Worst part is, this type of situation arises far too often. And it's usually frowned upon to inform management that if you choose to use this you will have a high number of service calls. And it's frowned upon to stop the line. And it's frowned upon to say this part won't work for this design. What is an engineer to do? thanks for doing the right thing. No matter what management thinks.
That's funny about the tags, Dave. Ultimately, though, I would guess that parts failing in the field would be more costly than the cost of shutting down the line and restarting or having a shipment go late because parts had to be re-run to get them right.
@Rob: Yes, there were examples of parts failing in the field. Fortunately, they were less common than you might expect -- and even more fortunately, none of them (that I know of, while I was there) resulted in people getting hurt. This might be an example of the saying, "Fortune favors the foolish."
I'd rather not give any details of the failures for now, since it would be difficult to do so without giving away identifying information about the company.
I will, however, give one example of a quality system failure. Manufacturing was allowed to build assemblies using non-inspected components, provided that the assemblies were marked with pink tags which said "QUALITY INSPECTION IN PROGRESS - DO NOT SHIP." The assemblies were to be held at shipping until the component inspections were complete. If the components were found to be non-conforming, the assemblies would have to be taken apart. If the components were found to be okay, the quality department would remove the tags and release the assemblies to be shipped.
Inevitably, however, after completing the inspection, the quality inspectors would go to shipping and find nothing but a pink tag lying on the floor. The parts would have already been shipped.
At least once, the shippers didn't even bother to take the tags off, so assemblies were shipped to a customer with the "DO NOT SHIP" tags still on them. I'm still not quite sure how the sales team was able to explain that one.
I'm curious as to whether you received blowback from customers due to the sloppy quality control. Did any of the parts go out into the world and fail -- or at least fail to do what the part was expected to do?
At some companies, the pressure to get parts out the door can be intense. At one company I worked at, engineers had the power to sign off non-conforming parts as "ok to use," or to tell manufacturing to sort the parts on the line.
One day I was surprised to learn that an MIT-educated engineer had signed "sort on line" for some parts which I was sure couldn't be sorted. Measuring to find the non-conformance involved a destructive test. If you checked 100% of them, you wouldn't have any parts left to build with! What genius solution had he come up with?
"Oh, I don't know. I hadn't thought of that," he said. "Anyway, it's manufacturing's job to figure out how to sort the parts, not mine."
"Do you even know what the non-conformance you just signed off on was?" I asked him.
"No, I just sign these things when purchasing tells me to sign them," he said. "They told me production needed the parts, so I released them."
While this might seem like a gross abdication of professional responsibility -- what would have happened if purchasing told him to sign off 'use as is'? -- I couldn't totally blame the engineer in question. The processes which the company had in place, and the underlying corporate culture, promoted this kind of carelessness at every level. Everything was always someone else's problem, and nobody really thought very much about the consequences of their actions.
It was a little like the TV show "The Office," except instead of making paper products, the company made safety-critical vehicle components.
In my short time at the company in question, I was able to institute new quality procedures which improved the handling of non-conforming material, and also cut down on the amount of non-conforming material coming in the door. But changing the underlying culture would have been a Herculean task. And, unfortunately, I suspect that this culture is not confined to just one company.
Good point Roddalitz. Makes one curious about how common a situation likes this is. From the description, management didn't seem too concerned about the product failing in use. I may have been pressure to make quota. Or it could have been management not understanding the potential repercussions of bad product going out the door.
So you are telling us that you were criticised first for stopping a line with bad product, then for failing to certify a bad product?
That has a LOT in common with all the Made-by-Monkeys tales about modern product reliability. This story says bad products may be more due to managment than engineering.
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