In Search of a Problem to Solve

It has been a while, let’s look in on Patty …

Patty had to admit that she was very fortunate. She had yet to turn 30 and she was a Senior Vice President at ACME.  There was even a small article about her in Fortune magazine. But she had to admit that, at some level, she was bored. She missed the action of being out on the line and solving problems.

With these thoughts she headed toward the lunch room. She had avoided eating lunch with the execs and still ate lunch with the young engineers that were her age. No one thought it strange. Pete was occasionally the old-timer in the group, as he was approaching 45 years old.

As she sat at lunch with her friends, Patty also had to admit that she was jealous of all of the group’s talk about solving technical problems. She was now responsible for corporate strategies and seldom got her “hands dirty.” So she missed the technical challenges on the shop floor.

After lunch she stopped Pete.

“Hey, Pete, could you stop by my office?” Patty asked.

“Kiddo, for you anything … even that,” he answered and they both chuckled.

As Pete sat down in Patty’s office, she asked him, “How do you like your new job?”

“What’s not to like? Twice as much money and working with you!” Pete answered.

“But don’t you miss … ,” Patty stopped and struggled to gain her composure.

Peter helped her, “Working on the shop floor solving process problems?”

“Yes, so much so that I could almost cry,” Pete finished.

They were silent for awhile.

Then Pete suggested, “Why don’t I see if I can find us a problem.”

Patty smiled. Pete was always well connected.

A few days passed and Patty had just about forgotten about their meeting. There was a knock on her door and Pete stuck his head in.

“Hey kiddo, we have an assignment,” Pete shouted cheerfully.

Patty perked right up.

“What’s the scoop?” she asked.

“You know the new program that rewards cost savings?” Pete asked.

“Sure, I think it is a great idea,” Patty responded.

“There is a conflict in our plant in Santa Clara. Management wants to give a $10,000 reward and the senior purchase manager is blocking it,” Pete elaborated.

“Why?’ Patty asked.

“The engineer deserving of the reward purchased a solder paste that improved uptime,” Pete said.

“Sounds great, what is the issue?” Patty asked. “Let me guess. The better solder paste costs more?” she asked.

“Yep!” Pete responded, “One penny per gram.”

“Mike Madigan wants someone to negotiate the situation. Why not us?” Pete asked.

Patty quickly sent Mike an email offering to help. He gave her the go ahead shortly thereafter.

In a matter of days the arrangements were made and Patty and Pete were on a jet from Boston’s Logan Airport to San Jose, California.

Their flight had taken off and they were enjoying a snack, when Pete commented, “Let’s hope we don’t find someone there like the guy who wanted to assemble the boards without the boards,” Pete chuckled.

At this comment, Patty almost choked on her sparkling water. About four years ago, when Patty was just starting out, they were working on a critical project. The manager in charge wanted the boards to be assembled on a certain date.  Unfortunately, the PWBs did not arrive on time, even though all other components, connectors, and the other hardware where ready. The manager, in frustration, came out to the line on the scheduled start date and was furious that the boards were not being assembled.

The manager asked the lead engineer, “Why aren’t the boards being assembled?”

The lead engineer responded, “The PWBs did not arrive from the vendor.”

To this the manager responded, “Aren’t you going to assemble them anyway?” (See note below.*)

This was their favorite story about the occasional comedy in electronics assembly.

It seemed like no time at all and Patty and Pete were sitting in the conference room that had been reserved for the meeting. They introduced themselves to a young engineer who was sitting in the room waiting for the meeting to start. His name was Dave Ferris.

“So Dave, you are the cause of this meeting, eh?” Pete teased.

“I guess so. I can’t believe how hard it is to sell productivity here. The amount of time the new solder paste saves enables us to produce 1,000 more units per year on each line. And these boards are super expensive, with high margins. Admittedly the solder paste costs $0.01 more per gram, but the additional profit is over $800,000 per year for each of our three lines,” Dave Ferris explained.

“How did you perform the calculations,” Patty asked.

“I went to a workshop run by this quirky, cheerful guy everyone calls ‘The Professor.’ He was amazing,” Ferris replied.

Pete and Patty both chuckled.

“We know The Professor well,” they chimed in unison.

“We assume you used ProfitPro for the calculations?” Pete asked.

“Yes,” Dave responded with a surprise in his voice that they would know about such things.

Will Patty and Pete save the day?  Will Dave get his award?  Stay tuned to see.


Dr. Ron

*As hard as it is to believe, the story about building the boards without the PWBs is true.  Thanks to ITM.

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About Dr. Ron

Materials expert Dr. Ron Lasky is a professor of engineering and senior lecturer at Dartmouth, and senior technologist at Indium Corp. He has a Ph.D. in materials science from Cornell University, and is a prolific author and lecturer, having published more than 40 papers. He received the SMTA Founders Award in 2003.