Off Topic: The Test of Time
It is rare today to find a product that can truly withstand the test of time. Yet in one Florida testing lab, Tinius Olsen has been a constant presence for nearly 54 years. In fact, the Tinius Olsen materials testing machines used in that facility are nearly as old as the business itself.
Wingerter Laboratories in North Miami is a modern company that runs with more than a little nostalgia. Roger Wingerter, now retired, ran the company for 40 years, taking the reins from his late father, who started the business in 1949. Now Roger’s daughter Jill is the company president. They have kept it in the family for three generations-Roger’s other daughter Jenny is the company’s field service coordinator and Jill’s husband Leon is operations manager. That is not the only common link, either. All three generations of Wingerters have worked on Tinius Olsen machines-more precisely, the same two Tinius Olsen machines.
Wingerter remembers the day his father’s new Tinius Olsen machine showed up. It was 1953 and Roger was thirteen years old. “I remember them moving it into the building.” Flash forward 54 years-that same machine sits in Wingerter Laboratories, functioning much as it did on day one.
In 1968, the original machine was joined with another machine, a Tinius Olsen 400 XL, which Roger put together in one day. Both machines are still in use, serving as the company’s main testing machines.
Roger says his group has used the machines with abandon. “We’ve tested probably three million cylinders on that press. We were doing 500 to 600 a day at one point, and we’d use both Tiniuses.” That was possible because Roger had built a rack system that lifted 50 cylinders at a time with a forklift. The bigger machine, the Tinius Olsen 400 XL, is in operation 30 minutes a day on average. But there are some days when it is used all day. It is used primarily for testing prisms and tensile.
Amazingly, the 1953 machine has its original motor. That is not to say all parts are original. Roger says, “We wore out the copper tubing, and I switched the valve in the back because dirt gets in there; it never had a filter on it. I put an aircraft filter on it years ago.” Other repairs were necessary, such as replacing the first set of gages, which wore out, and then replacing them ten years later with new digital gages. And there were breaks. “We broke one of the columns and I busted the head out. Beyond that, there’s not a lot that can go wrong with it.” Roger did separate the press from the machine to reduce vibration.
Roger, who is a member of American Council of Independent Laboratories and co-founder of the Construction Materials Engineering Council (CMEC) in Florida, is a strong advocate of Tinius Olsen products. “The reason is Tinius uses low psi. It uses a bigger ram. When you compare a Tinius machine, others run up to 9,300 psi. That blows the lines and gives a lot more shock when they explode the cylinder.” Tinius machines can be calibrated “down to infinity,” as Roger puts it. He has calibrated one machine to 10 psi, and was able to calibrate to 36,000 pounds. At the moment, the lab is only testing 4 by 8 round test cylinders, though at one time they were able to test 6 by 12 cylinders.
When asked if he thought it odd that his own machines have lasted for fifty-plus years, Roger says it is no surprise to him given the quality of workmanship in Tinius Olsen products. “I bet if you found the guy who designed that machine, he’d say he designed it to last fifty years.” Despite the fact that the company will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2009, Roger says he’s not replacing either of the Tinius Olsen machines.
- Tinius Olsen