There can be more than one right solution to a problem, even when those solutions contradict each other.


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Do you remember when your children first tried using reverse psychology on you? When my children were younger and wanted to get their way, they'd declare "Oppositeland" to try to turn my "no" into a "yes." After a year or so of visiting shops and industry shows, I'm convinced that we sometimes live in a bipolar, starkly divided world of differences—Oppositeland. Consider the following:

More coolant vs. less coolant. More is better, right? Everybody knows more coolant is better.

At PMPA's 2004 National Technical Conference, representatives from Chipblaster, Inc. made a well-received presentation regarding the use of more coolant in the company's system. And yet, I have spoken to people that have either piloted, implemented or are in the later stages of developing minimum- quantity lubrication or near-dry machining. Which is right? This extreme difference in approaches proves that the saying, "There is more than one right answer" is more true than ever.

Lean manufacturing vs. fatter production. Everyone knows that lean manufacturing is the way to go, right? If it works for Toyota, Motorola and GE, it must be the proper way to manufacture. But I have recently visited shops that are taking advantage of the lower prices of used equipment. The reason for buying this equipment is to fatten their production systems by having a machine for each of their repeat jobs.

When the job is finished, the shop employees simply disconnect the machine and move it out of the way. When a repeat order comes in, the machine is moved back in place and production is resumed. The time it takes to move the machine in and out of the production area is a small fraction of the time required for a setup. As a result, shops doing periodic repeat jobs on used equipment often recover their capital cost by the second or third production run.

New technology vs. innovating with traditional equipment. Speaking of used equipment, how about those who insist that new technology is the only way to compete in today's market? It is easy to see how implementing new technologies can help in achieving customers' demands for greater precision and zero defects.

On the other hand, the accomplishments of Vanamatic and many other member shops show that using existing technology can be just as effective. These companies use traditional equipment but continually innovate and improve their processes. They make a convincing case that "it's not the technology, it's the innovation" that is successful.

Zero defects vs. reality. Zero defects is another issue with two firmly entrenched camps. We all know that it is impossible to get to zero defects and single-digit parts-per-million (ppm) performance. Yet, I can name several shops where zero defects was the documented performance and low, single-digit ppm was achieved over periods of several years. Who wants to fly on a plane with a nonconforming part?

SPC vs. 100 percent inspections. It's not just our industry that lives in Oppositeland. Wasn't it our customers who were the first to insist that we employ Statistical Process Controls (SPC) and eliminate inspections? Isn't it those same customers who today send us one-way directives insisting that we "100 percent inspect" all production (at no additional cost to them, of course) for political reasons, rather than a process basis?

The bottom line is that there is no right way to accomplish any of the above-mentioned objectives. You—our industry's ever-vigilant managers, engineers, estimators, toolmakers, machinists and other shop professionals—have spent the last year making a difference and an important difference it seems to be.

It goes to show you that while you can't teach an old dog new tricks, it's never to late to learn.