Day 32-Quarantine-Science and Common Sense

I watched with great interest as Dr. Birx explained the process she and her team were using to analyze the corona virus. My mind flashed back to one of my trips to Singapore. I never went there for pleasure it was always a two week minimum troubleshooting and training trip. This particular time we were having trouble maintaining our production output with our most popular product we fondly referred to as the PLT1M. At home, we could maintain a production rate of over 98%, in Singapore they had dropped into the eighties. The molds were the same in both places but their’s was older than ours. I suspected the tool needed maintenance. I was not disappointed when I got there. The production team was being flogged by Corp to keep the numbers up. It was tantamount to running a car on bald tires on a cross country trip and stopping only long enough to pump up the flat with air before proceeding. They knew they needed new tires, but didn’t or couldn’t stop to find, buy and install new tires. Needless to say, these stoppages were killing their production.

Our production manager was in a quandary. He knew what was required, but didn’t know how to make it happen. His allegiance and pay check were dependent upon his making product as promised to Corp. I spent the better part of three days talking to the maintenance crew, production foreman, set up men, asking what their biggest problems were. When the mold was downed for maintenance, I was there to help the toolmaker analyze the problem and watched him repair. While I was doing that, the general manager visited the bench at least every twenty minutes to determine how fast the mold could be put back into service. President Trumps COVID-19 task force is faced with a similar situation, i.e. too many questions and not enough answers. The pressure comes from the public in the form of reporters asking dumb questions about when will? Problems of this magnitude need careful analysis. then, each problem needs to be prioritized for urgency and magnitude. Dr. Birx has reported each time with the most emergent problem. Behind the scenes others are working on more analysis, and solutions. She delegates everything she can, and reports progress on the most important issues.

In my case the problem I came to solve required some serious toolmaking capacity. I learned from the staff all the projects the tool makers were working on, and listed them. What phase were these projects in, and why were they needed? As I experienced in our home toolroom the number of projects were endless, but at home if an emergency popped  up we were trained to respond to the needs of production. Sadly, molds to make new products always lost out to the current money makers. Our staff in Singapore didn’t have new products to work on so I had to dig deeper. In their case whenever a mold needed repair they deferred making spare parts. My job became one of determining how they could use available resources to solve their problems. They were using the bulk of their capacity fixing the flats.

In the middle of my visit I came down with some sort of flu that caused me terrible discomfort. I locked myself in the conference room and began to analyze Singapore’s toolroom capacity. Thank God for spread sheet programs. Without same, I would still be there trying to do the job. By the end of my flu, I was able to show them how to use their available capacity, and how to prioritize projects to get their production up. At the same time, when I came home I initiated projects to make new tooling to replace the tired tooling Singapore was using. At that same point in history I was on a task force of Chief Engineers tasked with implementing a new concept to utilize all of the toolroom capacity of our combined divisions to run projects to completion quicker. The team leader was looking for projects to test his new concept. I happened to have a few for him to take on, and he did.  That is not unlike the COVID-19 Task Force finding and sourcing both government and private sector laboratories, and equipment to use idle capacity to its fullest.

A couple of years later I sat in a meeting with our CEO and overheard him ask one of the division managers how we got to the point of production over capacity in Singapore. It was then, that I knew my trip was productive.

President Trump’s effectiveness is derived from his experience working in the private sector at real jobs like building skyscrapers. He learned from hands on experience to troubleshoot, look for the root cause of the problems and to prioritize. The members of his task force all use the same methods, Trump’s leaderships evident in his ability to follow up on all aspects of the most important issues. His daily involvement conveys the seriousness of the solution to the team. He is also a great cheerleader, his positivity and optimism are contagious

I am confident that we will get through this corona virus problem. What we need to brace for is the political battle that looms on the horizon. All of the political blaming will be in the category of Monday Morning Quarterbacking. The party out of power will be placing blame on Trump. They will come up with, what if he had done this, or he screwed up on that. But the problem will be over and it will be mute questioning and blaming because we don’t get a repeat. If we do get a repeat our health care system and testing is improved and will be better able to function as a result of COVID-19.

Time Take the Next Step

We have a Republican House of Representatives, Senate, and President, but we can’t get things done. I continue to hear why we can’t do stuff, but never a word about how we can get stuff done. As an engineer I spent my life solving problems. When a customer complaint came in I had to find a way to solve the issue. Too many times people would suggest ways to solve the problem, and I immediately listed reasons why the suggestion wouldn’t work. Finally in exasperation, our Executive Vice President told me one day “stop looking at why things won’t work and think of how to make them work.” It was like a light went on and I changed my paradigm. My teams began solving problems we considered impossible before. I consider that phrase to be one of the most significant pieces of advice I ever got, and I wish Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan would hear the same.


What is the next step for Republicans? If elected leaders can’t learn how to cooperate with the President then we the people must find people who will, and elect them to replace the losers now in place.


I Feel For Toyota

During my fifty-three year career in manufacturing, I developed a flair for solving a problem. It is not easy.  In order to find the root cause you have to continue to ask why until people think you are nuts.  My last job was manufacturing a product that we made in the billions. The item is relatively simple in appearance, but it is highly functional. The product is a cable tie. The original purpose of the cable tie was to hold wires together.  Over the years, people have learned to find many applications for this unique item.

My team designed the product, designed and made the molds that produced the product, and set the quality requirements of the manufacturing process. Often we received a complaint. Usually, a customer told us the ties were breaking. He wanted us to fix the problem. Our sales staff immediately replaced his defective product. Most of the time, it was a single package.  My engineers always asked for samples of the failures and any unused samples from the package that the failure ties came from. The failed tie often contained clues to why it failed.  The unused samples gave us some product to test in our lab. If we were very lucky, the Quality Control number was still on the package. That number allowed us to trace the manufacturing process variables.

Usually, I received a handful of broken ties from the complaint. With those samples, it became my job to determine what caused the failure.  I will not bore you with the details of how I proceeded, but if I could not duplicate the problem in the lab, I was looking for a needle in a haystack. Many times, we shut down our highest producing mold until there was an answer.  Talk about pressure to do something.  I can only imagine what is going on within Toyota right now, but I have a good feeling for what it is. I feel for the engineers whose job it is to solve the problem.

Currently, I drive a 2005 Toyota Avalon. I have rehearsed my reaction to a runaway acceleration many times. I only hope that if it happens that I have enough time to react appropriately before I kill myself or someone else. I have dubbed my car the Death Star. At this writing, I am listening to the Senate questioning of the CEO of Toyota. The man, Akio Toyoda from Toyota, said their fix might not be the answer to the acceleration problem. That is a nice way of saying they still do not have a clue about what is causing the problem.

I also studied the quality process taught by US guru Joe Duran, and utilized by the Japanese car companies. In this program, Duran taught that it is cost effective to shut a line down when you find a problem, and leave it down until you fix the problem.  That is a hard concept to swallow. Most manufacturing companies do not buy into it. Mine often did, but the justification for shutting down a mold had to be great. In Toyota’s move to stop selling cars, and to shut down their factories until they fix the quality problem, they practice what they preach. They will come out as winners in the long term.

In the meantime, I bet there are at least a thousand engineers running like chickens with their heads cut off trying to duplicate the problem. As they analyze every aspect of the design, they will come up with ideas that are very probably the answer, and they will implement solutions. They may even stumble upon the root cause and re-create the problem. That is when I will believe they have solved the problem, and until then I drive the Death Star.

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