Iulian Iordachita says that most conversations with Walt Krug, the Maryland Hall Machine Shop legend, started out with a simple question. “What do you think of this design?” Krug, an adherent of the “can-do” philosophy, always had the same reply: “Let’s try to make it work.”
Krug, who retired in August after 37 years as the shop’s senior instrument designer, will be sorely missed by students and faculty across Johns Hopkins, says Iordachita.
“Walt is a true professional. When I went down to the shop, I always knew what I needed, and Walt would give me feedback on what is and what is not possible. Sometimes we were trying to build something and he would instantly realize a mistake in the design. He came up with a very good solution—every time,” says Iordachita, an assistant research professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Iordachita once gave Krug a design for a small, snakelike robot for surgical applications. The robot’s grasper mechanism, a pair of jaws, had to be precisely hewed to the hundredth of a millimeter. Krug successfully manufactured the device’s claws and drive system and, not surprising to Iordachita, the robot performed perfectly.
“Indeed, it was a piece of art,” says Iordachita.
Krug, a famously humble man who eschews the spotlight and didn’t want to be interviewed for this story, joined Johns Hopkins in 1974 after stints with Martin Marietta, a shoe factory, and the AAI Corporation. Mostly self-taught, Krug read voraciously to keep up with the latest in design work.
Over the decades, he and his Hopkins partner in design, Mike Franckowiak, built, tweaked, and repaired devices and instruments for students and scientists at Homewood and across the Johns Hopkins enterprise, with additional work coming from other area colleges including Loyola and the University of Maryland. In the shop, located on the ground floor of Maryland Hall, they wrestled with the most complicated of engineering research ideas, prototypes, and inventions.
They fashioned parts for a submersible camera, a water tunnel, robotic arms that eliminate even the slightest human hand tremors, and instruments of all kinds. A recent list of projects includes an MRI-compatible robotic system for prostate intervention and parts for an axial turbo-pump test facility.
Franckowiak recalls that some faculty would walk in simply with a sketch on a piece of paper or napkin. One professor cut out a design from his newspaper. Krug knew just what he wanted and created it. The duo has also been asked to fix or duplicate plumbing parts, sewer drains, lampposts, screws, or whatever piece of plastic, metal, or wood was needed.
“Walt and I would try to do anything,” says Franckowiak. “We got all kinds of crazy ideas but were game for all of them.”
Lynda Barker, the Machine Shop’s administrator, says that faculty sometimes came to Krug with a not yet fully formed thought. “They would say, ‘I want to do this, or the outcome to be that.’ Walt would pick it up from there,” she says.
Franckowiak, who knew Krug for 40 years, has remained on at the shop, but already, he says, “I miss him terribly.”
“Walt is brilliant at what he does. We fought like cats and dogs sometimes but got on real well. His wife thought I was an angel for putting up with him for 40 hours every week these past four decades,” Franckowiak says with a laugh.
Says Iordachita: “I trust those guys. Their solutions were much more practical than what I proposed. I learned a lot from them.”
And so did generations of students and faculty.