Recently, I travelled with President Leath to Black Hawk County, to tour a CIRAS partner company. Power Engineering and Manufacturing (PEM) specializes in custom design and manufacturing of heavy-duty gearboxes. While touring their line, Dennis Schilling, Quality Assurance Manager, shared that one of their greatest challenges has been something they call the “Barney Factor.”
A former plant manager, nicknamed Barney, attempted to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. If a gear didn’t fit over a pinion, instead of taking time to determine the root cause and resolve the issue properly, Barney would have the machinists make the internal dimensions of the gear larger, so when it got to assembly, all the parts fit. He did this so often in fact, that he eventually required machinists to do this for ALL gears produced at PEM. Barney did this so often, in fact, that the “Barney Factor” eventually became an accepted and management approved method of problem prevention. There are two problems with this approach. First, by making gears larger, Barney reduced their strength, which led to a higher rate of failure in the field. In other words — and this is important — Barney solved his problem in the plant by, essentially, pushing the problem down the road to the customer. Second, by solving the immediate problem and not investigating the root cause, Barney wasn’t able to discover fundamental engineering errors. So the company never knew where the problem originated and would never improve the quality of the final product.
This particularly impacted the company when it came to “endplay,” which is the amount of clearance designed into a stack-up of parts in an assembly. According to Dennis, you usually want some endplay, because it allows parts to spin freely, which reduces wear. But with too much endplay parts can move around, crash into each other, and create damage and wear. So, all assemblies are designed with a pre-determined, acceptable amount of endplay. When PEM operated with the Barney Factor, machinists were instructed to always take bores deeper than the drawings called for, and then simply shim additional endplay back to specifications. It sounds like a workable solution to the numerous endplay issues they experienced over the year, until you factor in the amount of resources Dennis estimates was spent measuring for shims, creating shims, and purchasing material for the great number of shims they needed for each gearbox. Furthermore, this manufacturing “solution” also hid fundamental engineering errors that led to them needing a solution in the first place.
This is not how they do it anymore. Now, PEM uses sophisticated quality control measures to evaluate each part and determine errors prior to and during assembly. Not only has this sped up the line, but it also takes fewer resources (no more shims) and results in a higher quality product with an increased service life, for the customer. As I listened to Dennis tell his story, I wondered: Does Extension and Outreach operate with our own version of the Barney Factor? Rather than getting at the heart of a problem, do we sometimes push the problem down the road, or let immediate solutions generate more problems? Do we create more work with fixes which require greater resources or are inefficient?
Dennis reports that when they first started to implement the quality control measures, there was tremendous resistance from machinists, assemblers, and others, because initially, things got worse. Dennis attributes that to pulling the problem back from the customer to the plant and that, frankly, people were resistant to change. A very common phrase heard throughout the plant was, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” He says he knew what they were doing was right, but it helped to have the support of others who understood that making things easy on us internally doesn’t always help us build a stronger, longer lasting product overall. In other words, PEM moved from a corrective action system that created more problems to really solving their problems. See you there.