Friday, October 30, 2009

Wearing the Pink Shirt

This month has been Breast Cancer Awareness month and each week we get an email reminder to wear pink on Friday. The HR representative also makes a pitch at Thursday's staff meeting. But, of course, the guys tend to opt out of this. Sure, we will wear the little stick-on bows, but none of the guys have worn a pink shirt to work so far.

For some reason, I was thinking about this last night on the commute home. (I do have quite a bit of thinking time now.) I asked myself why I would not wear pink shirt to work. Sadly, the reason boiled down to embarrassment or concern about what people would think of me.

Well, it quickly dawned on me that these are not reasons at all. Instead, they are excuses.

Considering all the suffering that people with breast cancer go through, wearing a pink shirt to work is the very least that a person could do.

So I went to Walmart in search of a pink shirt.

I locate one.

It is as small. That is the only pink shirt. Usually, I get a medium.

But I notice that it is on the $5 rack. So I pick it up and head to the register. My thought is that even if it shrinks too much to wear again after a couple washings, $5 is probably okay to spend.

Well, I get up to the cash register and the cashier enters the number from the tag because the bar code is missing.

The cash register reads $1.07.

I say that it is $5. She says that it is$1.07.

I kind of take it as an omen of sorts.

Anyway, this all kind of really struck home today because I'm having trouble with my platelets again. So wearing my pink shirt, I stopped by the Arnett Hematology an Oncology building to get a blood test.

I was kind of struck by the words on the sign. I was there for the Hematology part but a lot of other people go there for the Oncology - the cancer - part.

I was just led to think about the sick and suffering.

We take so much for granted. Like I've said all week here at work, it is so easy to get into a cave - to have myopia. Yet so much more is going on in this world - a lot more than we can even begin to fathom.

(By the way, the blood tests came back better than expected and I feel great so we are waiting to see what next week brings.)

Take care,


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Job Shadowing

Last week, I spent almost the entire day working with one of our employees here.

The purpose of this job shadowing day was to understand his workload and identify opportunities to make his efforts more effective. I quickly found out that the reason we were not necessarily seeing things the same way is that our expectations were different.

I was expecting him to make decisions, try new things, identify problems.

He was afraid to say anything. He was afraid to question his data. He was afraid to trust his own observations. For example, at some point in the past, he was told to run the drawing solution concentration between 5.5 and 6.1%. He was not allowed to ever run outside of these values.

However, the operators have been having wire breaks. I am not used to running concentrations that low and inquired with some subject matter experts. Even the supplier of the product did not recommend running with the concentration that low.

Come to find out even, the person I job shadowed had questioned the concentration.

He just didn't say anything.

So we increased the concentration by a percent and the wire breaks went away.

Today, I witnessed something awesome.

This guy was putting up temperature guidelines on the necessary meters to monitor solution temperatures.

The best part, though, was that after he put them up, I saw him taking operators around and explaining how to manage the temperatures.

This transformation started exactly one week ago.

Monday, October 26, 2009

First Fruits

Several of my more recent posts might have seemed a bit critical, cynical, or pessimistic. In reality, that is not the intention.

Have you ever had a sore throat?

A bad sore throat.

So bad that you can't seem to be able to get out what you are trying to say...

and people don't understand even if you try.

I guess that you might say that I've kind of had a sore throat when it comes to work-related issues. Now, though, I'm starting to get a voice back. This hasn't happened over night.

However, some keys to this transition:
  • Reading the Bible - I think the ethical mishaps of so many companies are evidence enough of needing a strong foundation for work in business. The Bible has started to become more of a foundation for me in my work. Yes, I still get angry, still swear, still handle a lot of situations poorly. Yet, as Maxwell says in in the Maxwell Leadership Bible, the Word of God is a "guide, guard, and gauge."
  • Returning to Creativity - I am lucky to have a few close friends who are extremely creative. They see things differently. They spin things differently. They look at things from different angles. Jenn and Trent are prime examples. Check out Trent's blog to see some of his photography. Jenn is a music teacher. She is always coming up with new ways to teach music. I think the fact that some 70 elementary kids come to school early for choir practice is evidence enough of the impact of her creativity on the students. In college, I was all about creativity. I played in the bands, acted in a couple plays, designed innovative lesson plans, and wrote award-winning papers. This creativity never went away, but perhaps the expression of this creativity was a bit stifled.
So back to previous posts: Why Not? and What Does Pizza...? After just being totally open with our lubricant supplier and providing data and research, the walls started to crumble on Friday in the form of an email.

They want to explore new technologies with us.

They are interested in field studies.

They believe alternate chemistries are indeed available that could help us with some of our quality concerns.

To use the phrase of a former teacher, "I'm tingling."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Manufacturing Accounting 101

First, I am not an accountant.

However, I do like numbers and math.

I also like ratios.

This past year, I began studying expense ratios. My preference is to take expenses and break them down into dollars spent in specific categories (e.g., tooling, lubricants, hubs) per pound produced. Expressing the ratio in this manner is helpful for three primary reasons:

  • It avoids the divide by zero error if, within a given time frame, no money is spent within a category.
  • It makes it possible to determine quickly the dollars saved or lost compared to a previous time frame or to another facility.
  • It corrects expenses for volume produced. This has been particularly meaningful during this down economic time. If volume is down, expenses like tooling should be down by a similar percent.
Above, I have included a true example of this type of analysis to demonstrate the value of this type of detail. For Expense Category I, Facility A has spent almost double the number of dollars pound per pound as the facility spent last year. It has spent almost five times the number of dollars pound per pound as Facility B has spent year to date.

This concisely demonstrates significant discrepancies, and I quickly facilitated strategies for improvement at Facility A.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The "Pissed Off Gene"

I am reading this great little book by Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Quite frankly, I have not ever read a book that makes more sense to me than this book does. The 18th key to creativity is “Merit can be bought. Passion can’t” (MacLeod, 2007, 73). In this section, MacLeod discusses what he calls the “Pissed off gene.” Without pissed off people, nothing gets done.

I’m not sure that pissed off in this context has as much to do with anger as it has to do with passion.

Being pissed off involves passion.

It involves recognizing that we live in a screwed up world that needs each of us to step up and take action.

Everyone knows about the glass being half empty or half full. I used to feel bad about having such a hard time seeing the glass as half full. I’m not sure that seeing it half full is the right way to look at things anymore. Seeing the glass half full conveys a sense of complacency. Seeing the glass half full conveys a sense that things are really okay.

No, things really are not okay.

Things are broken.

Things have to be fixed.

So let’s see the glass as half empty, get pissed off, and fill it up.

Maybe even let it overflow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Clock in. Turn off mind.

I heard something very troubling while shopping at Kohls the other day. (We were doing our part to stimulate the economy.) We ran into a friend who shared a story from her work. She heard one of her coworkers speaking with a production associate: “We pay you from the shoulders down not the shoulders up.”

I call bull shit.

Sorry to be blunt, but that is one of the saddest things that I have ever heard in my life.

Yet, unfortunately, that is what manufacturing runs the risk of doing to people. Manufacturing can turn people into work horses – creatures just plodding away pulling the plow. That is not how we are designed. I don’t care if we are talking about chemists, janitors, teachers, garbage people, farmers, receptionists, dentists, or librarians. We have minds. We should use them.

I recently had a conversation with one of my coworkers. As seems to happen so frequently now, it started out with me asking a question:

“Why does the level of this tank change all of the time?”


“Well, I’ve been told it is because we change the valve settings?”

“I’ve been told?”

Stop right there. Notice the question. I didn’t ask what for what he had been told. I asked why the level in the tank changes. Level changes in tanks suggest volume changes. Volume changes suggest concentration changes.

It turns out that the concentration did change.

The volume in the tank had changed. It had nothing to do with changing valves. It had nothing to do with what someone else had said. It had everything to do with people not knowing how to maintain the evaporative losses of the system.

It is time for change.

It is time for manufacturing to honor the fact that people have brains.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why not?

Recently, I spent some time learning about alkyd varnishes. I still have a lot to learn about them so if I am in error on anything here, please let me know. Two of the components of alkyd varnishes are fatty acids and polyols. Interestingly enough, fatty acids and polyols are present in certain lubricant formulations as well. Interestingly enough, varnish films can change refractory patterns and the perceived color. Interesting.

T: Are these lubricant formulations susceptible to form varnishes under any conditions?

S: The chemist says, “No.”

T: Why not?

No reply.

Okay, so maybe I’ve been coming across a bit critical in the last few posts. Really, that is not my intention. In fact, I wish people would ask these same questions of me. I wish they would challenge me. In fact, do it right now.


Because if we are not being challenged, we might as well keel over right now.





Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What about the gray area?

This past week, I had a rather interesting conversation regarding copper strip. This particularly copper strip is wrapped around aluminum and the seam is tig-welded. Before being wrapped around the aluminum, the strip is cut to ensure a uniform edge. After looking at numerous breaks with the seam visible, this step in the process sent up red flags because anything that has to do with cutting must wear. The resulting conversation:

T: How do you know if the cutting tool is in good working condition?

S: Well, we know it is bad when we see a burr.

T: So you have good cuts and you have bad cuts. What about the gray area in between?

S: It is either good or it is bad.


Monday, October 19, 2009

What does pizza have to do with drawing solutions?

Our lubricant supplier for the drawing machine solutions likes to bring in some pizzas for the plant. I’m not inherently opposed to pizza. In fact, I like a few pieces of pizza from time to time. I’m not inherently opposed to promoting goodwill between the customer and supplier. However, this past week, I was left wondering, “What does pizza have to do with drawing solutions?”

Recently, I had asked this particular supplier if any elevated temperature studies had been performed using their products. Most of our production (90%) ends up being processed at elevated temperatures. My review of the literature left many question marks flashing in my mind regarding the stability and reactivity of components within these products at elevated temperatures. They indicated that no one in the industry has completed these analyses. They also said that they have five chemists. Basically, this translated in my mind, “How dare you even suggest our product could pose problems at elevated temperatures because we have five chemists. Because we have five chemists, why would we even think about doing elevated temperature studies?”

So meanwhile, I’m back in my makeshift lab conducting elevated temperatures studies when this smell starts permeating into the room. It is the smell of pizza. I hear the representative socializing with one of our maintenance workers (I’m not sure what that has to do with lubricants either). This is frustrating. So I make a request: “Why don’t you use our ‘pizza fund’ as the start of a research and development project for the products that we buy?”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Supplier Issues

Supplier Relations

Last week, a supplier visited to discuss the components of their products and any possible implications that they have in downstream processes. One of the processes is of particular concern because it involves exposure to temperatures up to 200 ˚C for 30 seconds to several minutes. I have completed a fairly significant review of the literature on one class of chemicals used in the products in question. The literature alludes to the possibilities of desorption and decomposition at elevated temperatures.

Unfortunately, the research specifically in our industry appeared to be limited. This is troublesome to me because the vast majority of our product is processed at these elevated temperatures. In fact, the representative said that he was not aware of any research completed at these elevated temperatures. Quite frankly this left me wondering when the industry in question will come out of the dark ages. As far as I can tell, there have not been any truly significant developments in years. This is certainly what we have observed from this industry within our organization. The time is ripe for research and development. The time is ripe for change.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How was your day?

This is a question that Seth Godin (2008) asks in his book, Tribes.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sift through boxes of my work over the past few years. It was a great to get rid of the junk that had accumulated. However, this also proved to be a pretty difficult experience. I came across an extensive research project and the resulting paper that we shared with a customer. Behind my bookshelf was a brainstorming diagram about wire breaks. The team had written ideas on Post-It notes and then we placed them on a sheet to summarize.

This was difficult because something changed over the last few years. I guess it was me. I kind of closed up for awhile and became very cynical and angry towards work. So my answer to Godin’s question was not particularly positive. Yet, deep within, this was so wrong to me.

In looking through Facebook each Thursday and Friday, how many people do you see that write about being glad for the weekend? On Sunday, how many people write about not believing that the weekend is over? Yeah, I’m always glad for the weekend, but at the same time, why are we glad for the weekends? If it is because work is boring, mind-numbing, or stifling, then perhaps something needs to change. If it is because we are angry, frustrated, or hurt, then perhaps something needs to change.

The past few weeks have been quite an adventure in my new role. After overcoming a brief setback due to my blood problem, ITP, the days have gone by so fast. They have been filled with a new energy and a new sense of urgency. This is in due partially to one of my coworkers. He has taken time on many occasions over the past few weeks to offer words of encouragement and advice. (Special thanks to Jenn as we start learning how to deal with our schedules during this new time for us.)

My new goal is to answer the title question in the positive at least most of the time. If the majority of the time ever starts to sound negative, then it will be time to make some adjustments.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Life Starts Now"

Recently, I ran through the campus of my alma mater, Saint Joseph’s College. Banners hanging through campus proclaim, “Life Starts Now.” The question that came into my mind on this particular run was, “What if each of us said this every morning the moment that we wake up?” It doesn’t matter if we are 18, 24, 29 (that’s a great age), 35, 50, or 100. Education level doesn’t matter. Job status doesn’t matter. Relationship status doesn’t matter.

Two people recently shared plans that embody this spirit. One courageously approached his employer and indicated that he really wanted to turn his part-time position into a full-time position. Another shared the desire to move from teaching into school administration because she believes that she can make more of a difference in that capacity. Thanks to both of you for your dreams and your inspiration.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An Interesting Change

In Factories (Part II), I recorded some comments heard during some investigations:

“I just do what I’m told.”

“I’ve worked here for 3 years and have never touched those valves.”

“I don’t know which gauge you are talking about. We’ve never had to know that before.”

“Oh, the other shift quit doing that a long time ago.”

Today, in the waning hours of the work day, I hunkered down in my make-shift office to analyze some data involving two current projects. Honestly, I was pretty much spent after an intense week and needed some time to try and process data and get organized for next week. (For those of you who know me, staying organized is an ongoing battle. That is an understatement.) Anyway, as I was working on some spreadsheets, one of the production associates came up to the door and said:

"We have a reel that has issues. I know you are looking into all of this and wanted to let you know. Here are the tags from the feedstock reels."

Okay, rewind one week and the same person said, "I just do what I'm told."

It is pretty amazing the difference that one week can make.

I'm looking forward to recharging this weekend and hitting it hard again next week.

I'm not settling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tool of the Trade: Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope

Surface defect on supplier feedstock (60x)

My cart

Yesterday, I had to make a quick run to... Toys 'R' Us.

I analyze copper wire breaks and it is helpful to be able to send picture of these wire breaks. It just so happens that the Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope works great for this application. (Click on the link for features.)

Unfortunately, due to my recent re-location, I had my microscope but not the software. So, desperately needing to use the microscope, I headed over to Toys 'R' Us to get another microscope and the software. To my dismay, they did not have it. However, I kept picturing this disk in my mind. I just couldn't see figure out where it was. This morning, though, at 5:40 CST, I woke up and realized that the disk was in a box right next to my bed.

At the plant today, I quickly took pictures and sent the necessary correspondences.

The Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope is great for the manufacturing environment. It is inexpensive ($80) but gets the job done. It is portable. I take it right to the production line. It is also pretty resilient because I dropped it on the way into the office this afternoon. It still works!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Project Pitfalls: Influencer Buy-In

Recently, I spent time reading Nehemiah in the Maxwell Leadership Bible. This book is loaded with lessons on leadership and project management. In Nehemiah, the book’s title character identifies a project, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. However, before beginning the project, Nehemiah is careful to evaluate key stakeholders of the project. In this evaluation process, he identifies King Artaxerxes as one of the key influencers that needed to be on board for the project to be a success.

Projects will not succeed without the buy-in and support of key influencers. A few years ago, I started a project without the support of a key influencer. At the time, I knew that the project would not succeed without his buy-in and ongoing support. However, rather than rectifying the situation, I let the project slide for several months. In hindsight, I guess that I was scared or did not want to be a nuisance or take up his time. Honestly, though, we ended up running around in circles for several months. I was pretty embarrassed by the floundering project. Eventually, though, we gained the support of the key influencer and the project turned around rapidly. He made it a priority in the organization and we reaped significant savings. Nehemiah 2:1-9 affirms the need to obtain the support of key influencers. They provide resources and support that ensure successful completion of projects (Maxwell & Elmore, 2007). Without them, it is probably more worthwhile to work on something else.
Maxwell, J. C. & Elmore, T. (Eds.). (2007). The Maxwell leadership Bible (2nd ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Project Pitfalls: The Elusive Project Y

I love projects.

I hate projects.

It is kind of this love-hate relationship.
New projects are exciting. Everyone wants to improve. Everyone wants to solve problems. That is why I love projects.

However, projects can also be very tricky. In our modern world of ever-increasing instant gratification, people want results, uh, yesterday. So it is really easy to start identifying potential causes of the problem. (Everyone wants to be the hero, right?) Of course, then, it is easy to start manipulating variables. Yet, what happens when it is difficult to monitor the results of those manipulations?

The issue is that sometimes it is necessary to unplug a little bit from the frenzy of the latest crisis (project) and take a few moments to reflect on the situation. Recently, we have started to address a serious quality issue within our organization. However, this is not the first time this issue has been examined. In fact, I’ll admit working on it for nearly a year back in 2004. Yes, we identified some of the variables causing the quality issue. Unfortunately, years later, it is quite apparent that more variables exist.

What is the problem? Well, the project Y (defect) is a bit elusive. The defect typically does not manifest itself until the product has left the building. It appears maybe two or three weeks after shipment. Okay, so this makes it difficult to monitor the defect. The time lag also makes it difficult to correlate the presence of the defect with actual production data.

So last week, I had to face reality, pause, and reflect on the problem at hand. This is what I hate about projects. I am so eager for results that it is hard to just relax for a few minutes and rationally evaluate the situation.

The answer became quite clear. We needed to develop a method for causing the defect to occur in-house. Because the appearance of the defect is a function of time, we are attempting to develop a 24-hour heat-aging test that will cause the defect to occur without degrading the sample due to the presence of the heat. We also are in the process of acquiring an instrument that will provide quantitative results. These results will hopefully be more robust than previous qualitative observations. Initial work late last week looked promising as we started to observe qualitative and quantitative differences between treated samples. Once we finish developing our method, then we can finally deep-dive into the process and solve this problem once and for all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week in Review by Guest Bloggers from Facebook

This week, several folks from Facebook left some powerful and thought-provoking comments on several posts. Just wanted to include these for those of you not on Facebook.

A Troubling Conversation

"Work should be a profession, a career, a calling, not just a job. It is more personally satisfying that way and easier to see that you make a difference." ~ Rob

"Do you know about Brother Lawrence and his work Practicing the Presence of God? Any work we do can be infused with God's presence if we make it our mission to do so. It is an amazing concept." ~ Carol

Factories (Part I)

"More people need to WANT/DESIRE to make a difference." ~ Rhonda

Factories (Part II)

"Don't forget to look at management for buy-in to needed change. For systems change, it is difficult to have success without buy-in from the top." ~ Carl

"Most organization do not have the incentives (or culture) in place to create what might appear to be the more logical way to get things done." ~ Terra

"If an employee feels ownership of their position, be it machine or otherwise they will look at every gauge or valve and respond to it as if it were their car, house or other possession. This starts with management giving employees the feeling that what they do matters and makes a difference. Many "factory" environments are toxic due to bad ... read, more management. Your team is only as good as you are and you are only as good as your team. Motivate by example, lead with compassion, walk alongside and talk with kindness and respect and watch they employees grow." ~ Melodie

I'm looking for links and books on these and related topics. I'm also interested in hearing more!

We have been given so much. With these gifts come great responsibilities: to share, develop, grow. Thanks for being a part of this past week's journey.

Coming this week:

Project Pitfalls

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Factories (Part II)

In my previous post, I alluded to certain dangers related to working in a factory. These dangers became quite apparent while undergoing some recent investigations. Production associates (more commonly referred to as operators) are the heart and soul of the manufacturing operation. They are also the eyes and ears of the operation. They see the product. They hear the bearing that is going bad in a machine. They feel the product as they are setting up a production line.

All of this is great.

Yet, a certain danger lurks beneath the surface and is captured in conversations.

“I just do what I’m told.”

“I’ve worked here for 3 years and have never touched those valves.”

“I don’t know which gauge you are talking about. We’ve never had to know that before.”

“Oh, the other shift quit doing that a long time ago.”

(By the way, these comments aren't limited to production associates.)

As Godin writes, “The organizations of the future are filled with smart, fast, flexible people on a mission” (Godin, 2008, 41).

This leaves us with some choices.

We can do things the way that they have been done for decades. We can claim ignorance. We can pass the buck to someone else.


We can change for the better. We can learn. We can innovate.

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes. New York: Penguin Group.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Factories (Part I)

I'm now in my sixth year of working in a factory. Honestly, I hesitate to write the word factory. It would be great to call it something a bit more glamorous like a manufacturing facility, for example. However, at the end of the day, the best and most realistic term is in fact, factory. Over the years, my role in the organization has changed and evolved. Areas of study have included copper wire breaks, lubricants, interferences in ultrasonic welding, oxidation of copper, electron-beam crosslinkable compounds, and continuous vulcanization thermodynamics. Technical issues are definitely present in this industry.

However, a bit of a stigma is attached to factories. By their very nature, they tend to be repetitive. This can become a bit dangerous. (See Part II.) Seth Godin writes, "What you won't find in a factory is a motivated tribe making a difference" (Tribes 39).

My question:

Why not?

Why shouldn't there be a motivated tribe making a difference?

This is my new goal.

I want to help develop and be a part of a group that wants to make a difference.


Well, let's see.


Livelihoods of families.

Products made right here in the USA. (Might sound a bit old fashioned, but oh well.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009


In the past, I'm sure that I have blogged about dreams.

We all have dreams. (I hope so anyway.)

Kids seem to be most open about their dreams.

Have you ever heard any of these?

"I want to be police officer when I grow up?"

"Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a musician."

Have you ever seen any of these?

Kids with red capes jumping from sofa to sofa. (Superman)

A kid who says, "I want to be like you when I grow up."

One of my dreams is to teach. Although I teach within my organization (or at least make the attempt), I still want to be able to teach in a more formal setting.

This past weekend, someone asked about when I would be done with my MBA. She said that she'd like to get me on the adjunct faculty list when I'm finished.

Bingo. The light bulbs start going off in my head.

All of the sudden, some new-found direction entered into picture. The day-to-day activities have started to have more meaning with this new possibility ahead.