Author Topic: Solving a Problem  (Read 5400 times)

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Offline sacherjj

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Solving a Problem
« on: July 29, 2011, 03:40:37 am »
A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line so that customers all the way down the supermarket don’t get pissed off and buy someone else’s product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using some high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighing less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That’s some money well spent!” – he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren'’t picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin. “Oh, that — one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

A good engineer is a lazy engineer.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2011, 03:42:25 am by sacherjj »
 

Offline bilko

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2011, 03:51:29 am »
Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin. “Oh, that — one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

A good engineer is a lazy engineer.

And I'd bet they didn't promote the guy or give him a pay rise for implementing the fan idea. Sounds like he should be head of projects department and they should sack the person who spent the $8 million.

When will companies spot and reward this kind of talent ?
 

Online Simon

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2011, 04:39:29 am »
some very nice creative writing although I don't doubt some truth at the bottom of it and I'm sure it is a common scenario.

As a quality inspector I have on occasion come up with an "engineering solution" once had to plead with the "engineer" to OK it instead of just take my word for it as i didn't want to take the blame if it went wrong and another time said to him: just nod and agree it's what we did last time to solve it because he wouldn't make his mind up.
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Offline gregariz

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2011, 04:44:14 am »
I'm still in shock that the CEO walked onto the shop floor... usually they are in hiding :P
 

Online Simon

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2011, 05:18:00 am »
I'm still in shock that the CEO walked onto the shop floor... usually they are in hiding :P

well he did need to check that he spent $8M wisely  8)
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Offline vk6zgo

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2011, 03:28:05 pm »
At one place I worked we built equipment which used a multi-position pushbutton switch (one of those things with a mechanical interlock,so if one button is depressed,it resets the other ones).
It had a network of diodes attached,& as there was no PCB,they were soldered in place on the switch terminals on
one end ,& connected together & to the incoming connections on the other.

Making a neat job was extremely difficult, as the diodes & floating connections had to be covered with heatshrink tubing.
To do a neat & electrically sound job took around 15 minutes on average--it took me longer.

On looking at the interface board these things connected to,I noticed a number of other switches connected to identical input circuits,all of which didn't use the diodes.

It turned out that the diodes were from an early version which had never been used in production,& were not needed.

At that point, it should have been a simple matter of deleting the diodes,but things didn't work that way!

I had to prove that they were unnecessary! I did so,but nothing changed.
Eventually, after weeks of inaction from the people who were supposed to be in charge of such things,I hijacked The Engineer, showed him the circuit & switch,& after a bit of discussion,he agreed.

That was not the "Company way",so I became  the bad guy!

This is not to bignote myself,as any competent tech would have noticed this,but they didn't much like competent techs!  :)


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Offline Bored@Work

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2011, 03:38:49 pm »
I'm still in shock that the CEO walked onto the shop floor... usually they are in hiding :P

well he did need to check that he spent $8M wisely  8)

But then you just order a report telling you you spend the $8M wisely.
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Online Simon

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2011, 03:55:03 pm »
I'm still in shock that the CEO walked onto the shop floor... usually they are in hiding :P

well he did need to check that he spent $8M wisely  8)

But then you just order a report telling you you spend the $8M wisely.

true, luckily my lot are not quite that bad, they just let anything go, bad or good. my MD comes down to tell me to accept bad goods. Just got an email from him the other day telling me not to charge a certain supplier admin charges anymore on rejections. So really we might as well buy their goods and put them in the scrap bun, might make us more money than trying to sell them only to pay customers costs in returns
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Online westfw

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #8 on: July 29, 2011, 04:01:52 pm »
From what I've seen of production lines, a conveyer-belt thing-ee that sorts packages by weight is a pretty common thing.  After all, underweight packages are a legal liability and overweight ones are a loss of profit.  Here's a picture of with such a device appearing in the lower left (Tillamook Cheese Factory!) Correctly massed blocks of cheese go down he middle.  Too heavy goes to one side, where they are manually trimmed.  To light goes to the other side, where some trimmings are manually added to correct.  As far as I could tell, it's basically a gravity-operated mechanism.

I feel, as an EE/Software person, very out of touch with the mechanical engineering marvels that make up a modern (or even not-so-modern) production line.  Does anyone know of any sort-of "layman's" descriptions of what sort of devices are standard equipment and such (in the same sense I've seen PCB assembly documented...)
 

Offline Rufus

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2011, 07:10:30 am »
I don't believe the story at all. Even the dumbest engineer or manager wouldn't design a system which stops a production line for one reject.

Checkweighers are very common and usually trigger a mechanical system to push or guide a reject off the line. Small items can be blown off with a pulsed air jet.

A constant air jet might be able to blow empty boxes off a line without displacing full ones, a $20 desk fan ain't going to do it.

The chances of producing empty boxes are slim, machines which erect boxes, push tubes into them and close the boxes are not simple, not like they are too dumb to notice there was no tube to push.

It is more likely they would checkweigh cartons further down the line to make sure there are no missing boxes and no empty boxes at the same time. Some big volume places will even checkweigh trucks on the way out of the factory.

A aside on tubes, they are filled from the bottom before crimping the ends (with heat if plastic). Before crimping the tube is usually rotated to align the printing with the crimp giving the tube a sort of front and back. If you look at a tube you will likely see a printed mark on the crimp which was used to align it. Not sure if you will still see any today but some tubes used to have the same information printed 3 times around them avoiding having a front and back and the need to align the crimp.
 

Online IanB

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2011, 08:09:17 am »
I don't believe the story at all.
Er, duh! Of course the story isn't true. It is a work of fiction, a fable presented as a sardonic commentary on real life. I'm sure everyone has come across stories a bit like this during their career, where bureaucracy, outside consultants and expensive solutions get imposed downwards from the top of an organization.
I'm not an EE--what am I doing here?
 

Offline Zad

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2011, 08:34:14 am »
Management books are full of this stuff...


Online Simon

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2011, 05:16:58 pm »
I don't believe the story at all.
Er, duh! Of course the story isn't true. It is a work of fiction, a fable presented as a sardonic commentary on real life. I'm sure everyone has come across stories a bit like this during their career, where bureaucracy, outside consultants and expensive solutions get imposed downwards from the top of an organization.

yes and I'll probably be bringing you my very own version soon. I was asked at work to design a controller for a motorized valve that uses a built in pot for position sensing and feedback (there are a couple of threads on here about it). The whole job that comprises controlling the valve and the whole air-conditioning and heating system have been subcontracted to a so called expert who cannot work out how the valve works...... so the idiot goods in inspector with a bit of hobby knowledge in electronics is now doing homework for an electronics subcontractor. I think the engineer subcontracting it out now wants me to meet with this guy and reading between the lines figure out if he can do the job. They have already had one subcontracting disaster.....

as to the original story..... no-one buys an empty box of toothpaste. I mean you know if it is an empty one when you pick it up off the shelf, it is indeed just to illustrate a point
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Offline Bored@Work

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2011, 06:44:44 pm »
my MD comes down to tell me to accept bad goods. Just got an email from him the other day telling me not to charge a certain supplier admin charges anymore on rejections.

Print those emails, and keep a copy of the emails and the printouts in a safe place, outside of work. If you don't have any mails or paper (" ... comes down to tell me ..."), try to establish a electronic or paper trail. E.g. send an email (and print it), were you confirm that you just accepted the first batch of bad goods per his request. Try to hide the confirmation in a question, e.g. if the bad goods should be marked special or just go into the normal inventory.

I have seen one case where a colleague at that time managed to save his bacon with an "inexplicably" reappearing copy of a memo. Management had conveniently "forgotten" that they asked to skip a certain procedure and wanted to make him the scapegoat. He, however, did not only keep the memo in his file at work, but a copy at home.  The memo in his file at work "magically" disappeared when management sent him on unpaid leave.  Copies of the copy from home, however, "magically" appeared in several files.
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Online Simon

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Re: Solving a Problem
« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2011, 06:54:01 pm »
my MD comes down to tell me to accept bad goods. Just got an email from him the other day telling me not to charge a certain supplier admin charges anymore on rejections.

Print those emails, and keep a copy of the emails and the printouts in a safe place, outside of work. If you don't have any mails or paper (" ... comes down to tell me ..."), try to establish a electronic or paper trail. E.g. send an email (and print it), were you confirm that you just accepted the first batch of bad goods per his request. Try to hide the confirmation in a question, e.g. if the bad goods should be marked special or just go into the normal inventory.

I have seen one case where a colleague at that time managed to save his bacon with an "inexplicably" reappearing copy of a memo. Management had conveniently "forgotten" that they asked to skip a certain procedure and wanted to make him the scapegoat. He, however, did not only keep the memo in his file at work, but a copy at home.  The memo in his file at work "magically" disappeared when management sent him on unpaid leave.  Copies of the copy from home, however, "magically" appeared in several files.

yes i see your point. It doesn't get that bad where i work as we are a small company but i do keep notes on "concessions". My main issue is the works manager who's motto seems to be "get it out of the door". As he is my direct boss, if he says ok then it is ok. I do try and get written confirmations and have "dropped him in it" a few times when i know he has gone over the top and it would have otherwise come back to me.
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