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Monday, November 13, 2006

Bill And Dave Are Dead - new website

Bill And Dave Are Dead has moved to a new website location. This site will continue to serve as a mirror/backup for now but for future reference the new web address is:

http://billanddave.wordpress.com/

I'm still getting used to the new site over at Wordpress and getting things tweaked proper so it might be a few days before I'm back to regular updating. No worries though, lots of stuff is in the pipeline so stay tuned...

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*update 12.13.06*
Things over at the Wordpress version of Bill And Dave Are Dead have been going well since making the move. Thanks to those of you who have updated their blog links to point to the new site. I was considering back-posting the new stuff here, but I'm thinking this will remain only as an archive instead. Drop by the new site if you haven't already and check it out.

*update 12.29.06*
Well, hope you all had a good holiday season. I just got back from visiting relatives after a two week trip. Had a pretty good time with them, this was the first Christmas in the last couple of years that started to feel like something special again, like it meant something. Much needed change at long last. New Year's Eve is going to be a real bash for me this time around and 2006 was a pretty good to me. Hope most of you folks out there can say the same thing when '06 is over with this Sunday night.

Wordpress has been great to work with for Bill And Dave Are Dead. During the switch a while back everything was transferred to the new website with the exception of photographs. For some reason the Wordpress scraping tool didn't grab them. It only took a hotlink back to Blogspot here and after a couple of days they disappeared from view. Spent some time today manually moving the shots, resizing them for the new layout, plus added many more new ones. Additional stuff is on the way.

Be cool and have a good 2007.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Defective Instrument Covers

During this past summer after B-rad and Garden Gnome were kicked out due to a vicious round of employee layoffs, I began to notice something strange happening with our outer instrument covers. Many of them wouldn't fit properly on instrument chassis anymore. The outer protective instrument cover is made of aluminum sheet metal and riveted along a seam on the bottom side. Once they're fabricated the covers are shot with a light grey paint. Until recently all of our sheet metal work was being produced by American companies many of which were located within a few hours drive of our factories. That meant shipments were usually prompt. If we discovered any defects or problems we could have rework performed by these metal shops sometimes with a same-day turnaround time. Things were going well enough with sheet metal parts until the offshoring bug caught on with our corporate management team.

Management killed off business with established local metal shop companies and shifted the work to Penang, Malaysia claiming it was significantly cheaper to send that work halfway around the world. I am not sure they factored in operational costs like air freight, customs, truck delivery, etc. They were looking at bottom line dollars which turned out to be exactly $18 per instrument cover less than having them built in the U.S. After adding in shipment costs though I'm certain that cheaper price from Malaysia probably wasn't as great a savings.

So. The Malay take over producing these parts. Meanwhile a former company performing this work for us located just an hour and a half drive North of here in Willits, Ca. loses our business and starts to lay their people off. Weeks later I begin to receive new stock from the Malaysian metal shop and guess what? Most of those outer covers don't fit on our instruments. They just don't fit. To install one, you rotate a unit on it's cart until the front panel is facing toward the floor and you load the cover on from the instrument's rear panel. Normally an outer cover should slide easily over the whole box and fit snugly against the front panel frame. With these new covers you're lucky if you can make it halfway on a unit before it seizes along the instrument chassis. Some of them have been stuck so badly I've had to cut them off with heavy tin snips.

Initially I wasn't sure the outer covers were the problem. Possibly there was something wrong with a batch of instrument chassis. To rule that out I had to involve some of our mechanical engineers and waste their time getting to the root cause.

All of our Quality Assurance people have been laid off so there are no more incoming inspections performed on parts as they arrive from vendors. That means we don't find out that there is a problem until new stock is on the line being used to make end of month shipments. Then it's too late. I've had to scrap out nearly 50% of incoming instrument covers not only because the mechanical dimensions are out of spec and hence don't fit properly on units, there's a bunch of other stupid shit causing problems with them. Since I am the only person inspecting this stuff when it shows up I am the first and only employee opening each case of covers. So far I have discovered brand new outer covers inside cases that have been completely dented to hell, deep scratches in the paint, incomplete paint jobs, and covers that were formed backwards so the rivets are on the inside instead of outside where they belong. Occasionally as a bonus when opening cases of covers I get crushed jungle lizards and strange looking tropical insects.

American-built covers were nearly always within spec and generally, cosmetically perfect.

Reworking these parts instead of scrapping them is not an option. The time it would take to repackage them and ship them all the way back to Malaysia is too great. Also there is no guarantee they would be able to turn them around and re-ship them back here in a reasonable amount of time. The Malay already have a very long lead time for sending us brand new instrument covers. Scrapping them takes each part out of active inventory and triggers another order for outer covers automatically. This is more expedient so that's what we do. Keep in mind that with every instrument cover I ditch, the per unit cost goes up. Dealing with this crap wastes a considerable amount of my time every damn day which impacts my ability to meet customer order deadlines. Believe me, this isn't the only stupid fucking problem I've got on my hands right now thanks to all this offshoring and subcontract bullshit.

Factory Peasant vs. Miss Auschwitz: Round Two

Got word from Big Dog today that Miss Auschwitz poked her nose into the Ergo Lift situation. I am unsure what provoked this or how she heard about our area trying to ditch the lift here when we leave. She must still come out here sneaky like to snoop around. Apparently she has discovered that I don't want it coming along for the ride to the other site location. She is going to force us to ship the Ergo lift machine up there by claiming some kind of safety violation if we aren't operating it on a daily basis. Big Dog was unhappy about this because he doesn't want the Ergo lift taking up available space in the back of a Bekins truck and he is well aware we don't have room for it on the shop floor. Plus he's already got a ton of more important things to be worrying about instead of this stupidity. It's especially frustrating because we know that machine is pure dead weight.

Miss Auschwitz is definitely still angry over the beat down I served her concerning those two storage racks a couple months ago. She is craving revenge. Figures. I mean, I knew this was going to happen eventually but I did not foresee her throwing a wrench at me again for quite a long while. Miss Auschwitz just doesn't learn. Like a bad skin rash, she keeps coming back. Guess I underestimated her a little bit on that one. Not sure how I am going to deal with Miss Auschwitz this time. Have to give it some careful thought to come up with a decent method of thwarting her again. Hopefully I can shut her down and burn Miss Auschwitz worse than last time, killing two birds with one stone. Perhaps for the time being I will play along with her bullshit and let Miss Auschwitz think she's left me with no options. Miss Auschwitz can think to herself that the Ergo lift will be back in use when we move.

Well, here we go again...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ergo Lift

Most of us are jettisoning excess equipment and gear in preparation for moving out of this facility. With only a few weeks left to get ready for relocating, things have taken on a greater sense of urgency. There are a few items I would like to somehow accommodate for in my floor plan but no matter how creative I am with it there just isn't enough free square footage. I do happen to have one large item I am entirely looking forward to abandoning though. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

It's the damned Ergo lift. That eyesore is such a useless hunk of garbage.

B-rad told me a story about that junk pile. The engineer who invented it from scratch apparently spent months coming up with the design. Built out of sturdy aluminum beams, thick black acrylic plates, and operated by pneumatic actuators; the Ergo lift turned out to be as useful as a bucket full of holes. Heavy white plastic air hoses weaved in and out of the lift's frame as if someone had thrown a handful of limp spaghetti at it. Standing over seven feet tall that goofy piece of machinery looked like a cross between an Erector Set on steroids and a Borg drone.

Engineers who work in the Ergonomics department frequently go way overboard designing elaborate overkill solutions to problems a little common sense would easily take care of. This case was no different. The initial problem arose from employees who complained they had difficulty being able to physically lift an eighty five pound instrument off of a cart and place it onto a small rolling table for shipment.

Instead of training employees to use what I refer to as a "leveraged lift" where you simply use the weight of the instrument to safely pivot it off a cart and on to a table, someone whined to the Ergo department. Then it became a big deal. The engineer assigned to investigate and produce a fix for this issue wasted tons of time and money in my opinion. Eventually, he built a dangerous contraption that nobody wanted to use. The Ergo lift is unstable when it has any weight placed on it's work surface. When an assembler activated controls to raise or lower the platform it seemed slow to respond, quickly bogged down, and upon stopping the lift surface it would bounce a few times before completely coming to rest. It freaked out female employees in particular. So the Ergo lift was pushed aside and left to collect dust.

One afternoon when that dunce of an engineer walked by our area he noticed we weren't using his precious mechanical abomination. He questioned us about why it wasn't in operation. Somebody explained to him that using it was risky and that it didn't work properly. Rather than offer to redesign the lift or at the very least attempt to inspect it for defects, the jerk blew his stack. He threatened to have employees fired if we refused to operate it. I don't think he cared for a second that someone might get themselves hurt using it. That wasn't his concern. His ego was bruised so he lashed out. Also, if word got back to the Ergonomics department that his equipment had turned out to be less than satisfactory he might end up in some kind of trouble. To cover his ass he wanted to force us into compliance. His temper tantrum caused a further backlash and hardened employees' resolve to not use the lift. No one was fired though and for the past year or so I haven't seen a single person operate it.

I'm leaving that shit heap behind when we move out. I hope maintenance workers drag the Ergo lift to the recycling center where it will meet a grisly death, parted out and crushed for scrap metal.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Giving Up

Talk about getting nowhere fast. I've been running around in circles for nearly six months investigating our military orders coming from overseas. No one working for US Government agencies that I contacted has given me a straight answer concerning whether or not we are allowed under federal law to assemble and test US military orders in Malaysia. Complicating matters further, the company website that hosts all of our GSA contracts with the Government hasn't been updated since August. Most of those GSA contracts expired during the month of August and without current versions I have no idea if Malaysia has been cleared for military work or not. Existing documents don't mention Malaysia at all and Singapore is still the only approved site in Asia for sensitive customer orders.

I have successfully spied for months on our Malaysia instrument production remotely thanks to a few Stateside employees who gave me their database account logins. I can say with certainty that we are in fact building and testing many US military orders in the Malay division far in excess of an alleged 49% limit on manufacturing imposed there. The remaining 51% of each instrument must be completed in Singapore. What actually happens is nearly 100% of every box we produce in Asia is manufactured in Malaysia. Then it is shipped to Singapore where workers there alter instrument serial numbers to make them look like they are Singapore-built units. I'm convinced we are breaking the law but without a proper legal framework or documentation stating what the law actually is, I have no grounds to make an accusation against this company.

My experiences with US Government employees regarding this issue have been totally negative. None of them had any worthwhile information to provide me with or showed any interest. It has been a real eye-opener for me as to how dysfunctional and broken the Government appears to be. I'm amazed anything gets done at all in this country with clowns like that running things. At this point since none of those Government employees give a shit about military rated orders being produced in a country that should be off-limits I guess I won't give a shit about it either. Fuck it. I'm tired of wasting my time trying to do something about it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Master Of Floor Space

Big Dog and I went over a proposed floor layout for our department. We're moving across the county to one of our older factory sites. It's a little confusing because we currently are located in building 2 Lower here and this move will dump us in building 2 Lower over there. Does that make any sense? Probably not. Anyway in our current location we have more square footage than we could ever possibly use. It's been a luxury to spread out and get some distance between us. At the new spot it looks like they're trying to cram us into the smallest amount of space imaginable. It's not going to work well for us. Big Dog has already raised a number of important issues with management concerning this lack of available factory real estate but each time they send him away without listening to him. We realize it's going to be a tight fit.

Each product line or department in this company is treated like it's own little individual business. We have to pay the company every month for our electricity, phone bill, rent, etc. The rent is based on a fixed rate per square foot. Since things are financially in a downward spiral nobody wants to pay much for expenses if they can somehow get away with it. So that's what is driving this mad dash to consolidate us into a tiny allocation of floor space. Less square feet for our department means cheaper rent. Corporate is also in a rush to close as many US manufacturing sites as possible to sell them for quick revenue. Can you say "Shareholder Value?" Super Geek sure can!

I've had to make some concessions in order for MI/EI to work. Big Dog asked me to give up some equipment. Instead of moving six technical workbenches I am going to abandon two of them here along with some office furniture and shelving. The other thing I just don't have any room or use for is that damned pneumatic Ergo Lift piece of shit. That dangerous eyesore is going to be ditched here as well. I am not being given enough room anyway. I'm the only person currently working in the Button Up area so why in the hell would I need six workbenches for one employee? B-Rad is supposedly coming back soon as a temporary worker which is great news. That will take up one more bench and give us some desperately needed help.

A potentially serious problem with our new area is the floor tiles in that building are electrically hot. Real hot. We measured it for static electricity and resistance recently, and those tiles are poison for sensitive electronic devices. Even with a coating of special wax that is supposed to help electrically ground the tiles and dampen static discharges our test data shows it's far out of tolerance. In order to stay in compliance with our internal company ESD policy and meet ISO:9000 requirements we must do something to find a solution. Ripping out the floor tiles to expose bare concrete would greatly reduce electrical resistance and static charge buildup. Nobody with management authority wants to take on the cost and pay a construction crew to do the work though. Typical.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Planning A Move

Looks like this place is dust just like the rumors said it would be. In a few weeks we will be relocating our entire manufacturing division to another site in the county. Our home base here will be vacated and put up for sale. The Bossman has elected me to prepare all of MI/EI's equipment for the move and come up with a floorplan for my area to use at the other factory location. A decent floorplan layout won't be too difficult. Actually I'm more concerned about securing all of my gear and packing the workbenches to load them on trucks. Every move I've been through here has been a serious pain in the ass. Usually the hassles that erupt during a site to site move are caused by our own idiot employees. They fail to properly label or mark where items are supposed to go, who they belong to etc. So shit goes missing. Or they don't pack critical items securely enough and then stuff inevitably is damaged.

I have six technical workbenches, three test stations, and a variety of random equipment and office furniture to concern myself with. That's nothing compared to what the folks up in assembly or over in forward flow test are going to have to handle.

In theory relocating an instrument line should be straightforward and simple. The floorplan is created with each individual test system and workbench being assigned a corresponding number. Everything is labeled according to the floorplan layout prior to leaving on trucks. We pack our equipment and then professional movers come in to haul it all away. They use the floorplan numbers to properly drop our stuff in right spots at the other factory. Once that is accomplished we arrive shortly afterward and begin the process of unpacking equipment and firing up all our test systems.

Never seems to work out that way.

Big Dog has been tapped on the shoulder by the boss to be the floorplan master. I have to hang out with him to see how many square feet of real estate at the other site I'm being given to work with. He's been real busy lately so I don't know when he might have some free time to sit down with me and yap about it. Should be cool, we get along well together. I don't expect any weirdness or headaches from dealing with him. I'm sure there will be plenty of other oddball junk issues that will mess everything up though before we're finished.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crossdressing Halloween Horrors



Last year Greasy Guy showed up to work on Halloween dressed as what he called a "Female Soviet Wrestler." He wandered around all four buildings in the factory showing himself off. As I recall, coworkers warned me when I started my shift that afternoon so I was ready. When Greasy Guy finally located me in the chamber area dealing with a test system that had completely barfed he hovered off my left shoulder until I acknowledged his presence. He had a big shit eating grin on his face and the only thing I said to him was "Get the fuck away from me."

This year has been far more horrible. Greasy Guy ratcheted the eye-burning nightmare up a few notches by coming in to work dressed as Little Bo Peep. Ugh.

Some of us here are considering if there is an underlying personal problem, maybe this is a kind of cry for help from Greasy Guy. Crossdressing on Halloween once can be overlooked but doing it two years in a row is starting to make us wonder. Perhaps there is more crossdressing going on at home? Employees are speculating this is the case.

I've seen some terrible crossdressing costumes over the years here on the job at Halloween. Probably one of the all time worst was when Mr. Fussy appeared walking the hallways at work dressed in a sexy French maid outfit complete with spiked high heels and fishnet stockings. Just thinking about that mental image still makes me cringe. I enjoy spreading the hate. Every once in a while I will describe Mr. Fussy's French maid costume to fellow employees who knew him while they have a mouthful of food at lunchtime and watch them promptly spit up their grub. It never fails.