Thursday, May 26, 2022

Industrial Fiction: Baseball Bats

Snodgrass ran through what he found out at the next morning’s meeting at the standup.

When he was done, Paula excused herself and made a phone call. “Hey, something came up” she said to the party on the other end. “I am going to miss our meeting.”

“Who was that?” Snodgrass asked. “Your next meeting?"

“Nope. That was the Plant Manager. I have a standing, 10 AM meeting with him. We are going to be busy.”

Looking over at Matthias, Paula informed him “You don’t get Snodgrass today.”

He nodded his understanding.

Then she made another call. Snodgrass could hear the fellow on the other end boom, “Hello Paula. Whatchya need?”

“Hey Barker. Got a few minutes? I need your expertise” Paula said.

It appeared that Barker had as much time as Paula needed.

Paula led Snodgrass to a mezzanine or suspended floor in the middle of the factory. Exiting the elevator, she wended her way through the crowded office toward one of the back corners.

Barker was a large man confined to a wheel-chair. His voice was a deep, rumbling bass.

“What is up?” he asked.

Paula looked over at Snodgrass and said “Tell him what you found out. Barker is in Material and is going to work some miracles for us.”

Snodgrass faithfully repeated what he found out.

Then Paula said, “I have funds for Engineering tryouts. I want to do a one-week tryout where the suppliers pack jelly-side-to-jelly side and we reverse the direction of the cubbies so the new product is sequenced last.

Barker winced. “Appearance side-to-appearance side is doable, but I am not sure about changing the direction the cubbies flow through the system.”

“Why is that?” Paula asked.

“We will have to pay premium shipping. Hyperopia Corp packs the soft-skins into a dense-pack cubby that cycles between their factory and Crowe Industries. At Crowe Industries they pack the three models they make, in sequence and add the ones from Hyperopia” Barker said.

“Why did we do it that way?” Snodgrass asked.

“Couple of reasons” Barker said. “Crowe is a very large supplier to the plant and they sequence a lot of things. We have trucks arriving from Crowe every half hour. The other reason is that we expected the new product to be about 20% of our volume and it wouldn’t make any sense to ship cubbies ¾ full from Crowe to Hyperopia. The new product being 50% of the volume caught everybody off balance.”

“Explain the premium shipping” Paula commanded.

“If we ship from Crowe to Hyperopia and then to the plant, we will have to hire special, expedited shipping trucks to move the cubbies” Barker said.

“How much money to do that for a week?” Paula asked.

Barker estimated the additional shipping cost.

“And to run the Engineering tryout?” Paula asked.

“We are going to get a lot of push-back from Crowe” Barker said. “I am really not sure what it will cost.”

Based on Barker’s estimate of the increased shipping cost Paula had enough budget to run the tryout for two weeks. The plant was running out of places to store defective product waiting for repair. If she spent the money well and got some relief on the problem, she was sure her try-out budget would be made-whole.

“Do it” Paula said.

Barker started working the phone as Paula and Snodgrass sat in his office.

First Barker called Hyperopia. “Hey George, Barker here. I gotta couple of questions for you.”

“Stevens (Paula’s last name) wants to run an engineering tryout where we have you do the sequencing of the skins. Do you have room for that?”

“No...not the way Crowe is doing it. They would sequence their parts into the racks that now get shipped to our line but then ship those racks to you and you would put your parts into the open cubbies. They don’t touch your parts. You don’t touch theirs.”

“Cool. Lots of room” Barker said.

“Another thing Stevens wants to do is have the appearance side of the skins for the odd job sequence numbers facing to the left and the even job sequence numbers to the right.”

“Yup, clips-to-clips and appearance-to-appearance. Still need to have them oriented up-down like they will be built so it probably makes sense to put bar-code labels on both ends” Barker said.

“How soon can you get back to me on when you can pull the trigger?” Barker asked.

Hanging up, Barker said his contact would have double bar-codes by 6 AM the next morning and they could support the other changes any time after that. Then, as an after-thought Barker commented, “It makes the timing better for them. Because they will be closer to the line they will have more time between when they get the build orders and when they have to pack them for shipment out of the plant.

It occurred to Snodgrass that Hyperopia’s gain was going to be Crowe’s loss.

The phone call with the representative from Crowe did not go so well.

“Hey, Bernie, I am putting you on speaker phone because I have an intern here in the office” Barker said. He pointed at Snodgrass to let him know that he was asking him to play along. He did not mention that Paula was also listening in.

“Hey, as you know we have been struggling with the skins. They are really killing us. Stevens wants to run an Engineering Tryout that she thinks will help.”

Bernie snorted. He didn’t seem to think too much of Engineering Tryouts. “I am telling ya, Hyperopia is a piece-of-shit supplier. You should have given us the business.”

Snodgrass shot a quick glance in Paula’s direction. It was water off a duck’s back.

“So what does she want us to do?” Bernie asked.

“She wants to ship empty cubbies to your factory, just like we do now. You will load your parts, in sequence, into the appropriate cubbies and then you will ship the racks to Hyperopia to load their parts.”

“The other thing that she wants to do is to have you put bar-codes on both ends of the part and load them into the cubbies with odd numbed unit-sequence-numbers with the appearance surface to the left and even numbers with the appearance surface to the right.”

“You cannot afford it” Bernie said dismissively.

“Stevens want to run the tryout for a week” Barker continued as if he hadn’t heard.

“I said, you cannot afford it” Bernie repeated.

“Why not?” Barker asked.

“Bunch of reasons. We are going to have to pay premium shipping. We wont have enough time to build the skins because we will have less time between the data drop and when we have to ship them.”

“Tell Stevens to stop dreaming and stick to something she knows something about” Bernie concluded.

Snodgrass watched Paula’s left eyebrow rise approximately 1/8th of in inch. He filed that away in his memory. It is good to know the signs of when your boss is getting pissed.

“We pay the shipping and we will make arrangements of expedited shipping” Barker said.

“Funny, Hyperopia seems to be able to build skins under the exact conditions you are complaining about.”

“So I need a ball-park estimate of how much it is going to cost to run the tryout on a per-piece basis. I need something I can carry back to Stevens so she can do her planning” Barker said.

“Tell her it will be $10 a skin. No, scratch that. That is too round of a number. Tell her it will be $12.53 more a skin. That should make her run back to her office.

Barker heaved a sigh that showed he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this.”

“You remember that Intern who is sitting in on this call?” Barker asked.

“Yeah, what about him?” Bernie asked.

“I have never seen anybody who could write P-R-Rs (Problem Reporting and Resolution) more quickly or with such detail. His P-R-Rs are bulletproof” Barker said.

There was a pause from the other end of the phone. “He doesn’t have anything he could write us up for” Bernie declared.

Barker was shaking his head. Snodgrass could actually hear his jowls clacking.

“I am looking at the draft of his P-R-R right now” Barker said.

Of course there was no such draft.

“He wants to ding you for fifteen defects per hour and two hours of repair time at $120 per hour” Barker said.

“Bullshit!!!” Bernie shot back. “It doesn’t take that long to repair our skins.”

“I agree” Barker said. “He is dinging you for the Hyperopia skins.”

“The hell he is. Tell him he needs to file that against Hyperopia” Bernie demanded.

Sorrow filled Barker’s voice. “I would, but every sequencer contract we let requires that the person filling the cubbies inspect every part. If you shipped it, it is your defect and you need to write your own P-R-R against Hyperopia and you need proof they are shipping the defects to you.”

“You know your own assemblers snag those panels. You can’t make that stick. Bernie said.

Paula wrote something on a slip of paper and slipped it across the table to Barker. He quickly read it.

“You can say that, but we had Ganzer checking product before our production operators touched it. The latest data is that you are shipping 27 defects an hour since we count every snag as a separate defect.” Barker said.

“So, what is it going to be. Are you going to play ball or am I going to stick the bat up your ass and break it off?”

Next Installment


  1. Me, too. This is really a good one. I never heard the rest of the "play ball" word picture. Compelling....

  2. Ditto me in here. Really enjoying it. Tree Mike

  3. Very sorry you are laid up, but glad to read your fiction again! I cannot tell you how many times I've seen folks on a biz phone call get wrecked because they didn't know they were being set up, railroaded or monitored and they end up dearly regretting their choice of words.

  4. Hyperopia, eh?
    It’s unfortunate that it took a catastrophic injury to get you back to fiction, but I’m glad you’re back at it.
    Still praying for your rapid and complete recovery.

  5. ERJ, dittos to the above, I have been enjoying this series very much. I will continue sending prayers for your recovery.