This next story in our series is very interesting regarding the dynamics of the workplace. Once there was a young U.S. Air Force officer who just graduated from the Academy and was given a position overseeing a manufacturing shop. He was only 22 years old but had worked his way up and demonstrated his leadership ability to manage a shop that made parts for an important fighter jet used by the U.S. military.
On his first week on the job, he was touring the shop and stopped to talk with a worker who was making titanium parts for the jet fuselage. The operator at the station told him about the intricacies of making and forming titanium, where as it is cooled and solidified, a certain grain direction is created in the part, which has a great effect on how the part should be milled into the final assembly.
This is kind of like the wood grain a carpenter must deal with in the way that you would build a structure out of wood. A wooden 2 x 4, for example, has a length that runs with the grain, which gives it strength. Also, a cross-cut saw is different from a ripsaw to deal with cutting in certain directions, across or with the grain. The same is true with titanium--the way you would mill it, how it's formed in relation to the shape of the part, and where the stresses are applied.
This Air Force Captain was fascinated, so he asked the operator to make a part while he watched. When the operator was done, the Captain asked the him if he had made the part the way he described it in relation to the grain of the titanium. It looked to him like the operator had done it incorrectly. He pressed again asking if he done it correctly. The operator started to get nervous. The Captain asked if he’d always done it that way for the part he was making, and the operator got even more nervous. Obviously concerned about the situation, the Captain went to his superiors to point out that he felt this operator may have been making bad parts for a while. His supervisors told him that they did not think there was a problem and that he should just keep quiet about it.
So now this young officer needed to make a potentially career-limiting decision. He had a moral dilemma to deal with. Should he push the matter knowing that having a faulty part could lead to the destruction of the $20 million aircraft and possible loss of life? Or does he keep quiet about it and hope that there is not a major problem in the field, and that if there is, that inspections will find it. He decided to escalate it up to the Chief of Staff of his military unit.
They recognized the importance of the issue and did a full-scale stand-down of the entire fleet until the parts that that operator had made could be traced to the aircraft where they were installed and subsequently inspected. Because the military has very stringent traceability standards and databases in place, they could do this even within the technology of the 1990’s.
Today, this digital thread capability across the supply chain, which tracks the manufacturing process through data captured and MES solutions out into the field and the installed fleet of equipment, also allows traceability to quickly act on issues that are discovered.
Quality management is everyone’s business. The place to start is with secure data capture, visibility and the ability to act.
Miss the beginning of this series? Read 12 Manufacturing Tips for a Brilliant 2017. Tip 1: Manufacturing Physics
Ready to continue on? 12 Manufacturing Tips for a Brilliant 2017. Tip 4: A change Is a "Comin"