Top 10 Failures in Manufacturing

If you are looking for a list of spectacular manufacturing failures, where products fail to perform as intended, that is not this story (although I would bet at least one of these listed failures happened in every one of those spectacular mistakes). Rather, these are walk around rules for people who might find themselves on a plant floor, buy manufactured products, sell manufactured goods, or just want to be informed of the manufacturing world.

  1.       We have to start somewhere and the blueprint is a good place to start.

Regardless of what the boys in production think if there is a tight tolerance on something it is there for a reason. Too many people say “sure!” without a full blueprint review. No sales guy wants to call a customer and ask to deviate from the print a week after the parts were due. It’s obvious to everyone concerned somebody didn’t read the print. There is a ton of information in that print, and you have to be equal parts Sherlock Holmes and accountant to figure it all out. But someone, at some point, “owns” that print in a manufacturing program. If it is you, make sure everyone else understands it too.

  1.       The print doesn’t match the CAD data.

The print is not enough to keep track of, because new parts designed are almost always done on a computer with a model. These “CAD Files” come in a variety of formats described with acronyms like IGIS / STP / Unigraphics. It is not uncommon for the CAD data and the blueprint not to match! The customer has to tell you which is the “Master”. At the very least one must always ask for CAD data when getting a print and then verify they are to the same revision level. Engineers are famous for changing parts on CAD but not on the blueprint that went to the purchasing dept. Always a good idea to ask for an updated drawing and CAD for re-orders!

  1.       Never Interrupt a Production Operator!

That is right. No tapping on the shoulder, no yelling in the ear. Stand away so they can catch you in their peripheral vision and if they can stop they will. Operators find a comfortable cycle in their work and they often have to track multiple things at once. Starting and stopping production cycles is where a high percentage of problems start. That is not to say if you are trained and see an unsafe situation don’t mash down the stop button. But you must respect all the bad things that could happen with that tap on the shoulder of someone concentrating.

  1.       Something falls off the truck.

If you are in manufacturing eventually something is going to fall off a truck. I have seen stamping dies in the middle of intersections, bins of washers in the gutter, and coils of steel on the highway. Strap that load! Salespeople hopping trucks to make that hot delivery likely were not trained in Newtonian physics. When something does land in the road the best solution is a flatbed tow truck with a winch to pull your stuff up off the road. When the driver calls about the washers in the gutter make sure he puts the container back on the truck before he fills it. If that’s your coil on the highway, look for another job.

  1.       Fail to limit Operator Mandate.

It is not enough to tell an operator what they are supposed to do. You have to be very specific in what they are NOT to do. There is not an operator on the planet that doesn’t spend the second twenty minutes on a task figuring out how to do it in ten so they can relax a few minutes. This leads some of them to perform little work experiments on their own initiative. An initiative that has to be limited lest somebody gets hurt. The operator coining piston plates in a one out die on an incline press does not understand exactly what they are doing. If one part works, perhaps if they put in two that will be better and faster. The end result of this experiment was an incline press snapping in two. Needless to say, future work instruction included “do not put more than one part in the die for any reason”. Production operators should be limited in mandate.

  1.       Letting time pressure cause you to bypass quality.

The three things that drive customer satisfaction are cost, timing, and quality. They are linked tightly together in manufacturing and it is common to let customer timing pressure lead to concessions in Quality and the time it takes. How many times have the hot parts been sent with a cursory or poor inspection only to be rejected causing a deeper crisis? It happens again and again. Don’t let customer time pressure lead to bad calls in quality!

  1.       Failures in take-over work.

Taking over an existing production run can be a trap in some key areas. It often happens that your first piece gets rejected when it is not to print and the production guys swear you cannot make the part the way the blueprint reads. When you request a sample of the part your customer was last supplied, it may show up with the same problem. Always get a sample of the current production on takeover work. Long term production parts have a life of their own and often considerations allowed for in production are no longer to the print but work. As a new vendor, it would be a trap to take this work without knowing just what the customer has actually been buying. Another step in takeover work is to assure the customer has a good “Bridge run” from the last supplier in order to buy you time to figure things out.

  1.       Don’t touch anything.

We all remember the Vice President with his hand on a satellite with “do not touch” written all over it. “Hold this” has been the start of more industrial accidents than you can imagine. Don’t touch the machines, don’t touch in process parts, don’t touch anything moving, and if all else fails….well, just don’t touch anything.

  1.       Get your own safety glasses.

Visitor glasses are always ugly and everybody in the shop will know you don’t really belong there. Get a decent pair of safety glasses and keep them in the trunk along with sensible shoes. Manufacturing is full of sharp edges and metal chips on floors. It seems like a small thing but who you are on a manufacturing floor stands out right away, and goofy glasses will not help you.

  1.   Never let hope outweigh the facts.

Never let a vendor tell you he hopes to hit a date or accomplish a goal. Murphy’s law was written for the manufacturing environment. If it can go wrong, it will, typically after the parts are already late. These ten rules are a good start to understanding what you don’t understand about manufacturing. In the meantime get a pair of cool safety glasses, and don’t touch anything!