A long days’ journey into Azerbaijan

On his return trip from a recent trade show in Bangalore, India, editor Bob Vavra's flight took a couple of unexpected turns, increasing what was already an 18-hour flight to a two-day affair. While not a harrowing experience by any means, the trip afforded some object lessons that, when applied to manufacturing, are definitely food for thought.

01/01/2009


The long, strange trip from Bangalore, India to Chicago takes 18 hours in the air and a couple more on the ground transitioning from plane to plane and gate to gate. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

If everything worked the way it was supposed to, you’d have little need for tutorials or training or maybe even your favorite manufacturing magazine. In the recognition that some things go wrong sometimes comes the desire by the best manufacturers to make sure things go better the next time.

Which wasn’t my first thought when the pilot of our British Airways flight came on the intercom to tell us we’d be landing shortly to deplane a Norwegian passenger who had developed a life-threatening condition. So 30 minutes later, we were landing at a one-runway airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, on the western edge of the Caspian Sea.

What initially went wrong was one of those things no one predicts. What followed were some object lessons for manufacturers on ways to overcome those things you can’t predict, and to better predict the things that might come up as a result.

For example, there was no one at the Baku airport who knew how to fuel a Boeing 747 jet. Which brings us to Lesson #1: Cross-train your staff. In these tight times, it’s important to get as much as you can out of your talent. If staff sizes are strained, you have to make sure that everyone is versatile. Had someone at Baku been cross-training on the care and fueling of the 747, we might have gotten out of there a couple hours earlier.

And then the pilot and purser had to leave the plane to go pay for the fuel. Really. Lesson #2: Work with your suppliers and make them partners in your organization. Baku is clearly not on British Airways’ normal routes, but you’d have thought someone would have called someone to say, “Send me an invoice and I’ll pay it right away.”

After the paperwork and payment and such were completed, we roared down the runway and were back in the air to London. And we might have gotten there in time to make the connecting flight to Chicago, except that the delay in Baku had pushed the British Airways flight crew past its allotted flying time for the day. So we headed for Frankfurt, and another three hours on the ground. The problems kept going downhill, but the solution should have been clear to someone before we got to Frankfurt.

Lesson #3 is one I’ve mentioned before: whether you practice predictive or preventive maintenance, either is better than break-fix. If stopping in Frankfurt couldn’t have been prevented, it could have been predicted, and a new flight crew could have been waiting for us on the ground when our plane touched down in Germany. Instead, we waited again.

Once we got into Heathrow, what followed was fairly remarkable, especially from a customer service standpoint. British Airways secured us a room at a nice hotel with a hot meal waiting for us, complimentary breakfast the next morning, a shuttle bus back to the airport, a ditty bag with toiletries in case and an automatic rebooking on the next available flight out of town.

Lesson #4 often gets overlooked: If you screw up in front of a customer, don’t screw up further by looking for excuses. All our needs were taken care of promptly and without having to ask for anything. It was an expensive mistake, but cost wasn’t the factor.

The next morning broke foggy and gray in London. No one seemed surprised. By mid-afternoon, we were airborne again and heading home. The Boeing 777, like the flight on the 747, was smooth and crisp and painless. The trip took a lot longer because we were flying into a 75 mph headwind, but you’d never have known it inside the plane, which didn’t move an inch off dead level for eight hours.

Which brings me to the final lesson. It’s one you already know. Lesson #5: great engineering and great operations can smooth out the rough spots. The plane was wonderfully engineered and was being operated beautifully. The customer service on the flight was flawless for everyone. The flight operated the way every manufacturing plant should operate %%MDASSML%% with an eye toward excellent execution, excellent efficiency and excellent service toward the end user.

Bob Vavra’s blog, Five Fast Things, can be found at www.plantengineering.com





No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Bring focus to PLC programming: 5 things to avoid in putting your system together; Managing the DCS upgrade; PLM upgrade: a step-by-step approach
Balancing the bagging triangle; PID tuning improves process efficiency; Standardizing control room HMIs
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.