Have you ever driven down a road, and wondered to yourself, “How do those blinking lights work that are alerting me to an upcoming road hazard?”
Perhaps you have taken up painting your house during this pandemic and have had to remove the electrical wall plates that power your gadgets only to discover a black, white, and bare copper wire connecting the receptacle. Have you asked yourself, “What do these wires do?”
Most of the gadgets we plug in are some sort electronic device that rely on DC or Direct Current that utilize a special adapter called an AC adapter (Alternating Current Adapter.) The blinking lights alerting you of an upcoming road hazard might be powered with an electronic circuit board using DC power. However, these blinking lights could also be controlled using AC power, the power that we use in our homes and businesses, through the help of relay switches, contactors, a transformer, and a terminal strip.
I bring all of these points up because one man, Phil Pallioti, was a true master of his trade and helped me to understand how some of these things work.
Phil Pallioti passed away almost a year ago at the age of 90. I have known Phil for over 10 years and we bonded over our mutual love of woodworking. He was raised in Lyons, NY and was a World War II vet. Everything he did was done to perfection. After being discharged from the service he became an electrician and started Palliotti Electrical Service for the Wayne County area. He was also an incredible wood worker and made very elaborate bowls, furniture, ornaments, and several other things.
On a wintery February afternoon, Phil welcomed my hygienist Anita, Dr. Everhart, and I, into his home to show us how he constructed some of his elaborate bowls. Phil had very specific templates that he had made and, as I cut the pieces out on his table saw, Anita glued the pieces together. There, in his workshop was a train that he had built from scratch with all moving parts made only of wood. As the glue dried on our project, Phil invited Anita and I over to his lathe to show us how to carve a wooden bowl using a pre-made wooden form that he had constructed a few days prior to our visit. After Phil was done carving his bowl, he said to me, “Mike, if you are going to learn about electricity, you are going to need to understand Ohm’s Law.”
He proceeded to write down the formula V = IR (Voltage equals Current times Resistance).
Having a discussion with Phil about Ohm’s Law made me think back to my physics class in high school and at RIT. I had not taken any physics classes in almost 20 years. My classroom discussions involved mainly theoretical applications and not a practical use of Ohm’s Law. Phil mainly wanted me to understand it because the gauge of wiring that we were about to use for my dental lab automation project was very important. If the gauge was too narrow and I used a higher voltage, the results would be catastrophic.
Being a dentist, I am constantly adjusting acrylics and gypsum products (model stone). The fine dust that both of these products create are a health hazard. For this reason, a dust collection system is very important in a dental lab. Since I already had a dust collector in my office basement, I wanted to use this to collect the dust from my table saw and the fine dust created by adjusting dental materials in my dental lab upstairs. In addition to this, I wanted a light to turn on so that I could see exactly what I needed to adjust. Phil and I discussed every single detail for my dental. If I could not find what I needed on Amazon or the hardware store, I constructed it from scratch.
On the back of a calendar, Phil drew an entire electrical diagram for my dental lab -- complete with various relay switches, contactors, a transformer, and terminal switches. These were all powered by Alternating Current.
Relay switches are nothing more than gates that open and close to allow the current to pass through for your projects. Relay switches can be controlled by other relay switches or a switch that you control yourself. Contactors are designed to allow for larger currents to safely flow through - such as the current being drawn by an air compressor. If you have ever played the game of mouse trap, where a giant silver ball goes through a maze, an electrical circuit involving relay switches is similar. Relay-driven electrical circuits mainly utilize the hot wire, the black wire that you see inside your receptacle box, through a series of gates (relay switches) until something turns on.
I will never forget my first meeting with Phil where he was discussing some of the terminology used in the industry for turning things on and off. On a relay switch, this is accomplished through either NC (normally closed) or NO (normally open). At first, I had a very difficult time understanding the difference between NC and NO. But Phil was very patient with me and helped me to understand that with NC, the current was always passing through and with NO, the current could not pass through while at rest. When the coil on the relay switch was activated, NC would open not allowing the current to pass through and NO would close allowing the current to pass through. Essentially, by activating a relay switch, you could control what was turned on and off for your project.
For several weeks, Phil and I sat down and constructed the master control box for my dental lab complete with 2 separate master switches to control 2 stations – a lathe station and a sit-down station. Phil emphasized the importance of keeping all of the wires neatly tied. After the box was constructed and everything was connected in my basement, I fired everything up.
Everything worked! But, the dust collector was blaring like a trumpet at 100 decibels in my upstairs dental lab. I felt very discouraged because I was not willing to wear ear protection every time I wanted to make a denture adjustment or grind a model. After seeing everything turned on and hearing the blaring noise that the dust collector was making in my lab, Phil turned to me and said, “Mike, I know that you are disappointed -- but anything is possible – the impossible just takes a little longer.”
Phil and I began discussing dampening of the sound (also known as sound attenuation.) We initially discussed rerouting the dust collection pipe through an improvised ceiling tile box. However, we soon settled on building a giant 6-foot muffler made from 4 inch PVC pipe and vacuum bags that you can purchase at the hardware store. To achieve sound attenuation, I drilled several holes into the PVC pipe and later wrapped the PVC pipe with the vacuum cleaner bags. Now, as the sound traveled through PVC muffler, the sound would dissipate through the holes in the pipe. The vacuum would remain functional because of the vacuum cleaner bags present around the outside. Needless to say, we were able to drop the decibel level from 100 decibels to 66 decibels – closer to the sound that a dishwasher makes.
Phil always taught me to think outside the box and not be afraid to improvise. After my dental office was allowed to reopen during the raging COVID-19 pandemic, I built my own 1000 CFM evacuation system to remove dental aerosols from the treatment rooms to the outside. I constructed them using nothing more than particle board, dust collection tubing, two 500 CFM blowers from Lowes, and some Formica. For the electrical component, I used a pressure switch, controlled by compressed air, to ensure that no live wires were near any of my patients, or a contactor. Needless to say, my evacuation system does work. My patients, staff, and I feel much more comfortable having these evacuation systems in place.
Having been named the Lyons Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the year in 2014, Phil Pallioti was a pillar in the community. He was a rare gem and always made himself available to share his talent.
I am very lucky to have met him and now there is certainly a void in my life now that he is gone.
by Dr. Michael Adsit