Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Industrial Fiction: Hourly monkeys

Monday morning came all too soon.

Snodgrass was waiting at the stand-up table. Paula told him to follow Matthias.

Mathias said “They want you back at skin install. They also want you tomorrow” he added.

As Matthias and Snodgrass approached the intersection of the main North-south and east-west aisleways of the plant, Snodgrass piped up “Can I ask you a few questions?”

Matthias obligingly angled toward an open stand-up where they could be seen from both directions.

“What is on your mind?” Matthias asked.

“I am still baffled by why the top management would allow less-than-the-best people represent the plant when new product was being developed. I mean, wouldn’t they be cutting their own throats in the long run?” Snodgrass asked.

“That would be true if any of them were ever here for more than two years at a time” Matthias said.

Snodgrass looked at him without comprehension.

Matthias sighed. “Historically, every executive who became a CEO in the Firm went through 14 assignments between new-hire and the CEO position. At two years per assignment, it takes a minimum of 28 years to move up the 8 layers of the org chart and the additional 6 assignments to “broaden” their expertise. At three years per level it would take about 40 years.”

“If the final job of a fast-tracker is to be a HQ manufacturing Subject Matter Expert then they want to rotate them through five or six plants. Same deal. If they stay too long in each assignment then they will not have many years left at HQ” Matthias said.

Enlightenment dawned on Snodgrass. “What you are saying is that from the C-suite’s perspective, the role of our factories is to manufacture executives, not profitable products.”

“Bingo” Matthias said.

“That is crazy” Snodgrass said.

“No doubt” Matthias agreed.

“So why am I going back to the skin installation?” Snodgrass asked.

“They asked for you” Matthias said.

“Why did they ask for me? Do you know?” Snodgrass asked.

“Mainly because you do everything they tell you to do without much pushback. Like when you agreed to sign the alarms sheet. Then when you took the ass-chewing from the supervisor instead of them.” Matthias said.

“Everybody hates signing alarm sheets. Everybody hates the coach-and-counsel sessions, even when the supervisor is calm” Matthias said.

“Having you in that job feels like a three-day vacation to the team” Matthias said.

Snodgrass very briefly considered telling the team-mates to stuff it when the first alarm came in. Then he thought, its only for two more days and he trudged to the end of the line to initial the book and “observe” the scarred skin twenty minutes after the line started.

The supervisor was waiting at the inspection station but his demeanor was very different than yesterday.

“Hey, no hard feelings, pal” the supervisor said, almost fawning. “I didn’t know you were from HQ. I thought you were a new hourly monkey training to be a Utility/absentee-replacement.”

“Yeah, that is exactly what I was yesterday and am today. I am acting as a Utility/absentee-replacement in training” Snodgrass said.

The supervisor snorted. “Yeah, right. But you are not some hourly clown. You are from HQ.”

Snodgrass felt a surge of anger. Controlling his voice “Maybe if you are ashamed of how you interacted with me after you found out I was from HQ you might want to rethink how you treat the people who work for you.” 

The Quality Inspector heard every word.

Snodgrass took extreme care as he pulled each skin out of its cubby and briefly examined them in the crappy light and he still got dinged for damaged skins.

One of the other operators asked why he was looking at the skins after he pulled them out of the cubby. He explained that he was looking to see if they were coming in damaged.

“No point in looking” the operator said. “We don’t have good ones to replace them so you have to install what is shipped or the people down-line cannot finish the build.”

Snodgrass realized that the parts had been shipped in-sequence because the vast array of options made it impossible to have bins of skins staged next to the line. Apparently, the order schedule was transmitted off-site and a third party selected the correct skins and filled the cubbies to match the build. That was something Snodgrass could investigate later.

Snodgrass had to answer as many alarms as he had on Saturday but the supervisor was respectful. The interaction were civil but distinctly chilly.

Snodgrass had not stayed late on Saturday night. None of the people he hoped to contact would be at work.

Today, he didn't have the stomach for drilling into the problem. He wouldn't even know where to start and he had a distinct lack of motivation given managment...his own team's perfidy.

After the debriefing meeting with Paula and Matthias, Snodgrass wandered down-line as second shift continued to build product. Eventually, he got to the repair area next to the final battery of product quality inspections.

Every station was crammed with damaged "skins".

He watched the repair person trim out the damaged material and then mask off the area with tape. Then the repair person gently troweled in a latex material with the consistency of toothpaste. He smoothed it out with a soft rubber spatula and then used the ends of the bristles on a brush to gently poke the surface to mimic the grain of the surrounding material.

He did this to each of the three scars on the panel he was repairing, using a virgin brush on each repair. When he was done, he called a product mover to collect the product and put it in the aging chamber to allow the latex to dry and cure under optimal conditions.

"Fussy work, no?" the repair person said as the mover wheeled the repaired job away.

"I couldn't do it" Snodgrass agreed.

"You would be surprised at what you could do, with training and enough time. But I gotta admit, some people have more of a knack than others."

"By the way, my name is Bernie, what's yours?"

"My name is John Snodgrass" Snodgrass said.

"Do you have a nickname?" Bernie asked. "If you don't have one it is only a matter of time before somebody hangs one on you and you might not like it."

"Nope. I never really had a nickname. There isn't much you can do with John and after a few fights in school nobody did the obvious with my last name" Snodgrass said.

"Is the repair area always this crowded?" Snodgrass asked.

"Nope. They are offering every repair person 12 hours a day and all day Sunday to keep up and it is a losing proposition" Bernie said.

"Like the 'skin' I was working on. It cannot be repaired while the unit is going down the line and it is a fussy repair."

"Thing is, I can get a pretty good color match and I learned to make the brush marks just a little deeper than the base material to match the grain but it just doesn't feel right."

"Quality looks the other way. They know we are doing the best we can and the dealers are screaming for the product" Bernie said. He looked sad that he could not make a perfect repair.

Snodgrass knew that the supplier for the skins was maxed out for production. They were stressed simply meeting the production requirements and producing an additional 20% for repairs was simply out of the question.

Next Installment


  1. Interesting turn of events. my junior high vice principal was Mr. Snodgrass. (Boogerweed) He was a nice man, tough nickname though.

    I can't believe how easy it is to lose sight of why you are in business. Our CEO said once our job was to get a good return on investment for the stock holders. When I learned to run a cultivator, you couldn't look back and expect to do anything but run over plants. You kept your eyes ahead to maintain your alignment. I thought the CEO was looking at the wrong end of the process. Still do.

    1. @STxAR - you didn't happen to go to school in East Tennessee, did you? I had a HS Principal with that last name and the students called him Boogerweed too. I'm that guy's age or even older now, so I don't want to think about the names the students would have for me if I were somehow in his place now.

      Tom from East Tennessee

    2. Nope, I have a lot in common with that part of the world though. Lots of kin from there abouts. I have an accent that fits better there than here.

      Oh, It was Smiley Wilson in Lubbock, TX. We would sit on the sidewalk after lunch, dipping snuff. He'd ease up on us and ask us how the day was going. We'd say "Hey, Mr. Snodgrass. It's a good day, how about you?" and he'd say "Yes boys, it is..." and mosey on by. 1975 was a different world...

  2. I was filling the tank on the Ohio Turnpike, and the county registrar name on the weights and measures certificate was T. Obediah Snodgrass. I've aways wondered what his 1st name was to go with that middle name instead.