Code Wars

Simple manufacturing processes like sheet metal fabrication and instrument assembly were just the first stages of offshoring to Malaysia. In a crazed rush to foist anything and everything overseas with the shortsighted goal of boosting those end-of-quarter earnings we’ve finally reached a point of no return. Engineering responsibilities are being shifted away in addition to everything else. The Malay’s past record of performance dealing with assembly and technical problems is shaky at best. Turning their engineers loose redesigning circuitboards, software, and mechanical parts (like instrument chassis) is dangerous. It’s dangerous because they are inexperienced and we have little direct oversight or control of what they’re up to at any given time. Lately we have discovered widespread problems after the fact that Malay engineers have been tinkering with programming.

B-Rad, Garden Gnome, and myself have been pulling our hair out dealing with a rash of random test code problems at EI. After each instrument passes mechanical inspection it’s shoved over to an electrical inspection test system. Cable everything up, execute the test software and off you go. Then everything turns to shit. It’s different every time which makes troubleshooting these problems a real nuisance. See, when an instrument barfs under test generally we don’t know what caused it. We have to methodically rule out obvious things like operator error. Were all the cable connections in their proper location? Was the wrong software suite executed? If all that stuff checks out okay then you have to begin looking at more complex aspects of the problem. Is something wrong inside the unit itself like a mis-connected cable or bad firmware? Maybe you hook up another identical instrument to see if the failure repeats. Troubleshooting takes a tremendous amount of time away from production. When all options have been exhausted we frequently come to the conclusion that EI software code is messed up. Then we have to call engineering support. That’s when DJ Danny Mac shows up on the shop floor with a pencil behind his ear and a mangy, crumpled, yellow graph paper notepad under his arm.

DJ Danny Mac is a skilled software code monkey. As soon as he’s digging around in code guts he can usually figure out what the hell is busted within minutes. That’s cool. What isn’t cool is the overall cause of so many new software bugs creeping up that waste our time. According to DJ Danny Mac our Malay software engineers are rewriting code as it suits them without alerting anybody in the company that they’ve made a change. Once they’ve made an edit to a program, they upload it to master servers located in the Spokane, Washington division. From there the new versions of software are pushed out globally. Every service center and manufacturing division will receive and automatically update in a couple of hours worldwide. Of course by the time guys in our division realize what happened it’s far too late. To keep us running, local engineers have to write new code to create a temporary fix. Hours later they will push out that updated version to Spokane’s master servers. For whatever reason their revised program edits might cause another unforseen issue that only affects production in Malaysia. Then Malay software code tinkering starts over and the process repeats itself. Welcome to engineering software code wars round number 3! Fight!

What a waste of time and resources. If employees writing new software would think ahead just a little bit to email production divisions a heads-up that an edited program is going live it sure would save everyone a bunch of headaches and frustration. But, that would make things too easy.

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~ by factorypeasant on October 3, 2006.

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