Pissing Off Lockheed

Near the end of my shift today I was slaving away in MI/EI getting a large amount of warranty units ready to ship back to their owners. For once I had a fairly trouble-free day which is unusual. Software in my test racks didn’t act up or barf on me, instruments passed electrical tests and mechanical inspections flawlessly. We had plenty of parts in stock so nothing was slowing me down. It was a productive day on the job, one of the best I’d had in quite a while. I should have known it wouldn’t last. Most of the dayshift team had already split to go home. The production line was almost quiet with the exception of high speed humming noise coming from banks of cooling fans in dozens of test stations. Infrequently, the distant sound of a pneumatic torque driver broke through the air. Somebody was still working over in the Spectrum Analyzer group I guessed.

Without warning the Bossman appeared before me as I was sitting sideways at my workbench with a half-gutted Signal Generator lying on a cart. He had a serious, almost worried expression on his face. I put my tools down on the table as he asked me a question. “Approximately how many long length countersunk screws do we have in the new model Sig Gen and where are they located in the instrument?”

I thought about that for a few seconds. The latest box is flimsy as hell, with it’s chassis made out of thin aluminum sheets stamp-cut and press-fitted together. Barely any hardware is used to put these things together anymore, instead we use a few rivets and plastic fasteners that are easily broken under slight amounts of physical stress. Everything else is built by subcontractors and shipped in-house. The only section of the instrument I could think of that had any hardware at all is the RF microdeck. It contains one main circuitboard mounted to a large heat sink. On both sides of the board we mount a series of microcircuits we refer to as the RF Chain. Essentially what it does is create radio frequencies and channel them to the front panel output connector. A few of those microcircuit packages are rather large contained in a metal clamshell with long screws placed in the top cover holding the whole item together.

That was about all I could think of off the top of my head. I told the Bossman that was the only area in the box that would most likely have long length screws but I would double check over in the assembly area. He nodded and asked me to come by his cubical afterward. As he walked towards the front end of the line I navigated my way through the test area to assembly. I sat down at one of the final assembly stations and pulled a rolling parts rack close to my chair that has every microcircuit assembly for the RF Deck in its bins. Plugging in an ESD wrist strap I began opening up opaque silver bags so I could inspect each of our microcircuit parts. I was trying to verify how many of them had those long screws in them. I narrowed it down by a process of elimination which only took a few minutes. There were two packages requiring that kind of hardware, less than a dozen total screws.

I felt puzzled about what the hell was going on.

Strolling over to the Bossman’s desk I gave him the lowdown on our hardware situation and asked what was happening. He said, “Two of four signal generators we just shipped to Lockheed for their LM-Star program failed. One of them was a hard electrical failure after Lockheed technicians plugged the unit in and powered it up. I don’t have all the details yet. The other one had loose hardware in it. When Lockheed opened up the shipping container, a screw was visible sticking out of the side frame by about an inch. They are treating that unit as a DOA. Right now Lockheed is very angry and they want an explanation.” He went on to say Lockheed had taken some pictures of the instrument with the loose screw and forwarded them back to us. The Bossman told me we needed to send Lockheed a procedure for removing that screw as soon as possible and we needed to investigate how this could have happened.

Oh fuck. We’ve already had a rash of recent failures at Lockheed. This wasn’t good.

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~ by factorypeasant on July 19, 2007.

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