The Professor at AJAX

In contemplating the events that transpired in the nine months since The Professor’s last visit, Patty had to chuckle.  John, her boss, received ACME’s company-wide Manager of the Year Award. The citation accompanying the award read, “For Conspicuous Leadership, Creativity and Innovation in Tripling Assembly Line Uptime.”  John received a $25,000 cash award and a trip for two to Belize.  Right!

Well, at least John was grateful to her.  He called her into his office after he received the award and told her that the award should be hers; she thought it should really be The Professor’s.

Anyway, he put her in for a promotion and she got it.  She was five years ahead of her peers; since she had just received a promotion last year.  She was also getting along well with Pete and company morale was high, even in these tough times, as the company was doing very well financially.  Three months ago, she presented a paper at SMTAI on the work they did to triple their line uptime from 10 to 30+%.  It received the “Best Paper” award.  She had wanted the Professor to be a co-author, but he refused.  Pete, however, was pleased to accept a co-author opportunity.   She was told that, at 24, she was the youngest recipient of this award — by eight years.

Several months ago she was asked to give a presentation on this work at a local SMTA meeting.  At this meeting she met Rob, a peer at AJAX.  AJAX was a local company that performed dedicated electronics assembly for its parent company in the automobile industry.  Hence, AJAX wasn’t a competitor to ACME.  She had heard rumors that the senior managers from ACME and AJAX even played golf together and shared ideas on improving their companies.  Rob was really interested in Patty’s talk and seemed to “soak up” everything that she said.  She couldn’t help but sense that he was more than a little interested in her in other ways.  He had been one year ahead of her at Tech and they both remembered each other.  After Tech, Rob had gone to work in aerospace, but had recently been RIFFed.  He has only been at AJAX for a few months and appeared determined to make his mark at the company as soon as possible.

As Patty was daydreaming about all of these good events, she saw a new email arrive on her laptop.  It was from Rob.  Upon opening it, she read that Rob asked her to call.  Patty immediately picked up the phone.

“Hi Rob, it’s Patty. What’s up?”

“Hey, Patty, how about our Red Sox losing six in a row, after leading the league?” said Rob.

“I’m devastated,” replied Patty.  “However, I’m cautiously optimistic, because when The Professor was discussing statistics in a workshop I took, he mentioned that even if a team is winning 60% of it games, there is more than a 50% chance that the team will lose six in a row in a season … it is just the nature of statistics.”

“Well, I hope he’s right,” replied Rob.

“Patty, your talk at the local SMTA meeting was really great.  I went back to AJAX and measured our uptime, and it was only 15%.  By following the things your team at ACME has done, we are up to 32% uptime.  But, I still sense we are missing something.”

“How so?” Patty responded.

“Well,” Rob started, “I’ve read some of The Professor’s papers and books, and performed a few calculations. These calculations suggest that AJAX should be able to produce at least 20% more product than we do.”

Hmmm, Patty murmured. “It sounds like your assembly lines may not be line balanced. Have you checked to see it they are?”

“How do we do that?” Rob queried.

“Well, I did it for ACME after attending The Professor’s workshop at last year’s SMTAI,” replied Patty.

“Could you help me do it at AJAX?” pleaded Rob.

“Gee, Rob, I don’t want to goof anything up at AJAX,” Patty said thoughtfully. “Why don’t I call and see if The Professor can help? You can check with your manager and see if involving The Professor is OK on AJAX’s end.”

Patty got The Professor on her first call.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t come, but suggested he could teleconference with her and Rob and develop a plan to audit AJAX’s line balancing. At Patty’s insistence, The Professor agreed to teleconference in to the meeting that Rob and she planned to kick off the audit. Patty felt it was important to have The Professor’s credibility to legitimize the audit.

Later, Patty had received a summons to the general manager’s office.  She was very nervous, but the GM put her at ease.  He told her that he and the AJAX GM were golfing buddies and he had heard that she was asked to help Rob.  He then went on to say that it was great that she was helping Rob as he always wanted the AJAX GM to “owe him one.”  The GM then congratulated her on her recent promotion and finished by saying: “Patty, the future of ACME is in the hands of young, bright, curious and hardworking folks like you. I sleep a little better at night knowing you are on my team!”

Will AJAX’s lines be balanced?  What will the characters at AJAX be like?  Will there be a Pete there?  Will Rob make a move on Patty? Stay tuned for the latest in the adventures of The Professor and his protégés.

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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.