Liars, damned liars and engineers

This manufacturing plant has a lot of automation -- and some very specific processes to make sure it all works, says a software developer pilot fish working there.

"We have a system that I designed that's used to build electronics used in the home," fish says. "My system allows the engineers to build an automated route that a product will go through as it is being built."

It works like this: At the beginning of the manufacturing process, the base unit's serial number is scanned. Based on that, a routing program is loaded, and the product travels down a conveyor belt to various stations until it's complete and ready to ship out the door.

For each new flavor of product, an engineer has to build a new route through the process, adding whichever tests should be run against a unit as well as what accessories should be packaged with it. If a unit fails any assigned tests, it's automatically taken off the conveyor.

And if it somehow makes it to the final customer packaging area, workers won't be able to generate a final packing slip with the failed unit.

"It is standard procedure for an engineer to build a route and then walk through with a unit from beginning to end to verify all is working," says fish. "Then, once he has done this, he pulls a template from our document control area and fills it out detailing the process and finally enters the tests he selected and which component the tests are being run against."

But during one audit, auditors discover that one product being sold is not being run through one of the tests that the engineer who verified the process put in his documentation.

What went wrong with the system? An investigation is launched, logs are reviewed, and...the engineer eventually makes a confession: He hadn't even walked a unit through the manufacturing process for this flavor of the product.

Turns out he filled out the document first and then built his route without testing because he'd done this so many times before.

"Was the engineer punished? No," fish says. "But now I have been asked to come up with a method to insure that what the engineer puts in his documentation actually matches the system setup.

"In other words, I have been asked to come up with an automated lie detector."

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