Week 21 – Don’t Sweat the “Small” Stuff? You Should.
Hope everyone is doing well and is safe and healthy. It is great that a long weekend is upon us. We have been fortunate to be going non-stop over the past 8 weeks. As an owner of the company, this also includes me going in on the weekends to complete work or get to work that I didn’t have a chance to tackle so I am looking forward to a little break. I am not telling you this to feel sorry for me since it is self-inflicted, but more as a statement that I am jazzed for the break. I likely will pop-in to take care of some little stuff but no stretches of time. I have to practice what I preach to the team that everyone needs to take a mental break in order to recharge. Sometimes, it is easier said than done when you are the boss and you try to get stuff off of your plate to reduce the work load for the following week.
You may be wondering about the title of this week’s blog. Typically, people tell you to not sweat the small stuff since it tends to take care of itself. In science, I would argue that ignoring the small stuff can put you in a worse position. On the contrary, you need to pay attention to the “small” as it can snowball into something bigger. Over the past several weeks, we have been dealing with several small issues that could have morphed into something a lot bigger if it were not for our team being observant. None of these changes were originated by our group, but left unchecked, could have been passed onto our customers and into our research programs.
One of the major challenges of using many different components in our company are changes that are made by our vendors without letting us know. These changes, while considered to be within their product tolerances, can affect their customer’s processes. Product tolerance is the acceptable amount of deviation allowed for a specific item. For example, if you purchase a 15mm diameter screw from the hardware store, the product tolerance from the screw manufacturing company may allow actual average size of the
screw to vary by ± 0.1mm. Therefore, the diameter of the screw may actually measure from 14.9mm – 15.1mm. If the screw measurements fell outside this tolerance (for example a screw with a diameter of 14.5mm), the manufacturing company would stop producing the screws and if any were distributed to hardware stores, etc., those would be tracked down and discarded. This type of product monitoring is done by a company’s quality control system. The manufacturer could also change the acceptable tolerance range, which could have a significant impact on their customer’s process. In our example of the screw diameter, the screw manufacturing company could determine that increasing the tolerance from ± 0.1mm to ± 0.2mm would not affect most of their customers. However, that slight increase may affect several of their customers. This type of tracking becomes more difficult if the company is not located within the United States or if the company’s quality control system is not consistently followed.
Over the past several weeks, we have encountered several products that we have purchased and used in various processes (some for many years) that suddenly underwent some type of change. Unfortunately, we were not made aware of any of these changes and only became aware of them when we were running through our processes. It is always so much fun to try to track down when an issue occurs (this is said with the most sarcastic tone possible). It is like trying to find something in the dark. Being researchers, we have developed good techniques to solve these types of problems. Getting to the bottom of the issue can be extremely maddening and take a decent period of time to solve. It forces you to retrace all steps taken and begin the painstaking process of changing one parameter at a time. This has occurred from something as small as a silicone washer to something bigger like a key solution. We have been fortunate to be able to track down all of the issues we’ve had. This process has also made us more resolute to make sure that the products we are making will undergo a defined quality control process so our customers do not have to deal with any issues and if there are issues, we will be able to let them know right away.
On a separate note, the nice weather is starting up and people will begin to think that everything is back to normal. Like I described above, a small change that is unknown to you can alter so much. We need to stay vigilant and keep social distancing, wear a mask where social distancing is not possible to protect yourself and those around you and frequently wash your hands. We need to look out for each other. Continue to support your local businesses as safely and as much as possible.
Please stay safe and have a great Memorial Day weekend!