Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The next generation has a better idea. Again.

Five years ago, in my post "Ok, let's get a little creative", I was pleased when my son, then 11, faced a problem and came up with a solution I had not even come close to considering.

It has happened again.

Recently, from among the rest of our interesting customers, the county crime lab called my plastics company to solve a problem they were having with their handgun ballistics tank. The one where they shoot a handgun into water to recover sample bullets to compare with bullet fragments recovered at crime scenes.

My son has watched a number of the crime lab TV shows over the years. The crime lab people were very kind to give us a tour of the lab. The lab is very interesting. Basically the TV shows have the technology right, but the real world doesn't have the drama, the background music or the ability to solve several crimes in one hour.

When we got to the ballistics tank, we got to work. After a number of years, the stainless steel inside the tank had grayed, making it difficult to see the bullets at the bottom through four feet of water. A piece of white ABS plastic cut to size to provide good visual contrast. Problem solved. So far, so good.

Next, we looked at the porthole where light shines into the tank, allowing the lab technician to aim the handgun properly. Heat from the halogen lamp had caused a dark volcano-looking bump in the half-inch thick polycarbonate lens to rise from the surface towards the lamp. Replacing the lens would be easy, but how to prevent another volcano?

My solutions (incorrectly) focused on keeping the heat away from the plastic: 1) move the lamp farther away (not practical) 2) install a fan (possible, but some work) 3) install an automatic timer to turn off the lamp when the technician was away (possible, but some work).

The better solution was not long in arriving: "How about using an LED lamp instead of the halogen?" (eliminating the source of heat in the first place).

I believe this will be happening with greater regularity.