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Engineering Flashbacks - They design it, we fix it...


Gonzo

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Engineering Flashback

Let’s just assume you’re one of the engineers who designs part of the modern automobile. Your job is to follow the guide lines and concept ideas the other engineers have put together. All you have to do is make whatever component or section you’re assigned fit into the space provided. You also have to keep the cost down and keep in mind the design restraints. Then, make sure it can be manufactured in such a way it can easily be installed and sent down the assembly line at the quickest pace possible.

I’m sure it’s a nerve-racking job. So much pressure is put on you to come up with something that will work, easy to assemble, and cost effective. You’ve strained your brain to come up with something, worked long hours to design it, built the prototype, and checked the results. You’re positive it will work. Now, it’s all up to the guys and gals on the assembly line to get it put together and out the door.

This time around, let’s pretend you’re the consumer. You’ve checked out this latest model and it’s just what you were looking for. It’s got the right styling, the right size, and it’s in your price range. So, you buy it. Ya take it home and enjoy the comforts of owning your brand new car. Then, several years go by. You’ve almost got it paid off and hoping for a few years without car payments. But, all of a sudden you’ve got car problems. You’ve followed the maintenance schedule to the letter, but something has still gone wrong. It’s out of warranty, which means it’s not going to be free, but you’ve got to get it repaired. You can’t fix it; in fact you don’t have any idea what is wrong. But, your favorite mechanic will. So, it’s off to the repair shop to have it diagnosed.

Let’s change gears again. Now we’re the mechanic. You get the car into the shop, you run the needed diagnostic tests, and find out that a little bitty part buried behind the dash has failed. The only way to get to it is removing the entire dash. Before diving into the nuts and bolts side of it, you’ve got to call the customer. This is not going to be an easy call, because you know the labor cost alone is not going to make for a happy car owner, for sure. You give them the figures for the R&R and there is a moment of gasps and shock. Then, reality settles in, and the owner tells you to go ahead with it.

Now, we’re back to being the engineer. Reports start coming in about how this little bit part that you designed and stuck inside the dash is failing left and right. The amount of backlash from all these repairs from all over the country are flooding your desk. What can you do about it? Probably nothing. Other than not designing anything like that again. So, you keep your head to the grindstone and persevere. Onto your next project. But, the memory of that little bitty part behind the dash haunts you day and night. In fact, you might even have flashbacks of the numerous reported failures, and you certainly don’t want to relieve that again.

This time around you’re asked to design a similar system on the latest car from the concept team. Those flashbacks of that little bitty part you stuck behind the dash is still fresh on your mind. This time, you’ve changed the design a bit so that same issue doesn’t happen again. Or, at least you hope not.

We’re back to being the consumer again. This time you’ve done your homework and looked at the new models to replace your present car. You’ve also kept in mind that huge repair bill for some silly little bitty part that could have been easily repositioned somewhere else. You’d like to avoid anything like that on your next new car. You talked in great detail about it to your salesman and he assures you there isn’t any problem like that anymore. If anyone would know about the inner workings of the modern car it would be the guy selling it to you right? With the salesman’s stamp of approval you write that check for your new car, and off you go to enjoy your new ride.

It’s the mechanics turn to return to the mix. That new car is now a few years old and it’s having problems. This time it’s a different problem than before, but the cost of the repair is even higher. It seems our engineering friend forgot to think of how many things are overlapping and concealing the components he designed. Simple things like changing a headlamp bulb require an afternoon at the repair shop. The anti-lock brake system is incorporated with the cruise control. The air conditioning system is aware of the exhaust fumes from the car in front of you and automatically regulates the fresh air dampeners. Radar systems, GPS, and so on and so on. Nothing is even remotely simple anymore, and nearly everything costs more than it should. The mechanic has to spend even more time in training classes keeping up with what the engineers are designing, as well as dealing with the next shock and awe from the customer over the price of repair.

And you wonder why a mechanic rolls their eyes back in their head when you bring a car in with a certain type of problem. Yep, they’re having flashbacks of pulling the dash to get to that little bitty part.

The flashbacks of these engineering designs continue. I don’t know about you, but I think the only person who might really know what’s happening in the real world when it comes to your car is the mechanic. The consumer has to pay the bill, the engineers try their best to design it, and the salesman does what he does. It all adds up to job security for the mechanics, they’re the ones keeping those little bitty things behind the dash working. In all honesty, the consumer might want to ask a mechanic about that new car or even used car they’re planning to purchase rather than the salesman or the engineer. They’re the ones who deal with the aftermath of the salesman’s claims and the engineer’s designs.

The engineer, the consumer, the salesman, or the mechanic. Who’s going to have the most flashbacks of these design debacles? Well, for me, it’s the mechanic. They’ve got to deal with the problems created by the engineering, the customer, and the salesman. Now, if the engineers wanted to really find out something about their little bitty part behind the dash, just put a few mechanics in the same room with a few of those engineers. That might make for one colossal flashback they’ll never forget.


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If you have ever done an evaporator on a Mercedes S class from the early to late 90s w140 chassis (ie: 95 s500) you will be astonished at the engineering and the ammount of things you have to do to get it out. I believe it used to pay 24hrs or something like that. I have done one and can almost guarantee I will never do one again.

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It all comes down to cost versus profit. When I worked at Chrysler we did evaporators in Trucks and Grand Cherokees with regualarity. When I asked an engineer at a training class why they didnt change the design I was told the cost of repalcement was still below the cost of redesign.

So, it's cost effective design it crappy and let us mechanics deal with the aftermath? Nice.... thanks engineers for the work and the ticked off customer who has to pay for your lousy design. Which of course, the customer thinks we're the ones ripping them off. Where's that engineer at? .........

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I've always kinda wanted to punch the engineer responsible for the lock rings on Beetle headlights...

It's no fun telling the customer that it's going to be at least an hour and they need a new lock ring for a light bulb that's probably like 10 minutes or less by the book.

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Had to do an evaporator on a Saturn Vue. By the time I got it out there was nothing between the back seats and the firewall. The center console came apart in 8 pieces. Just finished a flasher on an 02 vette. Have to remove the top part of the dash because the flasher comes out the back.grrrrr

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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