Rethink Your Tools

Recently I was participating in a conversation about ‘thinking outside the box’ and shared a story that happened when I first started working on an automotive assembly line. (How I ended up working there after college is a story in itself!)

On the assembly line, stopping production was a very costly no-no! If I remember right, it was something like $10,000/minute to pay for all the equipment and worker salaries when the factory was operating. When you first start working there, they drill it into your head to “NEVER STOP THE LINE!” (Unless it’s a quality issue, of course. 😉 )

To keep things moving, there was a person called the ‘Upgrade’ assigned to every zone of the facility who would either follow a car down the line and repair/finish a job that couldn’t be completed, or write up the problem on a tracking sheet to be fixed in a workshop that was located at the end of the production line.

My job (called the rag-joint job) was critical and had to be finished on the spot – I connected the steering column to the steering box. It was a government safety inspected – they had a little computer there that registered every car.) Even worse than that, if you didn’t get it done, they couldn’t drive the car off the end of the line. This was a very bad thing! (Picture people having to jack up the front of a car onto a little motorized carrier and manually wheel it into a repair bay.)

After a while I had gotten pretty good at the job, when I encountered a new problem. There was a small burr on the metal of one of the parts I needed to connect up. When I tried to put everything together, the burr wedge itself in between the parts and the parts stuck in the half assembled position. I tried everything I could think of to muscle the parts together. When that didn’t work, I struggled to pull everything apart and finally panicked as the car moved closer to the end of my work station.

Realizing that I couldn’t figure out how to fix the problem I hollered, “WOODY!” (That was the name of my Upgrade.)

Woody came over and told me to ‘get out of the way.’ He took the large air motor I used to bolt these critical parts together, turned it around, and used the back of the motor to whack the parts and knock them together. He flipped the motor around, bolted the parts together, and handed me the air motor saying, “go get the next car, I’ll finish this one.”

From that point on I never looked at my tools the same way. It didn’t matter what it was designed for, it only mattered how you could envision using it to get the job done!

One interesting side note. At the same factory, they had a group of skilled trades people who earned in excess of $100k/year and spent most of their work day sitting on a little electric cart reading the paper. But, when a critical production machine broke down, they knew how to get it back online ASAP and keep it running until the shift was over. Dollar for dollar, they were one of the best labor investments in the plant.

Just a little something to think about. Re-think the tools you use. What else can they do for you?

The Go-To Guy!

Andrew Seltz

Andrew was born in Michigan, raised there and in Tennessee, and has since lived outside Orlando, in Chicago, New York City, and now Birmingham, Alabama. He produces videos and websites for a living and is married to a beautiful, generous, loving woman who also happens to be a talented actress and writer - www.ellenseltz.com. They have two daughters.

One thought on “Rethink Your Tools

  • October 31, 2007 at 12:25 am
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    There’s something significant about your closing line: “Re-think the tools you use. What else can they do for you?’ I just can’t quite put my finger on what it is at the moment. But it’s extremely important to consider because it’s often very difficult for people to “think outside of the box.” As the saying goes, ‘We are creatures of habit.” But some habits will get us killed or lead to our misfortune. Re-think the tools you use… Mmm…. Thanks Andrew. I have already begun to do so, for the past month and now I’m even more excited about the results that will be coming. My mentor always says, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    Author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

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