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".
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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From design feasibility, to development, to production, having the right information to make good decisions can ultimately keep a product from failing validation. The key is highly focused information that doesn’t come from conventional, statistics-based tests but from accelerated stress testing.
There’s a good chance that a few of the things mentioned here won't fully come to fruition in 2015 but rather much later down the line. However, as Malcolm X once said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today."
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