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Sherlock Ohms

Castigated Engineer Sees the Light

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Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
What are the odds
Ann R. Thryft   3/14/2013 12:04:28 PM
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Great story. This is the kind of tale that illustrates how much chance enters into problem solving. I wonder what the odds are against all those conditions lining up perfectly just so the real problem could actually be perceived, let alone what Rod then figured out to solve it.

Nancy Golden
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Platinum
It MUST be the test set!
Nancy Golden   3/14/2013 3:33:26 PM
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This sentence made me chuckle,

"The mechanical designers and fitters were still adamant that it was my problem because they had checked everything else already and nothing else was different from the machines that worked perfectly."

As a test engineer, whenever I was called to the line to try to figure out what was wrong with a test set I had built, I would always ask if the operator had run the "golden" units we used for calibration, to see if the test set was working properly and the data was accurate. The answer was often no, it never occurred to them when parts started failing that their process could have shifted - it MUST be something wrong with the test set!

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: It MUST be the test set!
Charles Murray   3/14/2013 3:54:02 PM
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I agree, Nancy. That same sentence jumped out at me. Making a diagnosis by exclusion (especially doing it with such confidence) is a great way to look foolish.

mblazer
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Silver
Re: It MUST be the test set!
mblazer   3/15/2013 1:22:49 PM
In situations like this, the first thing to check is the part that absolutely, positively is 'not' the problem.  It's a sure sign that a conclulsion has been jumped to.

William K.
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Platinum
Re: It MUST be the test set!
William K.   3/15/2013 10:46:07 PM
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Nancy, those "golden" parts have certainly been lifesavers for me on a few occasions. Several organizations do have a protocol in place to stop production whenever there are three failures in a row. That does make sense because if the process drifts why make bad parts, and if the tester has drifted then why ship parts of unknown quality. The operator would note the failed parametr and then run the golden parts while the production folks would check the line. Usually the problem was a process issue on the line.

Tim
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Platinum
Bad Feeling
Tim   3/14/2013 9:04:54 PM
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The feeling of despair when a part you made might be causing a major problem in the field is a bad one. Proving your product is not at fault to the customeris not an easy task. Good job finding the fault under pressure.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Bad Feeling
Charles Murray   3/15/2013 6:13:16 PM
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Well said, Tim. A mistake like the one mentioned here would be a nightmare for most engineers. The nice part of the story is that he definitively proved that they were wrong.

warren@fourward.com
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Platinum
Blame
warren@fourward.com   3/15/2013 10:52:22 AM
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In a crisis you can tell who is the most valuable employee- he's the one who isn't pointing fingers but has rolled up his sleeves and is going over schematics, checking out the equipment, and is not paying attention to the positioning going on in the rest of the group. 

I admire the castigated engineer's diligence and sacrifice in getting to the site and doing whatever it took to get to the bottom of things.  I don't think I would have prayed to Scotty, myself, as I have another God, but I guess Sotty sometimes answers prayers, too, it seems.  :-)

Unfortunately, by not being in the political frey, it can sometimes cost one his job or advancement.  Large companies can often lose site of the ones actually making things a success.

I was also impressed with the relationship that lasted 20 years.  That is how real business is done!

 

 

 

TJ McDermott
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Blogger
Weekend Service Call
TJ McDermott   3/17/2013 3:28:29 PM
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You see the light, after being called in on a weekend, correctly diagnosing a problem having nothing to do with your company's product.

Who footed that service bill?  Did your company just eat the time (for that matter, did you get any overtime at all)?  Did you personally get a proper apology at the very least?

oldtimer8080
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Gold
Today's Reality Check
oldtimer8080   3/20/2013 5:37:38 PM
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The reality today is that even when you make a similar effort to solve a problem, you need to prepare to lose a contract or get fired, no matter if you show OTHER PEOPLE to be the cause of a failure or not!

 That has been the reality for over 10 years now and my offspring is in the same type of situation where the Team Leader ( the position ) and the Team are blamed for the customer ignoring the requirements in a contract and getting predictable results. Even careful back- up notes doesn't change the management attitude.

The company is a major DR firm handling customer back up issues.

In my personal career, the last place I had a similar situation happen with a positive outcome was at Cray Research 25 years ago.

Now, the people behind the engineer sent to fix the problem get a threat and the Management  types at the client company will FIRE the Engineer AFTER a problem gets fixed and report that that was the solution at the client company....I've run into that same situation 3 times in the last 25 years, so when I go out into the Real World to a customer site, I've already updated my resume.

 

 

 

 

 

akili
User Rank
Iron
Re: Today's Reality Check
akili   3/20/2013 7:16:55 PM
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Hmm, I can see that would be a tricky situation!  Fortunately I remained on good terms with the customer's directors and being Technical Director of my company meant that I was OK -I  didn't need to sack myself!  However, I don't think I got paid for the visit!  I must say in defence of the customer that the mistake with the cheapo tool-posts was a one-off, and they went on to be very successful, recently won The Queen's Award for Enterprise and have just moved into a superb custom-built factory.  On balance my moral victory was probably a good enough reward and we continued to do good business for many years.

Mind you, it's all too easy to be too helpful and find yourself losing money with unpaid service visits or giving free advice to customers.  It was a mistake we made a few times until we got it under control.  We once had a sales engineer who spent most of his time helping potential customers rather than getting orders - very annoying!

notarboca
User Rank
Gold
Similar situation
notarboca   3/24/2013 7:22:30 PM
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When I was hired on as a design engineer after the previous guy had moved on to greener pastures, we had a plant producing telecom modules in Seattle.  Not too long afterwards the plant was packed up and sent "overseas" to Monterrey, Mexico.  The Mexico plane couldn't turn out a working module for love nor money.  Engineering said the drawings were right.  I was thrown into the mix to make it work somehow.  After going back to the Seattle shop and questioning the folks back there, it came to light that nobody had taken the time to do "as built" drawings, and the workers (10-15 year veterans of the company) had it all in their heads.  So, the company rehired (temporarily) some of the oldest displaced workers, and we were dispatched to Monterrey to get things going again.  I redid all the drawings and much better lines of communications between Engineering and Production were established.  I guess the previous guy may have had an inkling this might happen, but being a short timer, just let it slide.  One of first experiences of having upper level management call me into the corner office to tell me "just get this done".

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