Biscuits, They're not Just for Breakfast

Posted on Monday, May 19, 2014 in UEA Blog

My father-in-law enjoys woodworking as a hobby. Part of his collection of equipment is a biscuit joiner. For those unfamiliar with the trade, this is used when edge gluing boards. Semi-circular slots are cut in the edge of a board and then the “biscuits”, elliptical shaped wafers of wood, are inserted when gluing to strengthen the joint.

My wife had been asked to pick up some biscuits for her father while on a trip to the local, everything you might ever need or want, home supply store. Trying unsuccessfully to locate the product, she was approached by a store “associate” asking if he could be of assistance. She replied that she couldn't find the biscuits. His response was…

“Did you look in the refrigerated section?”

Needless to say she was not impressed by his helpfulness or education.

What does this have to do with United Equipment Accessories, or any other manufacturer? I think it is more relevant to just about any business today than most are willing to admit. Todays' business environment is struggling to balance the need to train and educate employees to be effective while trying to minimize the training and education necessary to do the task at hand. After all, training takes time and resources at a substantial cost. So instead, do you create automated systems, to reduce human interaction with the process? Or do you author highly detailed work instructions for each and every possible task and condition? Either of these choices require substantial up-front costs for development and implementation, if they are to be successful. Not to mention that as dynamic as business is today, both will be in need of constant evaluation and update.

There are numerous arguments and justifications for either of the above scenarios, but how does the true investment cost balance out compared to training and education. As with anything it will all vary depending on the particular process or application. Making the decision between the investment in training of personnel or in “idiot proofing” the process is a tough call. What if we get a person trained and then they leave? What if we invest heavily automating a process and then the market changes and we no longer produce that product.

When do you concentrate on training and when do you put the emphasis on process automation/simplification? This all has to make sense with the balance of investment vs. the achievable gains and is different for each situation and process. United Equipment Accessories prides itself on being a manufacturer of custom electrical slip rings and hydraulic swivels, able to meet the diverse needs of a worldwide customer base. We really don't have a production line per se. Our products are built to customer order, and each is a little, or sometimes a lot different than the next. So the challenges mentioned above are being evaluated on a near daily basis to constantly try to be more effective at supplying the customers' needs at a reasonable price. In some cases automation is the answer. Others need better work instructions and in some cases the need for thorough and extensive training is the only logical action.

One last thing to ponder, by trying to minimize training and education are we, as an industry and a nation also in effect reducing “critical thinking”?   Having the ability to reason and make a decision when the event doesn't follow the script or flow chart. For instance, if a customer is in the woodworking tool isle, the “biscuits” they are looking for probably aren't for breakfast.

Kent Davis

Senior Engineer