Advanced Manufacturing Engineering (Owner, Design & Development)

30 Apr


It was 1999, just about the end of the year that I got the great news, GE wanted me to lead a group that was building the doors for their new refrigerators in Mexico. I remember the two gentlemen who interviewed me for the job, Mark was managing the quality assurance engineering department, & Steve was heading the advanced manufacturing engineering department in Louisville. Interview was very much based on analyzing my technical ability & understanding what six sigma is expected to deliver, & if I knew what to do to get results in the real world, not what theories are all about.

Even though GE had located & interviewed me directly, Lindsey, their HR manager arranged for me to work through a contract agency as an Advanced Manufacturing Engineer. I was quit excited when I got the job, I got everything I had & moved to Louisville, KY immediately. GE was building the plant in Mexico, in partnership with Mabe, a Mexican company. I was assigned as the owner for developing the new assembly lines producing the “Side By Side” refrigerator doors, Mabe had its own counterpart owner for same project, we were to work together. My office & apartment were in the charming city of Louisville, but I was spending a lot of time in Mexico.

When they hired me, they told me that the reason they were bringing me on board was to oversee the project. The upper management not directly working with the project, was concerned about the success of project, because the budget provided by the program manager, & project managers as the required capital investment for the project was too low!

The unfortunate part was they asked me to report to the project manager directly working on the project! Well, of course I was set for dealing with conflict, & face rejection! It was my job to evaluate the work already in progress, & see what is missing. I decided to do what the people who hired expected of me, instead of pleasing my manager.

First, while I was reviewing the vendor’s quotations, I noticed that the conveyor for the assembly lines would cause quality problems. The Mabe engineers argued with me that they are using that same conveyor in one of their plants & is good enough. I insisted that I knew what I was talking about & like to see the operation that is using the conveyor. Long story short, the plant that was using the proposed conveyor was producing 3 rejects/shift (1200 units); GE wanted 3 reject/year (1,000,000 units). The Mabe engineers liked the fact that I had picked on the issues with the conveyors, & since I had been very nice through the process of proving my point, they made friends with me, but the American side was not quite so happy with the fact that they had to double the budget for the conveyors, GE was providing the budget.

Next issue was that the engineers & project managers had decided to take advantage of cheap labor in Mexico & had left a complex assembly operation that would result to operator fatigue, as well as inconsistent quality to be performed manually. I think that I really put myself in a very bad position with my manager, when I proved that they needed automation for that operation. But, I had to do that, I even consulted Steve who had hired me, he told me to check with other GE plant managers & ask for their advice & they all confirmed that GE had gotten into trouble before, trying to run that operation manually, & it was a very bad idea.

Last problem was one of the molds built for a smaller part inside the door was poorly designed, & parts required a secondary operation that was not quite reliable; So I suggested building another mold, if necessary.

I had accomplished what GE had originally contracted me for, identifying why the budget was too low, & I hoped that since I had proven me skills, I would get to continue as the owner of project, but I am afraid that I had created resentment within the American side of project managers & some engineers, by proving that their work needed improvement, & they needed o go back to higher management, asking for an increased budget.

Upside was that I did a great job in proving my knowledge & skills, downside was that I had no friends at GE & no one backed me up, not even those who hired me, so I did not get to stay with GE!


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