Episode 12: A very difficult production line to balance, how to correctly measure operator productivity and difficulties in communicating in a plant environment.

Season 1 Episode 12, Jul 14, 2021


Christine Cardenas, Battery Manufacturing Engineer at Ford Motor Company, talks about building a knowledge base by working hands-on on the plant floor, the intricacies in kitting lines, and navigating relationships with various stakeholders in a manufacturing environment.

Topics in this podcast

Kitting, Prototyping

Show Transcript

Christine: I think that's the key, is being able to communicate effectively without jumping to conclusions or being defensive. Sometimes we just need to step back and talk. That can be a challenge in the plant sometimes.

Intro: [Backgound music] 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 Sanghavi, 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.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to season one, episode 12 of the means of production. With us today is Christine Cardenas-Graham. She is the high voltage battery manufacturing engineer at Ford Motor Company and a former colleague of mine when we were both working for powertrain manufacturing engineering, so welcome Chris.

Christine: Hi, thanks for having me Sid.

Siddhit: Of course. Before we get started, Chris is going to read out a disclaimer.

Christine: I work at Ford motor company, but this is my opinion, and it's not the opinion of Ford motor company. I am not a spokesperson for Ford motor company official or otherwise.

Siddhit: Perfect. Chris, how are you, how have you been throughout this whole time? We've spoken after a long time, in that time we've had so much change of Ford. It is fully into electrification. COVID has come and hopefully it's going away and a lot of things have happened. How are you? How is the family? How's work? What's happening?

Christine: Oh, well I have been doing quite well. All things considered as you mentioned around the same time, we both kind of diverged paths at Ford. I had went over to product development as a battery manufacturing engineer. I've worked on the Mach-E battery and I'm currently working on the the Lightning battery doing prototypes build for that. My little one, he's four now going on five and he'll be going to kindergarten, so that's exciting.

I also have my two step-kids, Tahlia and Tre. They're both going to university in the fall and they're studying mechanical engineering. I'm super proud of them and I'm just adjusting to everything in a time of COVID. Working from home when we can, and then going out into the plant facilities for prototype builds. There's lots of challenges going on with that, but all in all, no we've been resilient and persevere through that and can see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID and a lot of good things are happening right now. How about with you?

Siddhit: That's very good to hear. I am doing good. Same for me. A lot of change in terms of how we work. My daughter is one year and about 20 months, so she'll be two or in about a couple of months in August. That's very exciting. She's quite a handful and she gives us a lot of exercise and she's an absolute joy. Yeah, I can completely relate to the joy you feel with your child. I'm glad you're able to balance it all.

Of course, companies have helped in letting it's workers work from home. That always helps. I'm glad to know that you're working on such exciting projects. I saw the Lightning reveal. I was blown away by the value delivered in the price point that that is being delivered.I'm very excited for Ford and this is the beginning of like a new era for Ford and for electrification. It's fantastic. Thanks for asking.

Chris, what do you do? You mentioned a little bit, and I introduce you as a battery manufacturing engineer working in product development. But tell us a little more about what you do. Tell us how you got here. What was the journey that took you here? You can go as far back as you want, and you can go into as much detail as you want, but we want to know, and I guess many people starting their journey in engineering might want to know how you got here. What was that journey like?

Christine: Okay, well I guess we'll start with high school. Actually, I went to a technical high school where I did design drafting and unfortunately it was manual drafting and at the time we were just phasing out of manual drafting into CAD and then talking to my counselor, I was like, okay, so what do I do now? He said, well, you could go into architecture, you can go into design or you would be a great candidate to go into engineering.

I was like, okay, that sounds good. When I went to college, I majored at first in mechanical engineering and about halfway through school, I transferred into industrial engineering. From there I had several internships, some with Chrysler DTE, which is an energy company here in Michigan and in Ford motor company. Then when I graduated with my master's, I ended up getting a full-time offer at Ford and I started their rotational program, is called a FCG for college graduate.

I had three, one year rotations, mostly a power train. I worked as a plant industrial engineer, and I've worked in new program launch in transmission. When I finished that program, that's where I landed full time as a new program launch engineer doing industrial engineering. That landed me there. I stayed in that position for five years. Then I was given the opportunity to use my manufacturing skills over on the product development side and the battery areas.

They were looking for someone who had manufacturing engineering experience that could work with processes, setting up a line balancing. That's where I am now. That kind of led me on my journey from high school to college, to production, industrial engineering, new program launch, and finally to prototype builds for high voltage batteries.

Siddhit: That's very interesting. Before I move on, I'm very happy to say to our audiences that this is the second lady we have on our podcast. I'm very happy that we can showcase the career and the challenges faced by female production and manufacturing or industrial engineers and highlight to girls everywhere that it's a great field. When you think of STEM fields, please don't forget about industrial engineering. Please don't forget about mechanical engineering.

These are exciting stuff is happening right now. As you can see from what Chris is doing. What I want to unpack a little bit from this answer is that what Chris was doing was, she started at the very basic level, which is like the plant floor. That, you can see that is a truth. That is where the values mean at the end of the line, when the product comes out. Feel free to add in or correct wherever.

What I want to say is that once you have enough experience on the plant floor, in any manufacturing industry, it could even be manufacturing of like balloons. It could be anything. But then you can do other higher level work, like designing, like battery prototypes or doing anything else on the basis of knowing the manufacturability of these things.

If you are starting, you might think it's too much of grind work to be in the plant, but trust us, you want to start there and then you want to go into softer fields because it'll give you a unique perspective. Even if it's an art manufacturing, if you're doing any kind of work, a little bit of fieldwork will always help you. If you have anything more to add there Chris you can add.

Christine: Right. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to being on a plant floor. In one of my internships, I was a production supervisor. I was a summer replacement basically. What you learn, technically you learn how to do all the jobs. You learn how to put things together. You learn to ask questions or to even have feedback like, oh my gosh, why did they design it this way? It's so difficult to put together.

But you see all these things firsthand in a fast paced setting. Just having that knowledge base with you, you remember it throughout your career, and it helps you make decisions that help you produce a quality product or a better product when you have the end user in mind, it helps you keep the end user in mind when you have that experience.

Siddhit: Absolutely. Well said. When you do something with your hands, you're making something physically, you are going to remember that for the rest of your life. I completely agree with that. Well, thanks for that extension. I'd like to move on to our next question, which is, can you walk us through a technical challenge that you faced on the factory floor in any of your previous roles where you were like, oh man, this is tough, or these are just some bad days going on or something that was really etched in your mind as having, made you think a lot. Then it had a lot of intensity that you had to really put yourself into it and walk through it very slowly or something that's remained in your memory.

Christine: You might remember this one Sid. Do you remember IPS Kitting?

Siddhit: Yes, I remember IPS Kitting.

Christine: This was a few years ago and when it was originally designed, it was supposed to be just a simple kit line, for the larger transmission line. You'd take a couple of parts, you put it into the box. That way, when it gets to the main line, the operator takes it out the box and they're able to assemble it. It turned from a simple kit line, maybe five or six stations long, to what ended up being a full fledged sub assembly line.

It was a lot of heartache and a lot of headache, but how to imagine, how to fit all these workstations and all this machinery into a very set footprint, because we were already only given a small amount of space for this area, because it was only supposed to be a kitting area. Now you have to add machines for presses. You have to have room for stock. You have to have room for the operators. There has to be enough conveyance to allow for your bottleneck operations..

Your bottleneck operations are usually your slowest ones on line, that could hold up the pace of the line. We had to figure out how to work all of that into a very small space. Then additionally, the requirements kept changing on us as well. It felt like we had to continuously add things as we realized, okay, we have to sub assemble this input shaft. How are we going to have room for the gears? We have to think about ergonomics, how is the person going to be able to press it? Do we have room for auto press or what are they going to have to use a tool to press this part in?

That was definitely a very hard technical challenge that lasted a couple of years actually, when we went from the first IPS Kitting line to the second IPS Kitting line. Making sure that we had room for everything. Making sure that we could produce the parts within cycle time, as well as taking care of any ergonomic issues that arose from that. It was definitely one of the challenges that still stands out to me to this day.

Siddhit: Chris that was a very memorable challenge. I remember how much iteration we did, how many attempts we made to fit the cycle times in. How many things we did to fit the space in the vendor requirements. It was a very weird or different line. I'd like to tell the audience a few terms here. ISP is just input shaft. It's just what Ford motor company calls the input shaft assembly line. This line as Chris said, was going to be a pure kitting line.

If you all have seen or are familiar with multiple sets of assembly lines, you might know about kitting. It's where you put parts that will go into another line, a much bigger line in a box and you dig these parts and just, you know, supply it to one of the stations to that bigger line. That kit goes around with the part to be installed on the main final product, and the operators pick things from that box to put it.

But strangely this kitting line, wasn't just about putting things in a box, which would have been quite simple. This was doing presses and using hand tools and stuff that you wouldn't associate with a regular kitting line. It was quite a bit of a challenge because it's cycle time was very strict. The packaging of the line inside a certain space was very fixed. Certain things could be only there in a certain way.

There was safety and ergonomics, a lot more complication than what a kitting line should have. Chris worked it probably, a little longer than I did.Yeah. This model was also replicated in future programs. Just replicated instead of probably being relooked at, but yes fighting for every second on that line was something I remember as well. That's a great example, Chris. Thanks for sharing. That was a technical challenge.

What was like a non-technical challenge that you faced in which you're like, you know, all these technical challenges are definite and they're concrete, but this stuff is all over the place or how do I even get past this? What was like a non-technical challenge that you faced that you as remember very clearly?

Christine: Ooh, that's actually a good question. I've been trying to think. What is a really good example of a non-technical, and usually the non-technical stuff often falls under dealing with either people or dealing with timelines and that you're working with people when you're on a manufacturing floor, right. That's just part of it. But one time when I was at a different manufacturing facility, one of the issues that came about is, is working within the union parameters.

The relationship between the union and salary is better at some locations than others. At this particular location, it was a tenuous relationship and sometimes getting the rapport that you needed from the union reps in order to get them to understand that you're there to assist. Because when you come in as an industrial engineer especially, the main thing that they're thinking is their jobs are at risk because sometimes a lot of what we do comes with hit count reduction.

But one of the things that we really do is also just making sure the line is right size, that you have the right amount of resources allocated to make sure that you are able to produce this part efficiently. Sometimes it takes doing that, sitting down and talking with them and it happens over the course of a couple of months because they say, oh, yeah, I've heard that before. Why should I trust anything that you say?

But it takes time to develop relationships with people and to get them to understand that you have your job, I have my job. But together we can do better. Once that is established, it usually gets a little bit easier. But yeah, I've had confrontations on the floor, where they're like, oh, you see with a stopwatch and want to take your stopwatch from you. I'm like, okay, no, we're not gonna do that guys. We're not going to play that game. Just knowing how to deal with people in that setting, that's definitely a non-technical problem that I'm sure a lot of people can relate to working in a union shop.

Siddhit: Absolutely. Here, I want to say a few things for non-auto audiences and even international audiences, which is in the US large manufacturing operations are quite unionized, at least for the big three, when industrial engineers come to work, it is admittedly like one of their duties to find ways to reduce headcount. But with unionized manufacturing, a lot of the headcount decisions are already a part of the union discussions with these companies.

It's not like Chris or myself can say, there is a way to get rid of like 15 employees and it just happens. It doesn't happen like that. This is all kind of decided beforehand. Even if headcount is reduced, this is after going through several management levels. The management levels are closer in contact and communication with the plant union rep.

We can't just willy nilly like get rid of people. As far as we can tell, and as far as even some of the more advanced companies in like electrification are concerned, there are some things that industrial engineers know can not be done by a machine. They just can't. We still don't know how to draw out wire harness with a robot. It's not being done yet anywhere. We respect everyone's contribution. I think what Chris is saying is that, if we could work together a little more, I guess it would have maybe helped more.

But we understand why that feeling comes. We from our side would also like to assure that we wouldn't just like reduce operators, Willy nilly. There has to be a definite reason, a definite savings for the company, for the disruption that it's gonna take.I agree with what Chris is saying that sometimes the relations are not the best with the union and between engineers. We'll listen to you more. A few other things that Chris mentioned was stopwatches. Again with unions, the MODAPTS association has an agreement with unions that we have to use MODAPTS, which is something that we discussed In fact, in a episode is with, with Clara Goldberg and with Ed Hollingsworth.

That this is how we measure the productivity. We don't actually use a stopwatch, but we have to use a stopwatch sometimes to like simulate things or find out how much time on machine takes. But in the actual written form for work instruction and work measurement, we do not use stopwatch. We just conform with stopwatch if our calculations are correct. Sometimes it happens that the stopwatch is wrong.

We have to write the correct codes and we might miss something that we just measure with a stopwatch in like a single shot. But we find out more nuances that we get. Sometimes we even videotape with the permission of the operator. We find out that we have a more accurate time study, which includes a lot more time. Stuff like that happens and stopwatch is not how we actually measure the productivity of operators. Didn't know if you wanted to add to that.

Christine: Thank you for that clarification. I also want to add too that might help clarify is that I also work on cycle time for machines also. When this one particular incident occurred, I was actually putting the stopwatch on a machine, but the rep did not realize that and thought I was putting a stopwatch on the person. As you mentioned, we use MODAPTS more often than not. Again, we had to communicate. I think that's the key, is being able to communicate effectively without jumping to conclusions or being defensive.

Sometimes we just need to step back and talk. That can be a challenge in a plant sometimes, but I I've found as long as you're willing to keep a cool head and you're willing to listen to the concerns that are being brought up, they're often willing to come around and listen to you as well.

Siddhit: Yeah. This is what I was talking to Ted Bohl about. He was saying he enjoyed a lot of the times, he worked with a union and I did too. I made some good friends there. Once you start showing your face and once you start listening to what they have to say, those guys work fast and there's hardly any bureaucracy. I mean, you talk to a guy who's in charge of a line and he can just move stuff for you over night.

He can do things fast, he or she, so absolutely. It's just communication and yeah, hopefully Chris, you and I have have done that. Hopefully we have listened to them and it certainly did feel like we did. We could make some impact positively to Ford motor company plant operations.Well, that was a great non-technical example, Chris. Those are real things that happen and people in unionized operations will agree or relate with you.

Now for the next question. If you had a magic wand, this is like a reasonable magic wand, not like a super crazy magic wand. If you could like change one thing about your work or your industry or manufacturing in general, what would that be and why? When I say reasonable, I mean, you can't say you had more time or money for your program or something, but you can say specific things that you find that one move could probably get rid of this annoyance or this problem.

Christine: Ooh,I kinda alluded to it in my previous answer. It's a softer one, but communication. I find that working in between departments, the communication can be so lacking. If we would just talk, take really good notes and remember what was said, that would alleviate so many issues. I cannot count how many meetings I've gone into where are like, oh, we didn't know this was going to happen. You don't want to per my last email, somebody. But sometimes you have to pull your receipts and go, hey, we did talk about it.

Or sometimes what conversely happens is that you have someone from one team and the information wasn't completely shared. That person from a different team ends up coming to a conclusion that might not be accurate because they did not have all the information presented to them. For me, let's say I'm working on a black belt project right now, and that's actually taught me a lot about how to communicate with people and how to create a story that someone can read, even if you're not there to actually speak to it.

I think that's what we have to work on. We have to work on communicating through email or even verbally with people like, hey, will this conversation stand alone. Are you going to be able to understand what I'm saying to you when I'm not here? Can you look at this later and delve the information and understand the information that I'm presenting to you without me here? Yeah. I just think this super important, I can't stress enough how often we get caught up in things that were really just lost in translation.

Siddhit: Absolutely. That's a great magic wand answer. Communication is like really important. Several people have actually mentioned that as being like a major challenge for them and this has been kind of their non-technical answer and it's surprising that this tends to happen more with bigger teams, bigger companies and like lots of departments. yeah, if there was a way to make the communication be lost less and like simple, that'd be a great solution.

Absolutely a very good magic wand answer. It's surprising how many people have mentioned that, siloization of the communication is such a hindrance for them. It's giving me a lot of hints about how enterprise like manufacturing software should be, as somebody working at, Pashi trying to make manufacturing software, I need to take feedback from folks like yourself that, people are finding it difficult to communicate when there are large numbers of functional groups.

Like you have tooling, you have gauging, you have so many parts of PD, like, like how you are a part of product development. You have so many other manufacturing teams, you have union teams. This is a great opportunity to improve work at a manufacturing company, which is prevent improper communication dissemination. Something for everyone to think about. Thank you for that answer Chris.

Finally wrapping up, we have a fun question, which is if this was 2051, or if you could travel to time in 2051, what would a factory, or what would manufacturing look like?

Christine: In 2051, I honestly would imagine it to look like machines making the machines. I think that there would be very little human interface on the production floors and where you will find the human faces will be in maintenance, in programming, in the background. I think we're not quite there yet. As we mentioned before, there are definitely some things, like humans are just better at, than machines right now.

Anything that did deal with fine hand movement we're better at, you know but there's going to be a time and the not so distant future where the things that we've been trying to improve with robots, are actually going to come to fruition and they're going to be able to do some things. I imagine a I'm almost like an I-robot. I don't know if you've seen the movie I-robot where they're manifacturing the the robots. That'skind ofhow I envision it. Hopefully not with the same ending of course.

Siddhit:Yeah. Hopefully. That's a good answer. I had similar views of the factory of the future. Although machines making machines is a very good term. It's something that not everyone intuitively talks about, which is even now, if you think about it, manufacturing with automobile, it is a lot of machines making a car, which is a machine.

Now we are going to the next level in which you're saying that they will make like everything that needs to be made in a plant. It makes everything. You have the assembly lines that even those make machines and even they themselves could be made by machines. Really where the human comes in is where it's no longer possible for a machine to make something. That is truly where the human will will stay.

Like you said, that could be with code or that could be with maintenance because if a machine can't like unscrew like a pen on its own back then you need a human. That's a very good answer. Hopefully, like you said it doesn't get out of our hand. Thank you, Chris for all the great answers. It was great talking to you and catching up with you and have a great day and a week.

Christine: Thank you. You too.

Siddhit: Take care. Bye-Bye.

Outro:[Background music] 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 depend 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 interfaces, stage logic and parameter thresholding, machine interfacing and configuration, robot board programming and coordination and stage to stage to production flow control into a single Pashi program. Check us out at pashi.com. Until we meet again, have a fantastic day and take care.

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