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A Forklift Load Of Attitude

, , , | Working | September 23, 2021

I work for a small company that services industrial laser cutting machines. Since there are only a handful of us service engineers, most of our clients’ employees know all of us. They also know that I’m the least experienced one by far, having joined the company less than two years ago.

One day, I come to service a client complaining that his machine is suddenly cutting very poorly.

Me: “Good morning. What seems to be the issue?”

The client’s employee, who’s the one usually operating the machine, responds.

Employee: “All was fine until yesterday evening, and then it suddenly started cutting like crap. One of the mirrors must have cracked.”

Older laser cutting machines use moving mirrors to deliver the laser beam to the cutting point, and those do occasionally crack due to overheating.

Me: “This may very well be the case, but I need to do some testing first to see what’s going on.”

Employee: “You’re wasting your time. We’re behind schedule already because of this breakdown. Just check the mirrors.”

I ignore him and do my tests. True to his word, the cutting is, indeed, of unacceptably poor quality, but not evenly so across the cutting area, which suggests an entirely different problem.

Me: “It seems that your mirrors somehow got misaligned, not that one of them cracked.”

Employee: “But you didn’t even open the casings to look at them! And why would the mirrors move? Do you know what you’re doing?”

Me: “I’m not going to open the casings, expose the mirrors to dust, and then spend a couple of hours cleaning them if that’s not the issue. Please, let me do my job.”

The employee leaves for a break while I realign the mirrors. He comes back when I’m just about finished.

Employee: “Are you still with that crap? Why don’t you look at the mirrors already?”

Me: “Just finished. Now, time to verify that the alignment is correct. Please load up any of your programs and try cutting.”

Muttering that I don’t know what I’m doing, he does as I ask. The machine cuts perfectly.

Employee: “Well, I’ll be d***ed. But why would the mirrors move?”

Me: “I don’t know. Did anyone hit them by accident?”

Employee: “Not that I know of. What do you think we are, a bunch of apes? We take care of our machines.”

I’m about to leave it at that and write off the reason for the alignment issue as unknown, but then I decide to have a closer look. I’m glad that I did because I notice that the whole laser generator, which weighs over a ton, is not exactly where it used to be judging by the marks on the dirty floor and the bent bolts that hold it in place. Lightbulb moment.

Me: “[Employee], did anyone, by any chance, drive a forklift into the generator just prior to when you started having issues?”

Employee: *Sheepishly* “Um, yeah. Something like that may have happened yesterday.”

Cue me banging my head on the wall. Thankfully, the manager didn’t write off my conclusions as “inexperience” and agreed to install a barrier to prevent this from happening again.

Email Fail, Part 32

, , , , , | Working | July 7, 2021

Out of the blue, I receive the following email from “service.call.planning” at a well-known home appliance manufacturer’s email address.

Manufacturer Email: “Good afternoon. I have tried to contact you today regarding a visit for your hob, but unfortunately, I was not able to leave a message or speak to you directly. Due to the fact our technician requires parts for the repair, I have rescheduled the appointment for [date]. If for any reason this date is not suitable, please do not hesitate to contact us using the number below.”

It doesn’t look like the usual spam or a scammer. They are clearly trying to contact someone and repair their hob. This customer’s email address is probably similar to mine, as my email address contains a common name.  

I am not the customer they are looking for, though. I am fairly certain of this, not just because I do not need a hob repair, but also because the phone number and web address provided are in the UK; I am in Sydney, Australia.

I do a quick search, and the website and phone number seem legit. I decide to be helpful. However, I have noticed I am usually quite verbose, so I decide to stick just to the relevant facts and requested actions in my reply.

My Email: “Good morning. I believe you have the wrong email address. Would you kindly check your records, please? Kind regards.”

I receive the following response.

Manufacturer Email: “Good morning. Thank you for your following email. I can confirm we have the following address details.”

In their email to me was a screenshot of the full database details of their UK customer, including name, residential address, phone number, and mobile phone number! And, of course, MY email address.

I sent as stern a response as I could manage, letting them know that I had not asked for this information and was upset that they’d sent it to me. I pointed out that they had done the equivalent of receiving a not-at-this-address response, addressing a new letter to the same address, and enclosing a customer’s personal information, except that I did not have the option of returning it unopened. This time, I explicitly requested that they delete my email address from their records. They sent a suitably apologetic response and agreed to do so, and said they’d train the agent responsible for this exchange.

Looking back, I can kind of see how “You have the wrong email address” could have been interpreted as, “I am your customer and you have my email address wrong,” if I hadn’t been EMAILING them from that very address!

Email Fail, Part 31
Email Fail, Part 30
Email Fail, Part 29
Email Fail, Part 28
Email Fail, Part 27

Please Advise So I Can Ignore You

, , , , , | Working | January 7, 2021

I work for a small manufacturing company. I am asked to bring in some improvements to improve certain areas and help reduce customer complaints. This is something I have been doing for years, and I have seen what happens to companies that don’t listen to complaints and those that lost big business because of it, so I am keen to help.

The single biggest complaint? Customers are missing parts. After some investigation, I find that it is because the parts are being counted by hand and people make mistakes. I report back to my boss.

Me: “The biggest complaint is missing parts. It’s costing the company [some hundreds of pounds] in shipping replacement parts. The reason for this is human error.”

Manager: “So, how do you propose to fix this?”

Me: “Simple: they sell scales that will count parts for you. You will make the money back in six months. If you would like to stop all claims, it attaches to a label printer and you could prove each shipment was correct for a few more pennies a shipment.”

Manager: “Fantastic! [Owner] will be pleased. Oh, you’d better check that it’s okay with the operator.”

Me: “The operator who puts the parts into the bags? I can do that. I mean, it will mean fewer complaints and an easier job for them. If I explain that, surely they will be on board.”

Manager: “Err, yeah. Give it a try.”

I leave the office a little shocked. This is a big problem for the company. Customers only stay customers when it is more hassle to change than it is to deal with the issues. Risking it because of an operator having to change slightly? I get the need to keep everyone involved and figure that they will be reasonable.

I explain my suggestion to the worker, being very careful to explain that the issue is not with her but with manual work in general.

Me: “So, what do you think? The scales are easy to use. They may be a little faster, but they’re a lot more accurate.”

Worker: “It won’t work.”

Me: “Are you sure? I have put these systems in place before at other companies. They are literally designed to do this. We could rent a set to give it a try?”

Worker: “It’s too drafty in here. It won’t work; we have tried before.”

I look around at the sealed clean room; no doors or windows are allowed to be open.

Me: “Oh, don’t worry. They can be put in clear boxes, and a little draft can be prevented.”

Worker: “Just drop it, okay? I said it won’t work!”

I can take a hint. I let the manager know the response.

Manager: “Well, that’s a shame. It sounded like a good idea.”

Me: “Wait. We aren’t going ahead? I can prove it will work. H***, I will personally pay for the rental.”

Manager: “Don’t want to upset the team, do we?”

I quit the next month. Don’t employ someone to fix your problems and then not listen to them.

Shout-Out To This Editor’s Bosses For Actually Attending The Meetings!

, , , , , | Working | August 20, 2020

I am a facilities manager for a medium-sized tech company. During a major expansion, we score a new operations director, stealing him away from one of our biggest customers. It should have been a clue that the customer didn’t seem all that upset to have lost him.

It quickly becomes apparent that our new director LOVES meetings. Every morning, all of us managers — about ten of us — have to attend his ops meeting, which never goes less than three hours and often runs over four hours.

In every one of those meetings, some of us are told to schedule new one-on-one meetings with him to discuss items from this meeting. We send the meeting requests, he accepts, and then 98% of the time he fails to appear, usually because he tends to double-, triple-, or quadruple-book and only ever attends meetings he’s scheduled himself in those cases.

One day, about three and a half hours into the ops meeting, an item in my area of responsibility comes up.

Director: “[My Name], why is this back on my agenda?”

Me: “I don’t know. I dealt with that three weeks ago. It was a five-minute fix.”

Director: “I thought I asked you to schedule a meeting with me to go over it.”

Me: “You did. I just figured I’d save you the trouble of standing me up by not scheduling it in the first place.”

That was the last time he ever spoke to me.

He tried to lay me off a few weeks later, but the owners were already on to him. He was given the opportunity to succeed elsewhere, meetings became fewer and further between, and I stayed with the company for about ten more years.

Open-Source Stupidity

, , , , , | Working | August 19, 2020

I am an industrial automation technician in a manufacturing plant and, as such, I write programs for our different systems. We have one of those “know it all” engineers who loves to tell me how to do my job but doesn’t have a clue what it’s about.

As an analogy, he’s a biology engineer and doesn’t know how to use a hammer, but because he adds windshield washer himself in his car, he figures he can tell a mechanic how to repair the transmission.

We get a new machine. It comes all assembled with its own control computer with the program/software they developed. We’re talking a half-million-dollar machine.

The engineer comes to me while the supplier is installing the machine.

Engineer: “Go with them and see how the program is made. It might be helpful.”

Me: “Why? It won’t be of any help. It’s their program and it’s locked. I can’t do anything to it.”

Engineer: “Yes, you can. We bought it.”

Me: “What you bought is the user’s license for it.”

Engineer: “Yes. We have the license, which means that you can modify the program in it.”

Me: “When you get Windows or any other OS, you buy a license. Does it gives you the right to alter it?”

Engineer: “Well… yes, when I install Word or something else, I’m modifying it. We have other machines of the same brand and you program them. Just go and look up their software to get how they program it so you will be able to modify it.”

Me: “That’s not the same. I can’t modify their program because it’s locked, write-protected. I can’t open it without the proper password. It’s their intellectual property. Their copyright. I have no right and no way to even access it. I can install Word but I can’t modify it.”

Engineer: “Yes, you can; we bought the license.”

Me: “The operation license. Not the source code.”

It took me close to half an hour of arguing to make him understand the difference between a proprietary software and an open-source one, or a machine you buy blank and program the way you want to. Even then…

Engineer: “I’ll ask them. Come with me. They’ll tell you.”

Me: “You go on. I have something to finish here first.”

I didn’t follow, and he never talked to me again about it. I guess “they told him.”