Electronics Assembly Knowledge, Vision & Wisdom
Trapped in the Vacuum Chamber
Trapped in the Vacuum Chamber
A worker was cleaning inside a vacuum chamber when the door slammed shut. His partner turned the vacuum pump on. What happened?
Mysteries of Science
Dr. Gilleo
Mysteries of Science by Dr. Ken Gilleo
Dr. Gilleo is a chemist, inventor and general problem solver. Ken has been tracking industrial forensics and collecting case histories for decades. These cases are taken from the vast world of industry and commercial enterprise.

Check out Dr. Gilleo's eBook, 100 Mysteries Solved by Science. We hope you enjoy these case histories. You need not be an engineer or scientist to understand the problems and appreciate the solutions.
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A cleanup crew was working in the vacuum metalizing room of a company that made plastic automotive parts. The vacuum metalizing chambers were used to deposit shiny metal onto plastic parts by boiling aluminum metal. The metal vapor condenses onto the plastic parts to leave a mirror like finish.

The process needed a very high vacuum nearly the same as that used in outer space. The night cleaning crew would open a camber door, go in with a vacuum cleaner and pull any loose material off the walls of the big cylinder.

For safety reasons there were always two workers, only one of which would be allowed in the air tight chamber at a time.

One evening the worker was cleaning inside the chamber when the door slammed shut. His partner, playing a prank and not realizing the chamber cannot support breathing, turned the vacuum pump on. Within less than a minute the worker was lying on the floor.

How could his partner get the worker out of the chamber and would he be OK?

Here's the rest of the story.

A vacuum chamber is a complex machine that uses a series of computer-controlled pumps to achieve high vacuum. When the emergency switch was hit, pump and chamber valves opened and closed in a process that would take a few seconds. The panicked operator assumed that the emergency switch didn't work and immediately ran over to the big power panel on the wall to pull the main breaker.

The worker inside was going to die in a few minutes if nothing was done because the chamber was still sealed with almost no oxygen, and the value could not open without electrical power. Worse yet, even if the power were turned on, the computer would need to be reset to open the valve.

When the lights went out, the maintenance man next door headed for the main power panel, but heard someone yelling for help. Quickly approaching the chamber, he realized what was wrong.  

He ran to the back of the chamber and shattered the vacuum measuring device; air immediately started entering the chamber. The door was opened in less than a minute as the chamber came to atmospheric pressure. The worker was unconscious, but alive. He was rushed to the hospital and placed in a compression chamber to deal with possible gas bubbles that could have formed in his blood at the reduced atmospheric pressure.

The trapped worker was his old self in no time. The maintenance man was the hero especially since he came up with the right solution in just a few seconds.

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