Chennai Journal
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Working on the Line
This is a bit of old news, but sometime back I was in a weeklong training , which included a day working on the line. My team of five was put in the paint shop on what is called the sealer deck. This is where a substance is applied to the joints and overlaps in sheet metal so that no water can get into the car---very important here especially during the monsoons. I found the pictures they gave us, and thought this one was worth posting.

You might think that the paint shop would be very uncomfortable especially since you have to wear coveralls, head covering, and gloves. But in fact, the area is well ventilated and not unpleasant. In fact, it's probably more comfortable than the rest of Chennai these days--today the ambient temperature hit 45 degrees C. (113 degrees F.)!

Compared to other paint shops in other parts of the world, this one, as you might expect, is considerably more manual---a lot of the work we did would be automated elsewhere. And it is not easy. I have never been particularly adept at putting on eyeliner, and that is a bit what applying sealer on a car body resembles---you have to put on just the right pressure and then move the gun very quickly, so you don't waste sealer. After that, you take a brush--that's what I'm doing in the picture--and then spread the sealer between openings and joints so that it creates a water and airtight surface. And then, after you apply the sealer, you pick up and place several sound dampening pads on the floor and posts of the area of the body you are working to keep out wind noise and vibration.

Part of the purpose of the training was to learn shop floor disciplines in quality, process improvement, and cost, so that these techniques can be applied elsewhere in the organization. Although I had worked on the line once years ago, it was a great refresher. The office environment, though typically less disciplined than a plant environment where the line, the parts and the cars have to be choreographed to the second, can benefit a lot from applying some of the rigors of the shop floor--whether it is mapping and taking unnecessary steps out of repetitive processes or looking for even the tiniest cost saving.

Each of us was assigned a trainer who was an expert in the job we were supposed to learn--and who in all honesty was also there to make sure that any mistakes we made got corrected and were not passed on to the next station (or ultimately, the customer). Whether vice president or staff worker, all of us were equal and followed the same rules on the shop floor. Every time I used too much sealer, my trainer would admonish me with "muda." (This is the Japanese word for waste---now common parlance in manufacturing plants throughout the world). And when I didn't quite get all the sealer brushed to her exacting standards, she would patiently but firmly show me once again, and then remind me that this defect could lead to "customer problem." After a day on the line, all of us working on sealer deck (as well as those assigned to other parts of the shop) were much humbled by our experiences---and glad to turn the job back to the real experts!
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