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Friday, December 17, 2010

Is is the Indian or the arrow?

With respect to quality, what is the most influential element in the automobile manufacturing process?  Most of us have enjoyed a level of affluence that has allowed us to own at least  one new car at some point in our lives.  Therefore,  I believe we’re entitled to give our opinion on the most critical component in the manufacturing process.  Is it the machining of cylinders in the 350+ horsepower engine?  It is the source or quality of the leather that is used to upholster the interior?  Maybe the most important step is the engineering of the prototype design?  Could the most important part of the process be the installation of the dome light  or maybe the wiper blades?  Could it be the 18 wheeler that delivers the finished product.  What is it?

Is the quality higher or lower simply because the plant was located in one country or another? Is the quality better simply because the people are employed by a particular company.  Is the quality different simply because the car was built by the Swedes, Germans or Japanese?  Is the car better or worse because it uses metric specifications or is right hand drive?  Is quality the property of any one group, company, state or ethnicity?

Many of today's car manufacturing processes are highly automated.  When one machine is building another machine, which one is responsible for the quality?  There must be a person who has the role of programming and monitoring the manufacturing process?  Isn't there HAL?  What is THEIR responsibility, HAL?  Answer the question HAL.  HAL?  "Open the pod bay door HAL!!".

I would submit that the most significant element in the manufacturing process is the human.  In any step of the process, the functionality of the specific part and overall quality of the entire product is a function of the professionalism of the human involved.  The manner in which their piece of the process is executed gives each and every person along the way the opportunity to create a beautiful precision machine or an expensive, unreliable, annoying appliance.  It doesn't matter what the name plate or logo is.  You can pay $80,000 for a European luxury sedan and if the brakes squeal and pull, is the quality better or worse than the ubiquitous Corolla? 

The politically correct way to for me to answer the initial question is this.  "The overall objective of self defense or procuring game for food is predominately dependent upon the ability of the specific member of indigenous native peoples of America, rather than the feather stabilized sharpened shaft shot from his bow."  I would just prefer to say, 'It's the Indian, not the arrow."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is a job well done its own reward?

Throughout the ages people have been known for what they do.  In some cultures, surnames are a direct reflection of their profession.   Cooper, the barrel maker, is a good example.  Status has traditionally been given to certain professionals like doctor, pilot, attorney, pastor and in some cases political leaders.  Lately the latter has almost become an epithet.  Usually the status bestowed on these vocations is derived from the amount of education and experience the person must have to participate in that profession.  Therefore, a certain amount of prestige and adoration is awarded just from the title or position.  This generalization is the source of disappointment when individuals don’t live up to the perceived reputation of the group.

Is what people do or how they do it the source of self esteem?  Airline pilots are easily identifiable, almost exclusively because of the uniform. Does the influence of their position exist simply because the pilot is wearing enough of the uniform to be identifiable as a pilot?  Is is because he carries o license ?Or, does the manner in which the uniform is worn or the license used say anything?

Airline crews, as a group, are some of the most experienced hotel guests in the world.  There are extensive negotiations between airlines and their crews on the subject of overnight accommodations.  Details are important when you spend a dozen or more nights a month in a hotel.  The condition of a hotel room has a profound influence on the experience and enjoyment of the guest.   A well made bed.  Conspicuous cleanliness.  Neatly arranged amenities.  Plentiful and well presented towels.  These all contribute to the quality of the hotel experience.  The maid responsible for that experience is seldom noticed.  However, not a lot of prestige is given to the occupation of hotel maid.  They are, and should be, invisible.

The same, for the most part, should be true of pilots.  The better they do their job, the less noticeable they should be.  Except of course for the obligatory brief and well articulated announcement.  So where does the prestige come from?  It comes not from what he does, but how he does it.  Passengers expect to arrive safely.  Safety is not a goal or aspiration, it is an obligation. Passengers would also like to be on time with a comfortable flight.  The highest praise that can be given a pilot is that the flight was uneventful.  Corporate pilots understand this concept or they don't keep their position very long.

The prestige and self esteem of a pilot comes one flight at a time.  Knowing that his passengers arrived safely and comfortably at their destination through his skill, engagement and attention to detail is its own reward.  Like the inconspicuous hotel maid, pilots are paid for what they do and respected for how they do it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brake Lights

Horse drawn carriages had brakes but they didn't have brake lights.  They didn't need them.  With early automobiles came increased speed and deceleration rates.  As they became more sophisticated those parameters increased enough so that it took more and more attention to effectively perceive closure with the stopped or slowing vehicle ahead.  Brake lights were installed for increased safety.  I'm sure they weren’t the first example, but brake lights are probably the most prolific example of an artificial and indirect connection with reality installed in the name of safety.  As time passed and traffic increased, drivers became dependent upon the brake lights to tell them if that vehicle ahead was decelerating.  In fact the NASCAR type tailgating routinely practiced on Texas freeways might be impossible without brake lights.  Most drivers today, I suppose, would be totally unable to drive in traffic without other cars having conspicuous brake lights.  That would require drivers to keep an adequate margin of safety and stay engaged (no cellphone??) with the situation enough to perceive closure with the other vehicles.  What's next, cars that stop themselves if you get too close to the vehicle ahead?  I am not going near the turn signal discussion here.  We now fly airplanes the same way.  We depend on a horn, beeper, light or EICAS message to tell us what the situation is.  Could we, as pilots, do any better without our artificial devices than drivers without brake lights to depend upon.  What's next, airplanes that don't need pilots?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Fire Didn't Last That Long

Boeing’s 787 certification program was dealt a setback Wednesday November 9, 2010 when the test airplane ZA002 was forced to make an emergency landing at Laredo, TX after an electrical panel and the surrounding insulation caught fire.  It’s never a good day when the debrief includes terms like RAT, fire truck and emergency evacuation.  This comes three months after a RR Trent 1000 engine experienced an uncontained failure on the test stand.  These unexpected non-normals are not limited to test aircraft.  A Quantas A380 recently experienced substantial damage when it also experienced an uncontained engine failure.  The point here is ...... whether we’re test pilots or “line pukes” called out on reserve, we all have to be mentally prepared for the worst.