The roar of fighter jets taking off one after another was drowning out the frantic screams of the plane captain running toward me, but the look on his face made it obvious there was a problem. When he reached my launch position on the runway, he only had enough breath left to mutter, "nose gear pin". That was enough. We both spun and observed the last jet of the day, loaded up with bombs and fuel, lifting off the tarmac. The red flag attached to the nose gear safety pin waved at us from the belly of the jet, visible to all but the pilot. He would not get far. Landing gear won't retract with a safety pin installed.
The flight commander (field boss) also had observed the red flag of shame and drove over to discuss it further. The words "nose gear pin" were again muttered to our commander. Fortunately, the afterburner of the fighter jet muted his unsympathetic response.
Seconds later, the rookie fighter pilot radioed the commander that his wheels would not retract and that he would have to abort the bomb run and return to base. The pilot inquired as to what he should now do with the bombs and the fight commander asked him if he knew where I lived. The pilot didn't get the joke and was not at all amused in discovering he would have to land with the bombs still attached to his wings, but was able to do so without blowing up the plane or him.
Immediately following that incident, a position was created called "final check" and posted at the beginning of the runway. We never launched another plane with a safety pin installed.
While maybe not as life threatening (depending upon your boss's demeanor) as planes landing with a load of bombs, it is the simple, basic fundamentals that get overlooked in maintenance shops. Memory lapses cost companies thousands of dollars monthly in unscheduled downtime, lost production, labor hours and tooling usage, and sometimes, the business itself.
Too many molds are set and started, only to be shut down, pulled and returned to the shop to correct something simple that was forgotten, or taken for granted to be "OK" during the final stages of assembly.
As with any job that involves some repetitive maintenance, it becomes easy after awhile to lose focus. But nonetheless it is an issue that demands our attention, and can severely hinder a company's ability to stay competitive. Missed or late production quotas can be economically deadly in today's customer satisfaction oriented environment. And with new molds being designed more complex to include multiple cavities, exotic platings and other technological wizardry, a simple mistake can be catastrophic for both sales and the mold.
The "Final" Solution
So what can we do to address the pitfalls of human nature? Make signs. Big ones…and hang them on the walls of your shop for all to see. Signs that spell out exactly what is required before any mold is tagged "ready for production."
Every mold repair shop should have in place, a designated final check-list that is posted on the wall of the shop, put into the company GOP standards and enforced by the shop supervisor.
At a repair shop I visited this summer, one couldn't help but notice two large (4' x 8') signs hanging prominently on the wall. One was mounted above a door where molds passed through on the way out of the shop and the other right next to the clock—which is always the most observed item in any shop.
The signs contained a list of final check procedures that all repair technicians were responsible for. If a mold came back due to an oversight or unconcerned attitude, the repair technicians left themselves open to disciplinary action, and even worse, the humiliation suffered through the inability to notice and heed the giant sign beside the clock.
Many shops use a formatted checklist specifying actions required and a space for the technician to sign or initial and date that the action was completed. The problem with this method is that the checklist is usually filled out as an afterthought. It becomes just another piece of useless paperwork to most techs because they feel comfortable in remembering what they are supposed to check, and if forgotten now and then … it's "Oh well, we'll get it tomorrow." Check sheets like these are normally filled out and filed long after the mold is finished, closed up and racked or sent back to production.
Technicians are constantly under the gun to get molds repaired and returned as quickly as possible. Posted signs are a much more helpful and effective method to remind them to begin final check proceedings before the mold is closed up and sent out of the shop. The vast majority of skilled trades people want to be good at what they do and respond more favorably to visual reminders than another piece of paper to sign.
Shop signs also can remind the passing shop supervisor to demonstrate the importance of performing final checks by occasionally asking the tech where they are on the list…first or fourth step? and so on.
Figure 1 shows a typical final checklist. It should be made of a hard plastic—not the common foam board or poster board—which is easily damaged. Many print shops use a hard plastic material called Sintra that comes ¼-thick and can resist the occasional projectile shot from an air nozzle during slack times. A sign 36" x 48" long with nine or 10 lines usually has enough room for letters approximately three-inches tall, which is easily legible from the bench in most shops.
You can purchase this size for around $150.00. Signs that are 4' x 8' can be made for around $300.00 depending upon the total number of applied (vinyl) words. If you track, (and you should be) the costs associated with molds returning for missed checks during assembly, the ROI on a sign could be one incident.
As a jet mechanic in the Navy, I learned the importance of working to a set of MIL standards to maintain repair/rebuild consistency of our jets. The military realized long ago that signs and posters on the walls of our hanger decks helped mechanics to remember to perform specific procedures and checks so that we only had to do the job once, and that our pilots could concentrate on the mission … not the plane. And helping to launch those jets off the flight line drove home the unfavorable impact of missing even the simplest of tasks. Working the flight line for molds is no different. Companies cannot afford to have them returning due to simple oversights. Make a sign … and make a difference.