The First Tool I Look At

Listen! There is a reason they have canaries in the coal mine.

As a steel company Metallurgist and Quality Director, I was the guy who got the call to visit a shop because the material we sent wasn’t machining right.

“This stuff won’t drill! Help!”

“This stuff is killing my OD form tool. Can you check the steel?”

“This steel you sent is acting crazy. It machines fine on one machine, but not on the other one.”

As the fellow responsible for the processes and quality system that produced the bars, and having visited my hot mill upstream suppliers, I was always confident that I had provided conforming product.

But how could I make sense of the problems reported?

My solution was to always look at the wrong tool- first.

If they complained about the drill, I asked them to show me the cut off tool.

If they complained about the rough, finish form, or shave tool, I asked them to show me the cut off tool first.

They said “Hey Mr. Free you aren’t paying attention. I said the drill is giving me trouble, not the cut off tool.”

To which I  cheerfully replied “Yes?”

After letting that sink in for a bit I would ask the following appreciative inquiry type of question to lead their thinking:

If the cutoff tool sees every aspect of the steel provided-  the very surface of the outside diameter (OD), the sub-surface, the mid-radius, the core, and it does not have any abnormal issues resulting from this material, what is there about this material that you think would allow it to affect this one tool, but not the cutoff?”

Then we focused on the aspects of the operation that inevitably were found to be the cause.

How does the steel know to only interfere with the drill, lets say? Or the the finish form? While leaving the cut off tool unscathed?

While there can be material conditions that are specific to a certain zone in the steel and thus would manifest on a particular tool, that conditon would also have an impact on the cut off.

 If the cut off  tool is A-OK, it’s probably not the steel.

This is the tool that will tell the tale.

It may not look like a canary, but a cutoff tool can sing a song about your process, if you can listen with your eyes.




2 Responses to The First Tool I Look At

  1. Great post Miles!

    Another tip would be:
    When everything is going well, set aside the most critical (problematic) tool (drill OD form tool, etc.). That is, hide – in toolbox perhaps – a new tool from a batch of tools that is working well. Then, if anything ever goes haywire – and you suspect a tool from a new batch might be a problem – you can put this vintage tool in to see if the problem goes away.

  2. speakingofprecision says:

    Why am I not surprised that a toolmaker would say “vintage tool?” Thanks for sharing your tip Kevin! That will certainly help make sense of what is happening in the operation.

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