and 20 different ways and it didn't fail.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, some people might not realize probably most engineers realize this, but I don't know a lay person might not realize how a product is tested to ensure its its performance meets its intended specifications. And oftentimes, it's one of these universal testing machines or these test frames. That applies those loads, and moves the parts through their trajectories. I know a lot of the fixtures that we do get mounted into one of these test frames. And people might wonder, Well, you know, why would you want to measure force in distance? Like, what's the practical application of that, and there are so many different practical applications. I mean, one that we did recently was a customer needed to measure the force required to push a trigger on a laparoscopic medical device. And they needed to ensure that all of their devices were performing the same way. And you can't just have a person like push with their finger to measure that right? And say, yeah, this feels about the same Oh, yeah, this one feels about the same too, you actually have to measure that and gather data. And using these test frames, you can actually gather that data and compare, you know, however many you want 10s, hundreds 1000s of different triggers on all these different medical devices and say, Yep, 98% of these performed the same, they pass ship them out, let's sell those. But these 2% Yeah, we found some problems with these. And you can actually catch problems and things like that.

William Gabler:

Yeah. And yeah, that's something I didn't mention. But the the scale of these instruments can vary widely to sell at the lower end, we make a tabletop tester that can you can put a load cell on there that can measure, you know, milligrams of force. And then we make these four model hydraulic systems on the higher end that can test you know, 10s of 1000s of pounds. Wow. So depending on what you're testing, and it's so it's, that's another thing that's interesting, that kind of the contrast of we had one application where it's a small probe that's about the size of the human finger that pushes down on pieces of leather and foam, and it's supposed to replicate the basically the force of the sensation of pressing on this, this leather. So it's actually mimics a tactile, you know, sensation. And they, we also use those smaller ones for food texture measurement. So you can, you know, have a probe that kind of mimics the force of chewing of food. And researchers use that both for quality assurance, but also like actually developing, you know, different food products.

Aaron Moncur:

Oh, fascinating. So they're measuring the force it requires to bite down on a food or chew some food. And I assume they, at least in part, let's use that data to refine their product, which in this case, is some kind of food right?

William Gabler:

Exactly. Yeah. That's all that's, that's always an interesting field of science, too, is when you're trying to kind of replicate a subjective or sensory experience. Because, you know, it's, it's not, you can't predictively you know, have, you know, someone sitting there chewing on a piece of food and say, is that one softer? Is that one harder? No, you want to have a, you know, an objective, repeatable measurement.

Aaron Moncur:

Fascinating. I had never considered that before that. There's some food scientist out there that wants to know, how crunchy their product is. And they're probably using some kind of test frame to measure that. How interesting, huh? Yeah, we can all show on rock candy everyday. Right.

William Gabler:

And to that, actually, I meant to mention this too, I've kind of got a running list of ASDM standards, you know, it's an organization that makes test standards for different industries, that reference universal test machines, and my list is at about 600 different test standards.

Aaron Moncur:

Wow, that's a lot of test standards. What? What are the applications for using X-ray fluorescence? X and X-ray diffraction? These are two of the technologies I saw on the Shimadzu website that I'm not really familiar with, how are those used?

William Gabler:

Sure. Yeah, and that's not my specialty. But but I have used those instruments, I can speak to that. So X-ray fluorescence is what's called an elemental spectroscopy technique. So it turns out that if you shoot an X-ray had a material, it'll actually, it'll be just that the right energy is be able to knock out an electron within the electron shell of an element. And then that causes the higher electron to drop down and take its place. And when that happens, the element releases an X-ray. And that X-ray has a very has very specific energy. And you can use that to identify the exact element that's in there. So the way that those instruments work is you bombard a material with x rays, and then at a different angle, measure the X-rays that are coming off of it and you get a spectrum. That's basically a fingerprint of the elements present and material.

Aaron Moncur:

So fascinating. I never knew how that worked.

William Gabler:

Yeah, that's, that's one of those things. It's like it's kind of like magic. You can you know, put a totally unknown material on there, and it can tell you the composite or the elemental composition. So you can identify different alloys of metals, you know, different inorganic compounds, so use them a lot of different industry.

Aaron Moncur:

And I assume there are databases that one can purchase. And once they perform their test, they can take the results and match them up against those databases. And that's how, you know, this is, you know, XYZ element and ABC element.

William Gabler:

Yep, got it. And then X-ray diffraction is a little bit different there, you're shooting again, X-rays added material, but within if the material is crystalline, the elements are ordered in a very specific lattice within, you know, lattice structure within the material. And that's the spacing of, of atoms causes X-rays, the pass through it to get diffracted at a very specific angle. So there, you shoot X-rays, and then you move your detector around a range of angles. And again, based off of those locations, you can identify specific crystal structures. So there you can identify, basically, not just the elements that are present, but what their orientation is. So you can differentiate different, different materials.

Aaron Moncur:

Interesting. So both of them are used to characterize materials, just different methods of characterizing the material, the elements, and I guess, you get slightly different information on both of those. What, what's the best problem that you've helped one of your engineering customers solve

William Gabler:

Oh, best problem? That's subjective. I think just just to speak generally about this role, the it's, it's, it's satisfying, to just like, troubleshoot and solve problems. In general, I think that's one of the satisfying parts of this type of job is that often when people do come to you, they've got an issue. Either they don't know how to test something, or they're trying to test something and not getting good results. And so the general process of just like helping people through that process is satisfying, because you do get to generally get kind of a resolution where, you know, at the end of the day, someone's getting good results. And that's always always really satisfying.

Aaron Moncur:

Let me ask you this, what is? What are some of the problems that Shimadzu can't solve? Like, for what kinds of problems should I not give you...

William Gabler:

I mean, geez.

Aaron Moncur:

Do you ever get customers calling saying, Hey, can you help me with for this thing? And, and you like, rolling your eyes is another one of those where, well, we can't help you with that thing? That's not what we do. People call me like, every, probably once a month or so. And maybe once a quarter people call me and be like, yeah, we need house plans drawn up. And I'm like, dude, have you been? It's not what we do? Or occasionally they want some kind of oil or gasoline type of project. And yeah, that's our name. But that's not what we do. You guys ever get anything like that?

William Gabler:

Hmm. I think luckily, most of the crazy requests get filtered out by our sales and customer support before they get to me but...

Aaron Moncur:

Yo do probably just a lot better at marketing than I am.

William Gabler:

we do get people, you know, just kind of like, they don't even know what they want. So they're, they're coming and saying, Can we do this test at, you know, 2000 degrees? And in? You know, it's just something that like, Is it even possible?

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, yeah. What's your biggest problem at work?

William Gabler:

Um, so, I'd say, in general, again, to kind of generalize, and also related to my previous point, what makes it interesting is, this job is not just a technical job, it's very much a communication job. And I'd actually like to hear about your experience, too. You know, I think that within the field of engineering and science, communication is a really interesting thing. Because someone doesn't just have to understand the the technical aspect of it, you also have to convey what your your actual needs are. And so just kind of generally training, communicating. And, and understanding what what people need and what the actual problem is, is is one of the biggest challenges.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, I find that to be true as well communication. There is a very simple framework that I like to use when I'm communicating with my team. If I assign someone a task, it's it's the Oh, hold on. After remember how it goes that goes now? It's the why, what? How? Yeah. So why am I asking you to solve this problem? You know, what's kind of the big picture that we're trying to solve? And what is it that you actually need to do? And then how do I want you to do and oftentimes the house, you know, I'll leave it up to them. But I found that to be a pretty effective method for communicating a task, why are we doing this? What is it that I want you to do? And how should you do it? Or maybe how are a few ways that you could do it? But yeah, communication is a huge thing for sure.

William Gabler:

Yeah, to. Also related to, like, sometimes people come to us, you know, they have the instrument already. And they're trying to troubleshoot problem and, you know, maybe a service problem, or maybe related to the method that they're trying to develop. But that process of just kind of like extracting the relevant information is is always, you know, really important of defining what's the issue, what is the expected outcome that they have, and then what is actually happening, because oftentimes, some people kind of like, you know, misperceive what the underlying cause or issue is. And so you have to kind of dig through and define the issue and troubleshoot it. And that's something that I think about regularly is like, kind of like, I have a mental list of the, the, for the for troubleshooting, like, what are the questions that I should be asking to make sure that I'm getting the right info?

Aaron Moncur:

That sounds like a valuable list? Can you share some of those questions? What are these mental, the mental checklist that you go through?

William Gabler:

Let's see. So. So the thing is, the thing I always think about is isolating variables. So you're always trying to, like, say, so like, like I said, the first one is, what is the expected outcome, like trying to define what is the issue that you're trying to address? And then to, I also think it's also always important to define like a timeline. Like, if there is an issue, when did the issue happened? Was there a change in there was a change in state what was associated with those changes? And then three is also kind of like, all is being aware of like, what the most common issues and with a specific, maybe instrument or specific application are? Because you know, that you can, you should always check those things first, because, you know, again, they may be seeing something happening over here, but it always comes back to like an underlying initial issue. And, yeah, just kind of that process of elimination of you know, each time kind of creating a list of the variables and then being able to cross out, which could be contributing or could not be.

Aaron Moncur:

Excellent. Great. Thank you for sharing that list. All right. Well, William, this has been great. How can people get ahold of you?

William Gabler:

Yeah, so I'm, I'm on LinkedIn, William J. Gabler. And I'd be happy to connect with anyone that has any questions about Shimadzu or about just instrumentation in general, I like to connect with people in the, you know, in the material science industry. A lot of our customers are our engineers and material scientists, and just kind of learning about how instrumentation is used and in all different industries. So...

Aaron Moncur:

Excellent. All right. Well, thank you so much. I deeply appreciate you spending some time with us today. And thanks for the opportunity. I'm Aaron Moncure, Founder of Pipeline Design and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team's expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at teampipeline.us. Thanks for listening.