An easy, yet recurring repair teaches a young engineer a valuable lesson in communicating up and down the supply chain.
Early in my career, I had the good fortune to learn an important lesson I’ve been able to carry to every subsequent job, including my current position as repair manager at Flash Global.
I was working at Pioneer Electronics on the first U.S. repair team assigned to their second-generation cable box distributed to TimeWarner customers. Over and over again, the left or right audio channel would go out. Intrigued, I traced the problem back to a dual transistor, six-legged chip. While we kept replacing that transistor, I wondered what was causing this recurring issue.
The answer wasn’t obvious, so I dug into the schematic and used electrical engineering math to determine that the transistor was being overloaded. The company’s engineers in the U.S. and Japan tested my theory and determined it was correct.
Together, we created an engineering change notice that applied to more than 200,000 cable boxes. The ECN required us to replace all the transistors and take out two resistors to add more resistance on the line of the signal going into the transistor.
We then had to set up a process and modification line to handle this one redesign of the particular circuit for all boxes that came through the repair shop. Regardless of whether the cable box was failing for this reason, we still had to make the change so that it wouldn’t fail in the field later.
This one experience taught me that even when a repair is easy, if it’s recurring, I should probably raise a red flag because there’s most likely a larger issue that needs to be addressed. That was the case in this instance. I needed to communicate the issues I was seeing.
In law enforcement circles, it’s called, “See something, say something.”
Once I did say something in this case, it was a fast-moving train. In addition to adding processes in the repair shop, we also had to stop production, change the layout of the board and insert different components on the board. This was vital so that TimeWarner and its end-users, their cable customers, remained satisfied clients of Pioneer.
Today, I still use these early lessons about the importance of communication. I try to think about the big picture. I ask myself these questions: Is this repair as simple as it seems on the surface? How does my quick-and-easy fix impact our product two steps forward in the process and two steps back?
I tell my current team that there’s always a cause and effect. We believe in the plan, do, check, act steps in Kaizen’s principles and know that those things help us sustain an environment of continuous process improvement and profitability.