Managing Production Equipment
The technology levels in American modern production hardware have been elevated to levels beyond the capability of many of those being asked to operate and maintain it. Ineffective training and, more importantly, the serious lack of ownership spirit are important shortcomings. There are cases where the buyer dictates certain specifics for the hardware even with efforts by the seller to discourage too much reach. This is particularly true in equipment control systems, which today nearly always utilize rapidly advancing computer technology.
As a sidelight to this discussion: The American builders are required to follow the letter of the advancing U.S. domestic customer specified computer control. European builders are many times allowed to utilize their own or European standard controls, already proven on earlier generation equipment even for their American customers.
A large part of the time, the new U.S. computer control systems are the first application requiring serious pioneering by the builder. There have been serious problems and subsequent criticism of the builders when the difficulties cause delays even when the control was found to be at fault and probably not really fully developed or ready for the market.
It is true that the special machine tool builders will offer advanced approaches to become more cost effective and competitive over the product life cycle. Once accepted by the buyer, it is incumbent on his organization to provide the training and the environment to effectively manage that equipment on the production site with reasonable support by the supplier.
The production sites in many American automotive and in other manufacturing industries do not enjoy the “turned on” atmosphere discussed earlier in this book. The “life’s work” and “reasons we work” logic is foreign, obscured by those with different agendas and the environment is even an adversarial one in some instances. Competitive spirit, passion, and resulting productivity to enhance both the company’s and the employee’s prosperity and more important, true job security are absent. It can be a blind TGIF environment.
Work rules, established presumably to provide job security to individual labor classifications, wind up hurting them and the entire work force even more. For example, if a machine tool in production goes down due to a failed mechanically actuated limit switch, it can take several different trades people in sequence to restart it. First, to diagnose, then disassemble mechanically, disconnect from fluids (hydraulic, lubrication etc), disconnect electrically, acquire replacement parts, re-connect electrically and hydraulically, re-assemble mechanically, re-set positions etc. re-start and put back into production. Each step requires a different trades person. Any encroachment of one trade on another by supervision or the supplier’s service technician invites serious labor problems and further delay. The availability of each of the trades people, in sequence, when actually needed is nearly always not favorable as they are in demand throughout a typically large facility. This procedure will take many times longer than a multi capability “turned on person” would require in a “turned on” organization or a dynamic work team (the competition). The cost in lost production is out of sight.
The same situation observed in a Japanese auto manufacturing plant follows a different routine. As the machine goes down an alarm sounds and a message board highlights the problem machine. Immediately people will be seen running to the site and work to correct the problem begins by whoever arrives first, regardless of the nature of the problem or what his or her specialty is. The fix is accomplished in a small fraction of the time in the first example and production is resumed. Is something wrong with this picture?
Who will win the global cost competitive battle and provide the greatest job security for the individuals involved? For all intents and purposes the individuals in the two different scenes described are competing with each other head-to-head in a global long-term competitive battle for their own job security. Scary, isn’t it?
In an American, organized labor plant, as new equipment is put into production, operators and maintenance personnel are trained in its specific requirements. As it happens, if a more desirable job opportunity becomes available some where else in the facility, the freshly trained personnel with seniority may opt to take it negating the training etc. Or, someone whose job has been moved or eliminated because of seniority may bump the freshly trained personnel.
In addition to the obvious potential cost in terms of lost production, this certainly destroys any reason for people to take ownership, as it could be lost at any time anyway. Remember the real definition of job security - the company must succeed against “go for the throat” competitors from around the world or the jobs may no longer exist.