Episode 9: Building spider cobots with machine vision, signal vs noise,and going from tinkering with bacteria to engineering powertrains.

Season 1 Episode 9, Jun 23, 2021


Matt Byrn, Lead Engineer for e-Motor Stator for Powertain Engineering at Ford Motor Company talks about how he went from studying bacteria models in a lab to hypoid gear manufacturing at Ford, his dogged belief in a complex machining solution and how it eventually saved the company a million dollars.

Topics in this podcast

Robotics, Machining, Gear Manufacturing

Show Transcript

Matt:[Background music] I decided to push on and keep testing. I knew it was going to work, I came to find out that day, after many, many weeks of working on this project, not only did we confirm capability, but we increased our tool life so much so that we would save over a million dollars a year.

Intro: Pashi presents the means of production, a podcast about what it really takes to build, maintain, and scale the processes that produce the physical products that power our world. Every episode, we ask a manufacturing expert to walk us through the nuts and bolts of how they do their job. We explore how and why they got into manufacturing. Dive deep into the hardest problems they've solved on production lines and discuss their thoughts on what's broken in manufacturing today and how those things can be fixed. This podcast is hosted by me Siddhit. Pashi's US operations lead and former assembly engineer at Ford motor company. If you're a part of the manufacturing world and you're interested in being a guest on the Means of Production, email me at siddhit@pashi.com.

Siddhit: Hello, everyone. Welcome to season one, episode nine of the Means of Production and with us today is Matt Byrn E-motor stator, lead engineer for Powertrain manufacturing engineering at Ford Motor Company. Hey Matt.

Matt: Hey Siddhit, how you doing?

Siddhit: I'm doing good.

Matt: Good, glad to be here.

Siddhit: And I'm very glad to have you Matt. Before Matt and I speak on the podcast. Matt is going to read out a disclaimer.

Matt: My name is Matt Byrn. I work at Ford Motor Company and everything in this conversation is my own opinion. And it's not the opinion of Ford Motor Company. I'm not a spokesperson for Ford Motor Company official or otherwise.

Siddhit: All right. So I've been wanting to ask you, and I know it's quite funny that I said that I don't want to ask you how you are, until the podcast started. So I apologize. So, Matt, how are you? We've talked after a very long time. So tell me, how is life, work and just everything?

Matt: I'm having a lot of fun Siddhit and it sounds like me and you have one thing in common, with everything going on lately I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl back in April 14th 2020. So we're getting used to life with a baby. So the life is three plus a dog. But yeah, everything's been going great. Just getting through the pandemic and keeping things rolling at work and moving into new positions. This is actually my second position since COVID hit, funny enough. I started as a lead engineer in Hypoid gear manufacturing back in February of 2020, and then this role came up and I took a shot and interviewed for the job and was accepted as a lead engineer for the first Stater manufacturing line going into Ford Motor Company. So it's been pretty exciting. How's everything been going for you?

Siddhit: Thanks for asking Matt, but first congratulations. This is very, very exciting news. A new child puts everything in perspective, absolutely everything. As one of my bosses said, you won't recognize your life before your baby. So I think that's, what's going to happen. I know you'll cherish every moment. It's gonna be a lot of fun, a lot of challenges and your position, congratulations again on that. So two new things for you, two completely unprecedented things that you've never experienced before with Stater line. Everything is a new process. So these are two new and exciting things for you and I'm very happy, Matt. I'm doing fine. I'm having a lot of fun doing a lot of new things that I never thought I do.

Life in a startup is just like that, having a podcast conversation with you. I get to catch up with so many people who are subject matter experts in so many different areas of manufacturing. I get to profile their career and, and share it to the world. I'm having a lot of fun in that activity as well. So Matt, tell us a little bit about how you got into this field, wherever you want to start, it could be in childhood, it could be in college all the way. I know you as someone who has worked in gears, so that's what I had in mind. But now you are also in the electrification side. So up until now, what has been your journey? How did you get here in the first place?

Matt: So starting out my father was actually an engineer for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company growing up in Union City Tennesse factory around where I'm from originally because I'm originally from West Kentucky. I grew up seeing him and what he did and hearing about his days and the challenges that he faced. And he always tried to get me to have somewhat of an engineering mindset. I was helping him fix up farm equipment. When I got my first car, he would show me what to work on, how to figure out what the problem was with it. So that kind of got me into the engineering mindset. I grew up loving to take things apart. Most of the time I couldn't get them back together, but it was a lot of fun growing up. I had that mentality to figure out how things work. I think that's kind of the start of any engineer. If you talk to anybody that seems like that's how everybody started, is just tearing things apart and getting very hands-on intuitive and looking into how things work basically.

So that was kind of what got me interested in engineering. I knew I wanted to go into some sort of engineering. It was in 10th grade in high school that I decided that I wanted to go and get my master's in biomedical engineering. I know you're going to think that that's funny. What I'm doing now has nothing to do about biomedical engineering, but we'll get there in a minute. So part of that was I had to choose what I wanted to do as a bachelor's to get my master's in biomedical engineering. So I wanted to go to the University of Kentucky. I had other plans. I had played baseball in high school, and I always wanted to try playing baseball in college, but I ended up going to the University of Kentucky at Paducah actually. It's similar to like UM Dearborn. It's a branch campus and they specialize in mechanical and chemical engineering.

I actually got a full ride to go there for mechanical engineering. My dad was very happy with that, he didn't have to help me out paying for any more colleges. With the number of brothers and sisters I have, he was very happy that he didn't have to pay for anything there. I was very happy that I didn't have to have loans. So I am very blessed, very, very blessed that's for sure. I ended up getting a full ride to go to University of Kentucky at Paducah. My plan was I was going to go to UK, get my bachelors in mechanical engineering. And then I was going to apply for my master's degree in biomedical engineering. Looking at it that was a good pathway to get into what I was looking for, for biomedical.

So at the end of my junior year, I decided that I wanted to try getting an internship in something in the biomedical field. So I applied at the University of Tennessee to be a research assistant in the Biocellular chemical and molecular biology department as a computational biology research assistant basically. I applied for this and funny enough, I got accepted at a different position for lack of remembering the name, it was a cookie factory and it was going to pay me a lot of money, but I decided I needed to figure out where my career was going to go after college. I got accepted to the University of Tennessee. So I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee for the summer to do an internship. I sat behind a computer. I ran multiple programs through the supercomputers at Oak Ridge national laboratory, trying to look at the aggregation of azospirillum brasilense. I don't know if I said that correctly. That's how I used to say it and nobody corrected me. So I'm going to roll with it.

So we were finding a way to model the different factors that you could introduce to cause this bacteria to aggregate and through doing this, you could use this in the biomedical field and even the biology fields to model other bacteria and other factors. I was a computational biologist research assistant. I decided that that was not for me. I didn't want to sit behind a computer desk for eight hours a day. I didn't want to run these programs. I was more of a hands-on guy and I knew that but the one blessing that it gave me, is that was the year in the summer that I actually met my wife surprisingly. We met in Knoxville, she was working there and came and sat down next to me at church. So it was a blessing in disguise. It not only told me that that was not the job for me, even though I worked with wonderful people, had a very, very good experience but it didn't tickle my fancy for lack of better term.

So that summer I learned a lot about programming. I learned a lot about analyzing different factors and being able to look at different things. So towards the end of that summer, I met my wife, we stayed friends for a while, then began dating a couple of years later. I met her, kept up with her, but I came out of that internship thinking, this is not exactly what I want to do. I still think maybe I'm interested somewhat in biomedical engineering, but let's see what happens going through my senior year. As you can imagine, four years of engineering school, there's a select few that want to go on and stick with it and get through their master's and even their doctorate and pursue further degrees. Even though I graduated summa cum laude I was one of the ones that said, you know what? I think I'm ready to go to work. So I started interviewing. I interviewed at a few places, but one of which I was very interested in was dealing in the aeronautical or the aerospace industry programming the federr controllers. I was very excited about this position and then Ford called. I interviewed for the position at Ford and when I got back, I got an offer from the aerospace industry and I said, well "can I have until this date?" And I knew that Ford had said that they would get back to me within five days. And at the maximum it would maybe be seven.

So I told this company to be respectful. I told them that I needed until the sixth day for Ford, cause I was really holding out for the Ford offer. I figured if it's after the fifth day, I'm probably not going to get the position at Ford. So 12 o'clock came around on the sixth day and I called the company and I said, I'm so excited. I'm ready to start working for y'all. I'd love to come and work for your company whenever you're ready to receive me. They were excited, everybody was excited. Three hours later, Ford calls, as you can imagine this as a predicament. I just accepted a position. And then now three hours later, like I said, it was a blessing in disguise, but it's just funny how things like that happen in life. I waited until the sixth day and I was thinking, they're an hour ahead of me in Detroit. So it's one o'clock there. So they're probably not going to call me today. So I'll go ahead and call. Sure enough, three hours later, it was like 4:30 their time is 3:30 my time because it was Central time versus Eastern.

I was like, Oh my goodness. So now I got put in that position. But obviously, you know what happened next? I accepted the job at Ford and I had to have awkward conversation with the other company I said, "I'm so sorry I know I accepted the position, but I need to take that back and I can't take that job." So anyways, I get up here and I started in the hypoid gear manufacturing at Ford for powertrain manufacturing, working on the H88 work that was going in the Mustang and the F-150. And you can imagine me thinking.

To backtrack a little bit, my favorite car growing up, my dad and granddad both own a 1960 model in the sixties model Mustang. So my granddad had a 68 Fastback. My dad had a, let's say it was a 68 or 69 Fastback. And so obviously you can imagine I was a huge Mustang fan. My first car was a 2001 Bullitt Mustang. I know what you're thinking, who would ever give a 16 year old kid, a bullet Mustang. But I worked from the time I was 13 and I knew what I wanted. I'm telling you, I ended up paying for the most of it out of my pocket. And then my dad and granddad thankfully helped me make up the rest. Cause even, starting work from 13 to 16, you don't make enough money really to pay for a car. I didn't at least, I don't know. Maybe some people do. So I had a bullet Mustang, I drove it to 175,000 miles and then it decided it didn't like me anymore and wanted to keep causing me issues. So I ended up selling it, unfortunately. So there's not a good ending to that story, but I still regret it to this day, but you can't take it back.

So I started on the Mustang, the new model Mustang program. This is the 2015 Mustang that was coming out and it was a whole model change. It had that beautiful, sleek design. I fell in love, but anyways, I was working on the axle. I started as an FCG Ford college graduate. I'm sure a lot of the people that you've interviewed from Ford has told you about being in FCG.

Siddhit: Yes

Matt: I don't know if you came in as FCG at Ford, if you came in as a direct hire, but I started as an FCG, so I had my rotations planned out. They say I did a good enough job. So I was only supposed to say six months to a year maximum in my rotation. I ended up staying a year and a half and had to wait for a new boss to get moved to my next position. But I learned a lot during that time, I troubleshooted everything. I deep dove about every department that we went through for the gears because we take them from the foraging to the final product. So every operation in between, I was involved in and I was learning about, so I loved it. I absolutely enjoyed that position cause I was learning everything. I had multiple projects going on all at the same time. I had two departments that I was in charge of also for the launch. It was a good time.

From there I went to tool and rotation and charismatic parts and I worked on converter, housing and case converter housing machining basically. M counterpart worked with me on those two and then also valve-body. So we were involved in that, I did that for six months and then I moved into advanced manufacturing working. It was funny how it ended up. They gave me options on what I kind of wanted to get involved with and I told them, well, I kind of want to get involved with everything that you're offering. So they managed to work out a rotation that I could work 50% of the time for one boss and 50% of the time for another. So I had multiple projects within advanced vision applications and advanced machining applications. So I got a lot of experience from that, worked on projects.
Some now that have gone global throughout Ford, some that have not gone a lot farther than the lab that we worked on, but that's part of it I guess.

I was told that they had an opportunity for me, which is funny because if anybody at a company offers you an opportunity, it's usually means they really need somebody to help out. I think, you know where I'm going with this. So I started in transmission gear, machining in 2015 and I was told that it would be a three to six month position to help out with the 10 speed launch. That three to six months turned into, I want to say four and a half years. So I started working with hard-turning machines and applications that they had there and were having some issues with and had an issue supplier, a supplier with a lot of issues. So I helped out there and then phase two came along and we were launching the same, basically a duplicate of phase one. So we had a bunch of CNC machines, a bunch of tooth grind machines and stuff that I ended up being in charge of, and I took the lead position over one of our hard gear machining departments, which consisted of everything between grinders, CNC's, hard-turning machines and then bushing presses along with all sorts of different applications. When you talk about a transmission gear, we had I want to say there were 16 different gears that we were making for one transmission.

So you can imagine most of these ran through this department, minus the ring gear. So we were having a lot of fun, lot of fun out there. I think it was 12 gears actually. So there's pinion, suns, so 12 gears, not 16. But anyways, we are having a lot of fun. So I stayed there for the phase one, the phase two. I helped out on 10 speed for phase three, worked as a support engineer on phase four, over one of the departments, kind of as a lead engineer and then worked on some of the phases. So you can imagine we have a lot of 10 speeds at Ford and this was a major product launch for Ford. So then comes the battery electric vehicle gears. And I get put on this project and it was a great opportunity and I was working on this, but I started talking to my boss about developing my career. And he started looking around and found me a position back in hypoid gear manufacturing. So that was a plus for me, I already knew it. So it was easier to come into and working on a new product basically coming in. That was just an absolutely massive gear set.

So that was exciting. And it was working with some new technologies too, Ford, as far as the hypoid gear manufacturing goes. So that was exciting. I worked in there for a year and one of my former coworkers emails me one day, actually this year, back in February and says, Matt, I have a perfect opportunity for you over here in electric motors. I think you would be the right guy for the job. And I was wondering if you'd like to interview for it. So I ended up interviewing for it and the rest is, as I say, history, I've been over here for a couple of months now. I took a three week vacation as soon as I got over here. So I know that we're very happy about that Sid. I went down to Paraguay, South America as I was saying, we had our baby girl.

So I went down to Paraguay South America, which is where my wife's originally from for our daughter to meet her grandparents for the first time. So it was crazy, even though COVID hit, we were able to go down there and thankfully so far COVID as avoided us and hopefully it continues to. So I've come back and now I'm working full time on the first state or manufacturing line that's going into Ford. So it's very exciting, very exciting stuff. As you've seen the announcements, this is the direction everybody is moving in. So we're on the forefront for at least Ford and working on this and learning all this stuff. It's a new challenge every day, but the really cool part about it is ithat you're learning it sometimes for the first time at Ford and we're learning it, we're taking the supplier's opinion on certain things and we're inputting our own opinion into it as well, and trying to find solutions to these problems that come up every day. I am very much enjoying myself, Sid. Some people think maybe I'm crazy because it's nothing but problems, but it's been a good time. So that's kinda how I ended up where I'm at. I know I took 30 minutes to get there. So that's how I got to where I'm at.

Siddhit: No I think you gave a great journey chronicle. It was entertaining, it was informative, it was revealing and it was pretty good. So normally if there's a term, I don't understand I interrupt and make it clear for the audiences because we were getting into quite some technical stuff, but you had such a good flow. I didn't want to say anything, but I'm going to break down what you said, Matt, because I think there was so much stuff in there that was worth talking about. You went from farm equipment to biomedical engineering, which involves computations to model, all the biochemistry of all these bacteria, hunching over some Petri dish, or looking at these calcu-, these models in the computer all day to realizing that maybe I'm a hands-on guy and then changing your path. But before that you found your wife and you thought, Hey, you know what, I guess, it's that whole journey of going to this other field was actually worth it just for that.

And then going into Ford Motor Company after that tussle between all these offers that you got and going into high point gears. And I'd like to say the hypoid gear is a style of spiral gear, the two gears that made, that axes do not intersect. So that is something special about hypoid gear. So that is what Matt is talking about. You graduated summa cum laude, which is just basically the highest distinction for the international audiences, but you decided not to go into academia. So what I see here Matt, what it reveals is that, at every point you listen to your instinct and you are a hands-on guy.

At several times you looked at something, even though you had opportunity, you said, there can be opportunities, but what I really want is to fix things and to solve problems on the floor. And that's exactly what you did and just jumping for a second to the ending. You said, people think I'm crazy, but I'm actually enjoying it. That's because you have a natural enjoyment of solving problems because you literally grew up fixing things that could have been broken. So that is not crazy at all. That's in fact, fantastic. Getting back to what you were saying, gears undergo lots of processes. So Matt was saying some of those processes, there's forging, they are blank, then you have to cut them, you have to grind them. And hard gear machining is where the part is greater than 45 HRC, which is the Rockwell scale of hardness.

So they required special kind of cutting tools, which can cut that kind of material. So it's a slightly different set of parameters. And then prismatic parts are basic features like slots or steps or holes or bosses, which may intersect with each other. So they are all made up of different prismatic surfaces. And eventually you went in and out of gears. You've been going in and out of gear manufacturing, but also finding great opportunities with stuff like advanced vision and advanced machining and advanced vision here in the context of the auto industry is all about detecting things on the plant floor, which otherwise a human would have to do. Like whether there is some kind of grease applied somewhere or some kind of mold missing from an install or what have you.

So you got that rotation planned quite well. I think it was good except for that half year thing that happened. But again, it ensured that you were such an integral part of it that they just wanted to keep you, and sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not very good, but I'm happy that you were in something that's at the forefront of Ford's strategy to disrupt itself. And as the state of or a lead engineer, I think they were right. You are the perfect guy. It brings you back to he Mustang with the different powertrain, you know what I mean?

And also I'm very surprised that you were able to get that Bullitt Mustang, because you're probably that good at fixing things. And you knew what you were doing. So that's a great vehicle. To have Bullitt by the way, is <a class='transcript-link' href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRx8N7mJU9g&ab_channel=Movieclips">Steve McQueen movie</a> with the special, this Mustang is there. And then Ford came up with a special edition called the Bullitt, which has a lower clearance and just performance packages to make it more like a car from that movie. So very full journey. And you're quite young and you still seem like a whole bunch of things from here and there. And that's great. So Matt, you've outlined your journey all the way from your childhood to your current job. Now, can you walk us through what was probably in all of those different rotations or jobs, the hardest technical problem that you faced, and it doesn't have to be something that was one problem or something that was solved or unsolved. It doesn't matter. It's just something that is etched in your memory as something that required you to do a lot of things that were hard. So what would that technical problem be?

Matt: So one of the hardest technical problems that I faced was in the advanced manufacturing group and as a vision application engineer, basically one of the main problems with the previous application was a large tunnel that had multiple cameras throughout this tunnel. And if you ever changed over the line to a different variant, it would take forever to change over and you would have to run all sorts of verifications to make sure that everything is being caught through the line, to make sure that oil is not leaking throughout the engine at the end of the line. So it's a end of line system, checks a hundred percent of the engines coming off of Ford's line after testing. And so we had to come up with a solution that would replace this and allow for the changeover to be quick. And that way the uptime for the line is kept high and the downtime is not affected by the changeover of this system. So the application that we came up with had a vision system on the end of a collaborative robot.

And in using such, we could go around this engine and we could inspect all around this engine for all leaks. We develop this and the programming that went into it, I was the lead programmer. My boss was readily involved in it and I would almost hesitate to say I was even the lead. He was more of looking over me telling me what to do. So he was technically over everything, but I was the guy on the project, programming it, making sure it can hold to the values that we needed to hold it to, that it was repeatable that it can detect everything we were wanting it to detect. We were able to actually pick up a few of the main warranty issues that Ford had with engines with the camera after the fact. I learned to not only program the vision system and I learned to tweak it in to get more precise with what we were looking at and to have that precision that we're looking for, to detect and blob down to two millimeters in diameter.

So you can imagine if oil leak at the end of the line, if it's anywhere it's going to be two millimeters or bigger. And so we decided that that would be a successful detection. So we developed this system and we also looked at different things throughout the engine that were some of our high hit warranty issues. We implemented this in England in one of our plants in England, and it was so successful and that management put it into all global engine programs going forward would have this system. Our team ended up taking home the Henry Ford technology award in 2018 for this solution. This is the highest award within Ford that you can win. It's been a huge success and that was the funnest and coolest project that I've been involved with at Ford. So yeah those systems are going in globally. So that's one of the coolest, and probably the hardest technical problem that I've been involved in.

Siddhit: Wow. That does sound cool. Everything about it sounds futuristic. There is a collaborative robot that has a camera at the end of that thing. And it's going around. So I'm assuming it makes a certain kind of movement over a certain area, or does it just like look at one spot?

Matt: So the coolest part about the project that I forgot to mention Sid is, and somebody gave me this challenge and I ran with it, is we didn't have a hanging robot at the time, or at least that our specialists knew about within Ford. So the robot specialist, and we talked about it, we ended up developing a gantry, like an extruded aluminum gantry, and had an adjustable platform and hung this robot upside down in our lab to inspect this. And it was just the coolest thing ever. Obviously the implementation, they didn't use that, which we were kind of a little bit heartbroken about, maybe from a standpoint of having to ever change out the robot, I guess it makes sense because you got a robot upside down. Now, granted, it's a collaborative robot, so it's not a big robot, but yeah, that was kind of cool.

Siddhit: That is cool. I guess my whole picture is different in my head now that you mentioned that. So I think somebody did mention while I was at Ford. There are these spider man style of robots that have come out. I think that's what you were referring to as what you didn't have as an option. So you your team has built it to be like that. That was a good improvisation to put it on a gantry. So yeah, that pretty cool. Everything it gets cooler and cooler actually.

Matt: Yeah, well the spider, they were like spider gauges, I believe. Those were implemented on the transmission project that I was on and those are pretty interesting gauges. I guess they have their uses. And then there are certain things that you can do with them that you can't do with other types of gauges. And then there are certain things that they don't have the precision for, or at least they don't yet, but they are very, very cool. But yeah, this robot, it's like a little robot, it's like maybe 60 pounds, but yeah, it was interesting.

Siddhit: For the audience I'm going to link it. KUKA advertises a lot of their products. I don't know if you had that robot from KUKA or not, and but they advertise the stuff on their LinkedIn pages. So for the audience, I'm going to link collaborative robots, as well as this spider robot kind of thing. A collaborative robot or a cobot is different from a regular robot, in that there are sensors all around it, measuring at a very high refresh pulse rate, such that anyone putting their body part in a certain sphere would cause a robot to just stop. It would just drop everything and stop. It would drop it to just contract itself so that it wouldn't hurt anyone.

Whereas an industrial robot is usually inside of a cage, it's quite fortified and you need extensive procedures to enter this while it is live and working and you need dependent, otherwise they can seriously injured people. So cobots are this new way in which they collaborate with human side by side. That's what Matt is talking about. So there were several pieces of interesting technology that were used for the solution, the machine vision itself, which requires a lot of programming to detect the right contrast or the right edges or the right color differences, for oil. I'm assuming the upside down nature of the robot, which makes everything a little more difficult, plus the whole collaborative robot in itself. The fact that even though you combine all of these technologies, it's still managed to work with a high degree of success and got replicated, potentially saving the company a lot of money. So I think that was a really great project. Matt, thanks for sharing that. I learned a lot of things.

Matt: It was definitely a lot of fun and the collaborative robots, the coolest thing about them is you can force control on them. You can turn it down and make it sensitive enough that you can hold out your finger and if it hits your finger, even the slightest, it will stop and move in the opposite direction to retract back basically. So it's really a cool technology that's come out in the collaborative robots. Like you said, Google is one of suppliers, there are multiple other ones that are throughout the industry as well. So yeah, it's really cool technology.

Siddhit: Well, Matt, let's move on to the second part of the same kind of question, which is that in manufacturing there's as much non-technical work in terms of project management, communication and so on and so forth. So what has been your hardest non-technical issue? And it can be at any time during your career, you can give any example that you had to face?

Matt: This one, I need to think a little bit about. There as definitely been a few, obviously I'm a people person. I'm easy to get along with a lot of people. And that's not ever been a major problem for me, but one of the hardest non-technical problems, and I won't use a specific example for instance, but just an example, that I know many people will face is dealing with conflicting issues basically, and finding a solution to those conflicting issues. So I actually, I will use an actual example. It's kind of a technical issue too, so I apologize.

Siddhit: The more technical issues are always fine.

Matt: The technical issue was we were having issues with machining down a weld line for one of our transmission gears. And we were machining bearing surfaces along this line. What we came to find was we had multiple issues with run out. Now, this is during the launch phase, none of these parts were made and put into vehicles or anything like this. This is just typical launch engineering issues that we come across. I guess you can explain a little farther on the launch if you want to take a second to explain that how that works at Ford or throughout other industries. But so yeah you can touch on that in a minute, but basically when we get a new model program, we go through all of these rigorous testings and capabilities and run statistical analysis on everything, every single feature.

And one of our features was the runout at a bearing journal on this particular part. We were really struggling with finding a solution to this. The vendor was struggling with it. I was struggling with it. My tooling vendor was struggling with it. We were machining in this very tight space. We did not have enough room to use a conventional tool or anything that was readily available. So at the ending, we actually had to develop our own tool, redesigned the tool, and we filed for a patent for it. It's still in the process, I guess you would say. But anyways, we had to develop this tool. I knew it was gonna work. I absolutely had a hundred percent confidence that this tool was going to work. Not necessarily maybe the particular one we were putting in, but I knew that this tool was going to solve our problem.

What we were doing is we had the plunge shoulder, so plunge turn shoulder and run down it. So we had to turn down it. And then we had to turn across this bearing surface in micro radius on the other side. It was about a 12 millimeter or so surface, but the ending of the surface was right underneath the gear-teeth. So to fit in there, it was a very tight tolerance and you could easily crash the machine. So we had to develop our own special tool. I had confidence in this tool. My tooling vendor developed it for me. They made it, I knew it was going to work. I developed this excellent plan of we had to shut down production on this line. So this was running production for another variant of part. I had to shut down the production on the line for that variant apart, switch over to the new variant, which is very common on our production lines and test out the new variant down this line. I had a plan laid out. I knew how long it was going to take us. I knew what we're going to do and I got into it.

I get into the first operation where we're using this tool. There are three different operations down this line that we're working on. The second operation that is, is where we're using this specific tool that we designed. The first operation we get capable or celebrate and we're having a good time. We know we were rolling down the right road. We get into the second one and we start having some issues. We start breaking tools unexpectedly, trying to figure out what's going on. We suspect that, maybe we didn't put in the tool correctly. Maybe it was not fitted in the tool properly. And we start having catastrophic failures on the tool. Like I said, I knew for certain that this tool was the solution. We knew it was going to work, had all the confidence in the world that it was going to work.

My launch manager comes up to me at the time and this guy, I love this guy to death. He is a wonderful guy and we are really great friends now. And we were friends at the time. So our relationship only got better afterwards, but he is a very straightforward, strict guy, definitely takes you at your word. And if he thinks something is not going correct, he will make sure you know, that you have messed up and, and move forward with it. So he comes up and I tell him what's going on. And he is worried about, we have to get this machine back into production. So we're going back and forth and tensions get high. We start yelling at each other a little bit. I try not to do that, but with this guy was kind of almost a game.

We yelled at each other and I was frustrated. He walked away and I get very, very frustrated. So I walked back to the machine and at this point there was two options for me, either give up and turn the line back over to production, admit failure, and tack my tail, runaway, and try to figure out something else. Or I proceed down the path that I have certainty. My certainty going into it was a hundred percent, at this point, it was maybe 90%. I was getting a little bit worried about it. I decided to push on and keep testing. I knew it was going to work. I came to find out that day, after many, many weeks, many, many months of working on this project, we confirmed capability on this runout with that tool. Not only did we confirm capability, but we increased our tool life so much so that we would save over a million dollars a year on just one tool. Now keep that in mind Sid. That's one tool.

Siddhit: That is ridiculous.

Matt: That we fixed and we were saving the company a million dollars plus a year, one tool. So yeah, that's the amount of parts we were going to run combined with the significant price of this tooling that we're using, because it was a special tool. It had to get into a special little area. And with that one tool, we could save the company over a million dollars a year. I pushed on, I stuck to my gut. I knew that what I was doing was going to make a difference. Even though I had people that had faith in me, but maybe didn't necessarily think that I was going to solve it at this point. Even though they were going against me, I kept pushing forward. To this day I talk about this with the guy.

I said, you know, you almost had me. I said, you almost convinced me that I wasn't going to succeed. And he just laughs about it and said, well, you did anyways, didn't you? I was like, yeah, sure did. But if you have confidence that your solution is going to work and you know, it will, you got to stick to it. And that's in every business, any area that you're in. You gotta take risks and you gotta be willing to take risks and your managers or bosses, or if you're working for yourself, you gotta realize that sometimes you have to risk it. And sometimes you will fail, but you gotta learn from the failure. It's only a mistake if you don't learn from it. But you gotta be willing to take the risk and once you take the risks if you're dedicated to it and you want to stick through it, it'll most of the time pay out.

Siddhit: Wow. That is quite the rollercoaster over there. I really enjoyed the whole incident. I'm a little stunned because this is the second time. I had a previous episode with, with Zach Westoff and something similar happened. I want to ask, people like yourself and Zach, what made you believe in the signal and ignore the noise? Like, was it that you were experienced in machining tool design and your fundamentals were so clear that you knew that this is going to work. I can see it in my head. God make it happen on the floor or was it that sometimes you don't even know that you're right but you think that you will figure it out on the way? So what do you think it was, it was like you're just so used to it being in that life of machining for so many roles and stuff. What do you think it was?

Matt: In this case, there have been other cases that I maybe didn't have the confidence that I had and I kept pushing on. But in this case, for this instance, I had multiple years of experience with machining. And like I said, I was in advanced machining, working on different projects. I had worked in gear machining before that for a year and a half. I'd been in transmission gear machining for I think two and a half years at this time. So I had many years, at least five years of experience alone in machining, leading up to this. So I knew how the part needed to be ran. I proposed the solution to the tooling vendor months before.

They kind of, "yeah, that's a good solution, but let's try doing it with this." I was like, okay, whatever I'll proceed down that. Then finally at one point, I said, either you make me this tool, or I proceed with someone else. These guys, I'd work with them for a long time. I knew that they would make me what I needed to, but it was one of those points where you get almost fed up. It was like either make me what I need or I gotta move on. But luckily they made me exactly what I needed and it worked and but I knew exactly how the process needed to flow. I knew exactly how the chips needed to flow off the insert, the chips, or metal that you're machining off to make a surface that you're trying to produce.

I knew how it needed to run. I knew how it was going to run. And I just had to make that happen. I had to make my vision happen and I knew it wasn't going to be right away. I thought we might get lucky, but most of the time that's not the case, but I knew that the first part that we ran as the chips came off of it, I said, that is exactly what we need to run. And sure enough, it turned out it was. So luckily my experience and just my knowledge of the situation and being very knowledgeable in that particular subject matter helped. I just stuck to my guns. And I proceeded, even though, like you said, there was noise in the background telling me that I shouldn't be doing this and I needed to get the machines back to production.

Siddhit: That was a great answer. And it looks like it was the former, rather than the latter, because sometimes some subjects are so known to you that in your head, you can see it as a perfect formation. It's just the fiction of reality, things in reality that prevent it from coming and kind of make us second guess ourselves, but I'm glad that it didn't make you quit that particular challenge and you stuck to it. So it was pretty good to hear how you went through this and quite an inspiration for any young person getting into this field where trial and error is like a constant part, especially with very strange kind of jobs or custom jobs. So that was a great example.

So thank you for that. Thank you for sharing that, Matt. Now folks, we're getting into a little bit of some technical terms. So plunge turning is an alternative to regular turning. When you have deep, continuous grooves or difficult contours with relief guards, that would need like several tool changes. So in this case, I personally have never seen plunge turning myself, but this would be what Matt is talking about and launch it for Ford and even other companies like GM. It's kind of divided into three phases, where you first design the process and simultaneously engineered it with your supplier. Then you run it off. It's called runoff at the vendor site where you build this machine and you test it on a certain number of parts, you know, 30 parts, 50 parts, and then you deem it capable, and then you tear it down, you bring it back to Ford and you build it up again and perform the same exact test, which is what Matt was saying with the repeated test. And what we have is, is capability and performance, which is at Ford at least, we refer to them as Cp and Cpk. And these have to be in certain ranges for production to actually accept what you've built for them.

And if that doesn't happen, your program is late and that is why his colleague was so worried because on the one hand he had stopped production and nothing should actually get in the way of regular production. So he had to stop regular production, make some people not happy while he was trying this, setting it up and, and make it work. But lo and behold it not only work it save a lot of money and $1 million for one tool is just blowing my mind right now.

Matt: To keep that in mind, we had, you know, just for inserts on this line, well for the program, I should say we had over 50 inserts. So you can look at the cost per unit that you put into making these parts and this is only talking about turning. These are the cheap tools that we run. You have other tools that your CPU for that tool is a dollar or more per part. Some tools or even tens of dollars per part. Usually when you get into the tens of dollars per part, there are at least one or more engineers working on figuring out how they can make it cheaper. Cause that starts impacting when you compound. We're talking at the very beginning of making parts of the powertrain. And you compound that over, I'm not exactly sure how many operations go in just to make one powertrain, but a powertrain is still only a certain portion of the vehicle. And then you have everything else that goes into the assembly of, of making a car.

When you talk dollars per unit for one tool, that's a very big concern. One thing that I'll just say it's kind of the slogan at all of the plants, when you're talking about shutting down production, you just don't do that. One of those slogans is production is King. Production reigns over everything.

Siddhit: Absolutely.

Matt: There's always the saying that if you stop production on an assembly line, on a final assembly line for the trucks, for instance, that you're costing thousands of dollars per minute. I think it may even be thousands of dollars per second. I'm not even sure, but yeah, it's crazy. It's absolutely crazy. So just to think about what all goes into it and what all comes out, right.

Siddhit: Yes, that is absolutely correct. This is true of any high-speed, high value manufacturing and the F-150 or compatible vehicles for any of the manufacturers would have this kind of loss, because their rates are so high, their jobs per hour are so high. Coming back to the tools an insert is a small piece of metal that is actually attached at the top of the actual tool holder. And the whole tool doesn't need to be in contact with the job. It just needs to be this little kind of chip kind of thing that is molded on. Correct me if I'm wrong, molded onto the top of the actual tool, because that's all you need for it to get in contact with the part and start cutting it. So you don't have to waste that costly material for that whole thing. Did I say that right?

Matt: Yeah, exactly. It's basically a material that you put on the end of a tool, whether it be, you can call it a stick, whether you call it, whatever it is, most of the time there'll be formed by what process you need. But you put this piece, usually it's carbide or it's CBN, or sometimes it's ceramics, Cermet. There are many different types of inserts that you can use, but you put it on the end of a tool and it's basically to remove the metal, like you said, they don't make the full tool out of it because it's easy to change out a little bit insert at the end of the tool than to change the whole tool. It's also a lot cheaper to do it that way. Now, your durable is your actual tool holder and you have an insert, that's a throw away piece of carbide or CBN. When you're hard turning over 60, or over 50 something Rockwell, you have to use CBN. They're coming out with some other materials that you can start using the coatings to carbides. We don't want to go down that rabbit hole. We'll be talking for a while.

Siddhit: Yeah, and to bring it back into perspective with the commercials, the CPU, I believe is cost per unit, I guess. So if you think about it, $10 for making one job is an extremely high fraction of using the tool. So it's very obvious that they have someone very smart looking at that kind of stuff, trying to bring it down because so many parts like nuts and bolts just cost like a few cents and this thing is $10 per part. So that really puts that whole challenge in perspective and the stakes that are involved in getting this to work. I appreciate all the things you described and what you said and what you performed. It must have been quite stressful in fact, you must be dreaming of chips flying at night and what am I going to do and stuff like that. So I can imagine it was quite the challenge.

Matt: I remember what I said too. I said the hardest technical problems I'm going through is what I'm going through right now. I don't know how much of that I can talk about or not talk about, so I'm not gonna get into it much. But yeah it's very interesting. Here I am, like I said, I didn't mention this either. I started back for my master's last year as well. So I'm going for my master's in engineering management. I had a baby, COVID hit, I started two new jobs. You'd think I'm crazy, but it's working out so far.

Siddhit: That's great, congratulations on the masters. That's a great step. So, Matt, the next question is if you had a magic wand to change something about your work, just your overall job or this whole industry or manufacturing, what would it be and why? But it has to be something reasonable.

Matt: I think many, many, many companies are going through this nowadays, in today's time and everything with the virus pandemic. Also it just makes sense to go through this as well, where you go through and you reanalyze the costs and you analyze exactly how much money you're putting into a program for instance, or how much you're throwing into certain things. It's all about your operating strategies and so on and so forth. But I think if I could wave a magic wand, the one thing would be, if we commit to a certain funding at the beginning, we get to keep all of that funding until the end. But if you've been through a production program or whatnot in the manufacturing industry you say it costs a certain amount.

I don't know, for instance, you say that to put this in, it's going to cost us for all the machinery and everything involved. It's going to cost you, I don't know, $10 million. And then as soon as you say that you have people coming after you, it's like, Hey, I need X amount of this back and Hey, I need this back. And at the end you're trying to do a project for pennies on the dollar, which I know that that's part of the industry. I know that's part of the business. And in all honesty, if they didn't do that, profit margins would suffer, everything involved with selling automotives would be disrupted. But I think if they could, that would be a big help to engineers like myself, who are looking to putting in these programs.

Here we are focusing on the machines that we got to buy and develop and launch. And then in the middle of it, you're sitting there focusing on, where I get X amount of dollars out of this program and give it away basically. So I know it's part of it and it won't go away, but I guess that's one thing. I don't want it to go the opposite way either Sid, so if I need more money, I don't want to say, nah, you said you needed this amount of money. But it goes both ways. That's definitely the costs that go into a program and it would surprise anybody on how much actually goes into a program. It's actually impressive. But as soon as you get your money, people are asking for it. It's just the nature of the beast.

Siddhit: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's because manufacturing has so many moving parts that you cannot anticipate when you start that they would come in and claim their share. And you would have no idea that they would exist. Just because there are so many moving parts, so many variables, so many groups that have to interact and come together to make something there's going to be some group that wasn't fully calculated into the budget or some new group had to come in and make some something new. And that's not an unreasonable request. I think with some good foresight or slack or buffer, it can be achieved, but like you said, it's really hard to predict what you might need and how something might change based on requirements. So, absolutely.

Matt: I definitely admire the cost study groups and stuff. All companies have these guys and gals that look into what exactly it takes to make something, even if it's just like a computer. Every single piece you see on a computer costs some amount. That's where I get into the CPU. Every single detail that is made in the powertrain, every single detail, if you see any surface on a powertrain, everything costs something. As a lead engineer and you're going into a new program, you have to consider everything. And it's kind of a fun challenge to have, but you really hope you don't mess it up because if you do, you gotta live with it. So it's very interesting, but I know that that's not going to go away anytime soon and I'm sure people come knocking on the door tomorrow to ask for more money. So it's just part of it.

Siddhit: Well, thanks for that answer, Matt, and for our closing answer, our question, which is a surprise one, unless you listen to any of the podcasts, which is, if this was 2051 or if you were transported to the year 2051, what would that factory be like?

Matt: Well, I hope I'm retired by that time.

Siddhit: Well, let's say you ran with your grandson who was doing something advanced in that factory? What would that look like?

Matt: Well that's a long time in the future and you hope that things would definitely change for the better. You see automated guided vehicles within the factories today. It seems like most factories are going to those versus, fork-loaded, dunnage and so on and so forth. It's loaded to these vehicles or it's loaded off a machine with these, but I think you're going to see a lot more of those come into play. I mean, you're already seeing them. But I think you'll see that come into play. So I think you would see that, I would hope that you would see a clearer, obviously everybody has a Bill of Processes for the lines that they're making. With the advancements in additive manufacturing and the precision that they're getting to now, I think that you'll see some of that come along with 3D manufacturing and everything.

I know that there are ways out now, but as far as making mass production, but I'd imagine maybe by 2051 you see that, because right now, when you're looking at manufacturing, for instance, a gear, you start with a forging that has a lot of material on top of it. And you need all that on it so that in the blanking and through heat treat and through all of the processes that you have enough material accounted for to make the final product to the GD&T that you need to hold. I think you'll see additive manufacturing come a long way in 2051. I think you'll see AGVs roaming around everywhere, like crazy. With all of this, we talked about collaborative robots. You're going to have those. I don't even think that that's 30 years in the future. I think that's maybe even 5 or 10 years in the future that you're going to have those working side by side with people. People handling parts and handing them off to the robots or vice versa, or you're going to see something along those lines come into play.

You're already seeing those takeover, ergonomically, inefficient jobs, that are coming into the industry. So I think the ability to produce something, the cost for it will only decrease. Obviously you look at the industry's promised to go all-electric or at least hybrid and electric by X amount in the future. You're going to see a lot more electrified vehicles. Maybe by them, they come up with a different way of powering the vehicle. You never know. We may be only a year out from some other sort of clean energy.

Siddhit: We might invent a nuclear fusion, who knows?

Matt: Never know. So yeah, I think it'll be interesting, what advancements will hold and what advancements will maybe not even take off. But I think you're going to see a lot more fork-free plants. We survive, a lot of our forklift drivers help us survive on the lines and keep parts into production and so on and so forth. But the problem with those vehicles are they have a lot of blind spots. And while there's a lot of safety measures put into keeping everyone safe around fork-loaded vehicles, it just takes one minor mistake. It's like a car. It takes one minor mistake driving, one slip, even when you don't mean to, and things can go wrong. So you're going to see those and you already see it, you already see fork areas starting to go away.

Siddhit: Yeah.

Matt: So the vision would be a safer, more productive factory. The simple vision I should say. But I think you're going to see a more environmentally friendly factory, I would imagine. Well, hopefully economic friendly as well, but environmental friendly factories.

Siddhit: Yeah I like the answer, Matt and you are not the first who spoke about a safer factory because it is strange and it is surprising that in 2021, we still wish for a safer factory. So that is a reality of manufacturing, is that despite the fact that we are far, far safer than the factories of 1930 or something, we're still not there. Hopefully, it can get solved in that time. So that's a very good point. I knew you'd say something about machining in the sense that, does additive manufacturing actually solve all the problems? We would hope so in that case, yes, we wouldn't need to erase like 30, 40, 50% of the material we started out with, potentially saving a lot of money, but let's see how that turns out.

There are some great applications, although for structural and mechanical components with a lot of torque. It's not widespread, so we'll have to see how the material science shapes up. Like you said, fork-truck, I've also been in several plants where it's a very hard job to operate a fork truck. So that does happen and hopefully the AGVs solve this problem and make plants safer. So, yeah, that's a great answer, Matt. Thank you so much for coming. Thank you so much for giving all of those answers. They were very, very interesting. All of them were very informative for me. I am not familiar with the machining world, so the last time I operated a lathe was back in college. So it's been a long time since I got into all of that terminology. Hopefully the audience found it very interesting too. So thanks again, Matt. Congratulations on your baby girl. Congratulations on the new job and the masters. Say hi to the family. And thank you so much again, take care.

Matt: Thank you, Sid. Take care.

Siddhit: If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to the Means of Production podcast. For more stories from people behind all the manufactured goods, we use, love and depended on. This episode was made possible by Pashi, the operating system for manufacturing. Pashi unifies the entire production process for any product encompassing operator instruction and data input interfaces, stage logic and parameter thresholding, machine interfacing and configuration, robot programming and coordination and stage to stage production flow control into a single Pashi program. Check us out@pashi.com and until we meet again, have a fantastic day and take care.

Music from Uppbeat: "Falling" by Zayner. License code: SYFMAQN9WWBAPCSU


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