I have a couple of companies I love to hear on the phone. Not because I enjoy talking to them, but because they have company-wide agreements to let a large automation vendor repair all of their automation and servo parts. For the equipment we carry, this is a lot like taking a Mercedes to a Chevy dealer and then wondering why it doesn’t work afterwards (actually, I think most Chevrolet dealers would just turn you around, unlike this major automation vendor).
So why do I like these companies so much? Because they have 4 drives that have been “repaired” on the shelf. They have a drive fail, and none of the 4 “repaired” drives work. They then call us for emergency exchange units, that are typically flown out on charters (I have piloted a couple of these deliveries myself) for the highest prices we charge. We then will have the discussion about how the “Large automation vendor” can’t actually get the parts to repair these units, as the OEM doesn’t sell to ANYONE, and how it would be much better if they would go for factory repairs. They agree they will start sending out stuff to us for repair. However, then the company-wide repair agreement comes into play and they can’t send the stuff out.
So, in a month’s time, we do it again. and again. and again.
I may buy a new airplane….
I get a disturbing number of calls from customers who are trying to troubleshoot a very expensive piece of equipment that can be easily damaged by doing the wrong thing, without the manuals for the equipment. Coming from an engineering and aviation background, I find this astounding. For an aircraft mechanic, it is actually against the law (you can and will be fined, or worse if audited), to work on an aircraft without having a complete set of manuals on the premises. That is even true for painting an aircraft (mine was in hock at the paint shop for a couple of weeks because they didn’t have the manuals). I actually had to carry my personal set down to them so they could show them to the FAA before they would let them proceed on work.
So when I get a call from someone who is trying to troubleshoot, or even better, trying to get an entire plant going as people are being sent home without pay because of downtime, and they don’t have the manual that lists the error codes, I am amazed and upset. Manuals are easy to get. Our company websites have buttons to press to get to forms that are sent in to have manuals emailed to people. The corporate websites have downloadable manuals (admittedly, in a labyrinthine setup that makes you appreciate the Dewey Decimal System), and if you do a search on the web, you can typically find a PDF that shows up in the first few lines of Google or Bing. So, manuals, the single most important thing you can have when troubleshooting a drive, are literally just a few keystrokes away. Anyone who doesn’t have one should reconsider their priorities. Anyone supervising someone who doesn’t have one should perhaps consider it part of their job performance…or lack thereof.
When someone asks me what I miss least about the corporate world, I can answer without a missed beat.
While I can safely say that Mrs ThinkingEngineer had many more at her last job than I did, I can say that they were the bane of my existence. The worst was the “Morning Staff Meeting”, a meeting of department heads to see what the problems and issues of the day were. There were, however, more than a few problems with this concept.
1) At 9am, most of the day’s problems and issues hadn’t sprung up yet. So, the meeting became a “What happened last night that we missed meeting”.
2) The time of the meeting dropped it right into the period that you had figured out what had broken, and were formulating and implementing plans to fix them. This brought things to a screeching halt, while you listened to other Dept heads talking about personnel issues and such.
3) There are Dept heads that actually think their meeting performance (read talking time) actually is their job performance. Unless you have had a catastrophe, you should be able to summarize in under 5 minutes.
I did, however, find a solution. A thinking engineer solution. As Engineering Manager I had many of the machine and building controls accessible from my computer, including environmental controls. When the tired A/C in the conference room went out, I had a new more efficient and LARGER system put in, with very modern controls.
And every day as I walked into the morning meeting those modern controls did their duty, and turned the conference room temp down to 40 degrees.
It’s always a good question to start with. My purpose with this site is to get some of the thoughts I have had over the years of working with clients out into the open. Some of the good things, some of the mistakes and some of the stuff that makes you just stare in amazement. I think as an engineering consultant, I get to see organizations at the high stress point. People who call me are usually in trouble, they are down, may have been down for days (weeks sometimes). This leaves very little room for pretense.
It’s a different world out there from when I started in engineering. Some of the changes are for the better, some of them are astoundingly short sighted at best, and positively penny-wise and pound-foolish at worse. If I can get some people to start thinking about what they are doing, and why they are doing it this way, then I will be happy (or perhaps content, happy might be too strong). This site is not only for engineers, but for the folks who manage them.
Not all of the post will be about engineering, industry or such. I intend to hit a wide range of subjects, and will hopefully be less boring than it may sound. Comments are welcome, although they may never show up, I will certainly see them.
Off we go!
We had a call the other day from a guy who had been to Bob’s Bait, BBQ, and Servo Repair Shop. He was having some trouble with his servo and he figured Bob could help him out.
“You’ll have to bring it in here to my workshop,” Bob had told him, wiping down the counter with a rag that seemed to have a bold pattern in BBQ sauce red.
He got back to the factory, where the floor manager was still shouting and stamping his feet, and looked at the servo motor cabinet. Somehow taking the servo motor out and carrying it along to Bob’s didn’t seem like the greatest idea he had ever heard, now that he was looking at it again.
So he called me. “I went to Bob’s ’cause I heard he had some fresh catfish in,” he explained, and he said I should just pull the servo out of the cabinet and carry it in for him to look at.”
I got some numbers from him and asked him a penetrating question.
“Have you checked the cable yet?”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Then footsteps. Then cussing.
“Looks like maybe I need a new cable,” he muttered. We swapped a few numbers and I dropped the cable off, along with a spare. The floor manager stopped yelling.
Then I headed out to Bob’s. Catfish sounded good. A lot better than slowing production down by starting with the most difficult, heaviest, most expensive thing. It makes more sense to check the cables or the batteries, and even keep some extras on hand. If you have bigger fish to fry, you’ll know soon enough.