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Getting the job done well
There are two things that come to mind when I talk about using the right tool for the job. The first is the 1980 TV show MacGyver, played by Richard Anderson. He could disarm an ICBM using only a paperclip and a wad of chewing gum, including breaking into a top secret facility.
The other image is of a guy working on a car with only a pair of pliers, a screw driver and a machete. You would be amazed at how much you can do with those tools. I know I was.
The problem is in neither scenario are the people using the right tools for the job. And while you might argue that any tool that lets you get the job done is the right tool, I would say that the quality of the job has something to do with the required tools. Just because you can do something does not mean you have done it right or done it well.
Not just another hole saw
Recently we were doing some fabrication work for one of our clients. The control box needed to have three pressure displays, see figure 1. There are many ways to cut a hole in sheet metal. At a base level you could use a drill and file or a drill and a jigsaw. Of course, that would probably scratch the face. And the file would take you forever. You could use a milling machine or a CNC. In the end, I used a shallow hole saw from McMaster-Carr that is designed to cut holes in sheet metal, like the box we were working on. The saw cut a perfectly round hole. It was like cutting cream cheese.
Time is Money
We have all heard the mantra that time is money. You want to use a tool that makes you efficient. So, drilling a hole and using a file is a valid way of making the hole. You could probably spend enough time to make it perfect, but your hourly rate would be ridiculously low. We need good tools because they make us more efficient, by reducing the time we spend on doing a task. Implied is doing the task to an appropriate level of perfection for the job at hand. If you are cutting a part that requires tight tolerances you do it, but if you are cutting a piece of rope you probably don’t need the micrometer.
Money is money
The flip side of this that some tools cost more than others. Your economic efficiency is just as important as your temporal efficiency. When I said you could cut the hole using a CNC this is what I was getting at. If you have a CNC that is not doing anything, it might be worthwhile using it to cut a hole in a box. But buying a $200K machine to cut the hole is absurd. I have gone to extremes to illustrate the point. But when the tools are not that far apart in money the distinction is blurred. The difference is that if you have 100 employees that are all leaning toward the expensive side of inefficacy when choosing their tool, it could put you out of business.
Just what kinds of tools are we talking about?
I’m an electrical engineer. One of my favorite days in my entire career was a day about 10 years ago when, in the course of an 8-hour day, laid out a schematic, wrote c-code firmware and did MIG welding. I have always reveled in work that has a large amount of variety. In doing so, I have been exposed to a great many disciplines and found each one has the need of different and specific tools to do the job they are asked to do. So, when I talk about tools, it could mean a CAD tool (please just use Altium), or fabricating tools or color selection tools for industrial designers. Whatever your discipline, you need to look at the tools you are using and ask the question, “Is this the best tool I can be using?” The answer is a mater of both time and money.
The other kinds of tools
I had a professor in school (Dr. Neil Cotter, University of Utah) who would hand out what you might call an SOP (standard operating procedure) if you were in industry. He called them tools. They were a set of rules, with examples and assumptions needed to do a particular task. They were the instructions you needed to follow to do a certain task. He had a whole collection of these. Whenever he added another one, he would say he added a tool to his toolbox.
This is a great way of looking at life. You want to do things well, but not overdo them. Make your process-tools fit the job you are doing. If you do this you and your company will excel.
I once worked for a company that spent about $50K in meetings in order to tell a customer that they could not put a switch on a box for them. It sounds absurd, but if you look at the salaries of the people in the meetings and the time it took, it literally cost them $50K. Me and one other engineer, could have done the job in a few hours. That is why a small company can respond so well to customer needs, but large companies have a hard time. They cannot think outside the box. They have one way of doing somethings. They have a hammer. If you want to drive a nail that’s great, otherwise you a going to have a bad day.
Remember we come from a long line of toolmakers. Make yours the best you know how to make.
This newsletter is sponsored by Celtic Engineering Solutions LLC, a design engineering firm based out of West Jordan and Murray, Utah, which can be found on the web at: www.celticengineeringsolutions.com. If we can ever help you with your engineering needs please contact us. You can find the newsletter on the company blog, LinkedIn or in your inbox by subscribing. Send your emails to The Celtic Engineer at: [email protected], with the subject line SUBSCRIBE.