Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Convincing Employees to Eliminate Tooling Damage

Skippy – morning Buzz – questions continue to come in.

Here is an interesting one about a thorny problem potentially vexing all business owners who invest heavily in specialized tooling and have to deal with employees who have less concern about it –

“We enjoyed your article regarding ACME threads on plastic tooling, noting that they were often incorporated into tooling ‘designed for the ages’. We are investing in plastic tooling regularly, but we are having constant difficulty with operator damage to tooling – nicks and scratches from drops and prying. Any thoughts about how to get our operators to have a greater appreciation for the money we have invested in these tools?”

Buzz – Easy answer? “Wax on, Wax off”

Skippy – yes Buzz, I think you’re right. Time to dust off a very old paradigm and share a “process” that drove appreciation for the real value of tooling into the hearts of all who were exposed to it.

Buzz – Back in the early eighties, the movie “The Karate Kid” came out and introduced us to Daniel (played by Ralph Macchio), a young student from the east coast displaced to California. He felt he needed to master Karate skills and eventually meets his accidental mentor, Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita); master of same.

The first of Mr. Miyagi’s low in quantity, but high in quality training started with Daniel waxing a number of Mr. Miyagi's cars with the simple starting instruction of “Wax on, Wax off”. To see the eventual outcome, rent this old classic – it is well worth it.

Skippy – Yes, and from that borrowed premise and teaching style we developed and applied the following program for some time to teach an appreciation for the "value" of tooling to new operators.

When a new operator joined our ranks, he was given a tour of the factory on day one with all of his other start up training elements. Along the tour of the factory, he would be given a small disc of steel – generally a slice one inch or so in thickness, cut from a 3” rod of steel in the shop.

Buzz – Along with the small piece of steel, they were given these simple instructions –

“This is your tool; keep it and work with it. When you have polished the surface to where we can see our face in the reflection well enough to shave with, you will be promoted and paid more money.”

Skippy – We continued, “There are only two rules

1) you must do all the work by hand – NO POWER TOOLS are allowed, and

2) you need to inquire about what is to be done from all the more senior operators in our ranks.

"Good luck, let us know when you feel your steel tooling is ready for evaluation”

Buzz – Exactly. Typically several days or a week or two would go by as the operator was getting his feet wet joining the operation, but soon, the lure of promised promotion and more money would begin to intrude on his or her thoughts and eventually they would reach out to the other operators for guidance.

Skippy – The simple instruction would be to start with 60 grit sand paper on a flat granite block in the shop – holding the small disc flat on the sand paper – PUSH it away from you a couple inches, then TURN it 90 degrees and PULL it back, then TURN it 90 degrees and repeat; over and over.

Buzz – After a month or two of intermittent activity – a few minutes here and a few minutes there, it would eventually occur to the trainee that nothing much new was happening. Of course, they would have been exposed to a great many more additional training opportunities along the way on the shop floor regarding our operations, but eventually they would need some help on the next step of their steel tooling journey.

Skippy – Another operator would clue them into the fact that there were smaller grits of sand paper available – 100, 200 and so on and so, the operator in due course would step through each of these.

Buzz – Until once again they would hit that plateau . . .

Skippy – “Simple enough” would be the help from the other operators “– now you switch over to “wet/dry” sand paper; the addition of liquid to the sanding carries away the materials removed allowing you to get a finer and finer surface.”

On and on they would climb – 200 grit, 400 grit, 600, 800, 1200, 1600 and so on; a few minutes a day here, a few there. Maybe a day or two would go by without any investment. Time passed.

Buzz – Often, months have passed, perhaps nearing a year or more and they can see first a blob, and then a blob with a nose in the reflection, but the mirror surface being asked for remains elusive.

Skippy – The operator’s help mates offer up more special advice - crocus cloth, jeweler’s paper and rouge, rubbing compound, metal polishes etc and as the results get better and better, the operator is thinking, we are so close . . .

Buzz – Remember the surprise on the operators face when he was told that for the final step, go down to the drug store and get that special low friction toothpaste and some paper towels to lay on the granite block and work with that?

. . . and the further surprise when a few days later –

BINGO! a mirror worthy of a close shave magically comes into focus.

Skippy – Yes, and now after all that time, and with the prize so close they would come with their piece of steel tooling in hand and announce “all finished”.

To which they would hear the soft question Both sides?

Buzz – Quick on the uptake and few seconds of thought later would come the

“ . . . er um, not yet” reply and a furious amount of work would be then completed in just a few weeks while the second side was brought up to that magical mirrored luster.

Skippy – And finally the day for the “check in” – the operator presents the steel tooling with two perfect, mirrored faces for a final inspection.

Carefully we would accept the tooling and

to the operators horror as he watched, we would take a rather nasty looking metal implement out and gouge a deep scratch on one exquisite mirrored face and announce, “Oh no, we can’t complete the measurement check with the tool in this condition – could you please polish out this scratch and get it back to us as soon as you can?”

. . .

. . .

Buzz – Wow – that always was a tough moment for those operators. This was where the wheat got separated from the chaff for sure. For three days they would walk around with a look between broken and ‘I’m going a put a hurtin’ on that SOB’, hoping for someone to commiserate with them for the dirty rotten thing that the maniac in the office did to their tool.

To their utter dismay, from all they encountered the same non-verbal reply. They would each simply shrug as if to say, well, it is what is . . .

Skippy – Yes, and fortunately, we lived through it and most of the operators stayed on.

It would take a couple days of course, but eventually, they would start the process of carefully sanding down their own hard won, brightly mirrored face to absolute dullness again as they worked with the scarred surface to remove the scratch; grumbling explicative’s quietly under their breath, but with HUGE resolve.

Buzz – As I recall, they would work tirelessly – any available minute to turn this around and generally within a week, they would be once again ready for the check in process. As before, we would innocuously ask them to surrender the tool to us for evaluation. Without fail, something similar to “Hold on just a minute now, we need to TALK before I am going to let you handle this piece of tooling again . . .” would come boiling out.

Skippy – “What do you mean” we would ask innocently? And the operator would in so many words remind us of the “horrible, wasteful and unforgivable damage” we did to his steel tooling the last time we were permitted to handle it and we would have to come to an ‘understanding’ prior to us getting our hands on it.

“You have to promise” they would say (or was it SWEAR?), “that you will handle this tooling with ultimate care and respect, as though it were your own AND you must further promise to return it to me in the SAME OR BETTER condition to me when you are through with it.”

Buzz – Breakthrough moment!

“Yes of course” we would agree, and as good as our word, observe and measure the piece of tooling, being sure to congratulate the candidate for not removing too much metal in the process. We would give him the promotion and the money.

We would do all that of course with the same solemn admonition repeated back “and we will continue to expect that you treat each and every piece of our tooling with the same care, love and respect”.

Skippy – And they always did

– the moral of the story?

Hard work and a disciplined approach towards measurable important results create lasting value for those who pay the freight.

Just our two cents
Skippy and Buzz

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