A Short Story for Engineers

Discussion in 'Community Forum' started by nwest, Jan 25, 2016.

  1. nwest

    nwest 12 pointer

    A Short Story for Engineers

    A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can?t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line so that customers all the way down to the supermarket don?t get pissed off and buy another product instead.

    Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

    The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution ? on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done to re-start the line.

    A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. ?That?s some money well spent!? ? he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

    It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should?ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren't picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

    Puzzled, the CEO traveled down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed.
    A few feet before the scale, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin.

    ?Oh, that,? says one of the workers ? ?one of the guys put it there ?cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang?.
  2. EdLongshanks

    EdLongshanks 12 pointer

    Nov 16, 2013
    Northern Kentucky
    That tale is awesome. Simplicity is hard to identify sometimes.
  3. Manzanita

    Manzanita 12 pointer

    Apr 16, 2006
    Telecheck 018
    That was funny.

    When I was working as an engineer at a TV station, the transmitter, which was about 15 miles from the station, was operated and monitored remotely. Inside the transmitter building, one of the things we monitored was any possible flooding due to burst pipes in the room where the water-cooled transmitters were. To do that we placed, next to the floor drain in the room, a spring loaded metal clip with an aspirin stuck in it. If the aspirin dissolved, the clip would close causing an alarm in our telemetry unit at the station.

    Of course, when your entire engineering department is staffed by a bunch of MacGyvers, the place tends to be held together with duct tape and paper clips. Not a lot of fun to troubleshoot and repair.
  4. ptbrauch

    ptbrauch 12 pointer

    Nov 10, 2004
    The OC
    I've been in many meetings where all the proposals to fix an issue are $100 fixes to a $10 problem. So I completely understand the story.

    Now I work for a Japanese company where they truly subscribe to Kaizen.

    Also, one adage I've learned is that if you want to find the easiest way to do something, put the laziest man on that job.
  5. nwest

    nwest 12 pointer

    I have a couple really sharp lazy guys I work with...they are handy.
  6. OldEarnhardtFan

    OldEarnhardtFan 10 pointer

    Jan 16, 2014
    Northeast of Berea
    As a Tool and Die maker for way too many years, I have concluded that an engineer's sole purpose is to take the simplest idea and make it as complicated as possible to justify his salary.
  7. richief

    richief 10 pointer

    Jun 20, 2012
    down a holler SE KY
    Yep, as a precision sheet metal mechanic and machinist, I often would be asked to "take a walk, and look at something" with an engineer. There is no substitute for experience from the shop floor.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 26, 2016
  8. smashdn

    smashdn 12 pointer

    Nov 24, 2003
    Palmyra, Kentucky
    I wish I had a dollar for everytime that I have heard the toothpaste box story.
  9. OldEarnhardtFan

    OldEarnhardtFan 10 pointer

    Jan 16, 2014
    Northeast of Berea
    It must be the same all over.........if the idea worked, it was theirs.......if it didn't....it was my idea.
  10. Iceman35

    Iceman35 12 pointer

    Oct 27, 2008
    Boone County
    I went to a college that is well known for it engineering and technology schools. We had a saying in the tech school.

    Engineers tells you how it's supposed to work.

    Tech tells you how it does work.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice