Cutting Tool Engineering
May 2009 / Volume 61 / Issue 5

I should have stayed in bed

By Michael Deren

Ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right? A day when you would have been better off staying in bed? Usually, all is right by the next day. But what if those days are strung together for weeks on end?

That can happen when working on a difficult part project, especially a new part. Before the part order is taken, everyone involved gives their input, a process is developed and the necessary machine time is allocated. A purchase order is then cut. Shortly after the project begins, however, each day presents new problems—no matter what. What should you do?

Call all the players together and look at the process from a different point of view. Short meetings are held during the process when problems occur to ensure good parts are delivered, but decisions are made at the post-process meeting to resolve those problems prior to the next order. The following is a short list of topics to discuss at this post-process meeting—or post-mortem meeting, as I like to call it, because it was going to cause the death of me:

  • the customer’s expectations
  • the items that went right
  • the items that went wrong
  • possible solutions, and
  • an evaluation of whether the problems can be corrected in time for the next order.

If it was a new part under development, the customer should be aware there might be problems. Perhaps some of the tolerances were unnecessarily tight or the material was difficult to machine. The customer shouldn’t be surprised if the part doesn’t totally meet print if informed at the beginning.

Did anything go right on the project? Even if it’s only that the material arrived on time, that’s a positive. Maybe certain processes went as planned or even better than expected. You need to find elements that did go correctly; otherwise everyone will feel the entire project was a failure.

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What went wrong? Perhaps not enough stock was left for roughing. Perhaps there were undetected machine or fixturing problems. Whatever the issues, bring them to the forefront so they aren’t an issue on the next order.

Troubleshooting is where these brainstorming sessions typically shine, but only if individuals have an open mind. If the previous process didn’t work, look at changing it. Perhaps part of the process did work, but took longer than it should have. Again, look at changing the process. If a vendor operation changed some positional data, review that with the vendor and find a solution. Should the part been done on a turn/mill machine rather than a lathe and a mill? There can be many questions to address in these meetings.

Can the problems be corrected before the next order? As Star Trek’s Capt. Picard would say, “Make it so!” You can’t afford not to correct the problems. Are you going to make parts out of tolerance again or are you going to eat the costs for a process that takes a lot more time to produce than you quoted? I don’t think so. You need to do whatever it takes to make the parts correctly and profitably.

These meetings are not to assess blame, but to ascertain what went wrong and how to correct it. You have to act quickly many times to meet the next delivery. When customers learn about this post-process meeting and understand that you have solutions in motion for future orders, they will invariably give you the opportunity to redeem yourself. Remember, the agenda should be meeting customer expectations, determining what went right and wrong and devising strategies to correct the problems. CTE

About the Author: Mike Deren is a manufacturing engineer/project manager and a regular CTE contributor. He can be e-mailed at

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