|Killing the Goose...|
Chapter 23: Merit System
Jim Biondo deserves at least half the credit for some of the best looking wheels and wheel covers produced by Ford from 1985 to 1999. Without the fixture he invented for modeling them in clay they couldnt have been cast in steel or aluminum in time for the cars they were designed to compliment. A wheel design that complements the car design gives added value to the car. A wheel that doesnt, takes value away.
The Biondo wheel spinning and indexing fixture allowed us to try out more designs, to do them more accurately in the first shot with a higher level of quality than they could have been designed in the same time without it. Some of them, like Graham Bells backup for Dean Becks turbo wheel, couldnt have been made in the allotted time.
Biondo wasnt entirely thrilled with how his fixture turned out. He designed it to fold so that it could be angled to best suite what the modeler was working on at any given time and stored compactly when not in use. By the time everyone involved in making it got finished, it clunky and less versatile than it should have been. The folding feature had been removed so that it sat upright on a heavy metal base at all times. On the plus side, he noted that the indexing system designed by the Metal Shop was better than anything he envisioned.
I always tried to take lessons from things like this. The lesson here seemed to be that we had enough talent and expertise in the Design Center to accomplish any project if we allowed everyone involved in it to contribute what they could do best. It wasnt a new idea. Designers designed, modelers modeled and engineers engineered. To some extent we were all specialists and generalist with a support team that could bridge the gaps in our capabilities. We just didnt carry the idea far enough. Why couldnt anyone with a good idea borrow the best talent available to see it through? Why did we get trapped in so many craters?
Bill Harbowey had a terrific idea for moving heavy clay front and rear end sections of the Taurus and Sable on partial bucks from the vehicle to the work bench and back again. Long steel bars on the partial bucks slid into sockets in the main body of the clay vehicles and locked in place to position them correctly. The problem was lifting the partials and carrying them back and fourth without damaging the clay. It took four men with strong backs to do it. Harbowey drew up a carrying devise with extensions that clamped onto the sliding bars and two-pronged handles on each end so that two men, instead of four could carry it. The Bowey-bar that the Metal Shop built was heavy and took up a lot of space. I thought that the first trial proved its worth. I was outvoted ten to one.
Of the thirty or so people in the studio only Leonard Gross and Steve Kocsis agreed with me. Everyone else treated it like a laughable failure.
Two men could lift the partial buck easily with the Bowey-bar but the weight was unbalanced so it still required four men to carry it. When we were finished it stood in all of its rigid ignominy taking up a lot of space. It seemed to me that what we discovered in the first trial told us what we needed to do to make it work. A snake in the bar attached to the handles was the only thing required to balance the weight. Using aluminum instead of steel, thinning it down, and configuring it like a corrugated cardboard box for strength could have taken out at least three quarters of the weight. A locking hinge in the center would have allowed it to fold in half when we were finished.
It took three iterations of my turps bottle and tape slicer to get them right. The only difference between them and the Bowey-bar is that I had control over whole process. If Jim McBain or any of the Masters had seen the value in taking the Bowey-bar to the next step of development instead of laughing at its failure I have no doubt that it would have been a success. This kind of failure to learn from seeing how experience compared to theory represented the same shortsightedness involved in things like testing for highlights early in the design process to see where to go next. It baffled me for years and led to my downfall in Large Car.
Only two things of value that I learned in Taurus made their way into how things got done at Ford until 1989. Im not sure that one of them counts because it was something I had actually learned at home and introduced to the Design Center through Frank Horenkamp. Frank figured out how to bypass normal channels and get it into the system.
We could no longer use Quick-stick spray adhesive for foiling because the EPA outlawed the aerosol propellant used in the cans. The environment-friendly Zippatone replacement didnt work nearly as well because the spray wasnt fine enough and it stuck to surrounding parts that we didnt want it to stick to. I couldnt interest Jim McBain or the Large Car Master Modelers in trying out the Zippatone Repositionable spray adhesive that I knew was comparable to the Quick-stick. I told Frank about it and demonstrated what I was talking about with the spray can I brought in to show McBain and the Masters.
Frank didnt work in our studio. He was having a hard time getting a real job anywhere in the Design Center because of a dispute he had outside of work with am influential Ford Engineering executive. He carved out a job for himself that allowed him to order test supplies for all of the studios. He ordered a box of Repositionable adhesive for every studio with a request to test it and send him their evaluation.
The genius of Franks plan was that it didnt actually require the approval of the clay modeling Supervisors to work. Once every studio had a dozen Repositionable adhesive cans in their supply cabinets, enough modelers would use them and want more of them when their supply ran out. The person in charge of ordering supplies, usually a pay grade 3 clay technician or a pay grade-6 modeler reorder them for their studio and kept reordering them until they became standard equipment. With a practical choice staring them in the face of using the regular adhesive for foiling or the Repositionable, even Large Car started using the Repositionable. The best choice was so apparent to everybody that it soon became the only choice.
My turps bottle was the other innovation that spread throughout the design center and became a hot item of demand. That development didnt come easily.
The company switched from using clear turpentine to gum turpentine. Gum turps was a cheaper version of turpentine that clogged up the bristles in the applicator to the extent that nothing came out of the plastic bottle whey you squeezed it. I didnt know about the problem for months because I still had the quality turps in my bottle and I didnt know about the switch to gum turpentine. I didnt even know what gum turpentine was until I went into another studio where I had given a few modelers bottles to try out and saw one of them unscrewing the cap and dipping the brush into the bottle.
None of the modelers wanted to tell me that my turps bottle didnt work. One of them just stopped using it. Another one kept punching pinholes thorough the bristles of the brush whenever they clogged up.
I fixed the problem with the clog but then the brush assemblies started separating from the mount. I learned about that because one of the modelers it happed to threw his bottle away and I happened to see it lying in the trash. I then went to all of the modelers I had given test bottles to and all of them were having problems. This is when I learned that some of them had thrown their bottles away when they clogged. It was frustrating to me because I had easy fixes for both problems but the bottles were hard to come by so I barely had enough of them to go around to see if my solutions worked the way I thought they would.
The solutions did work, permanently. Eventually demand for the bottles far outstripped the supply. First I had trouble finding the right bottles. Then the brushes made in the USA started disappearing. The adhesive holing together the bristles of the cheaper Brazilian brushes was sparsely and spottily applied. When I drilled the hole to insert the metal tube in the brushes that kept them from clogging, they usually fell apart.
An old adage in model building says that you cant change one thing. Consequences flow from everything you do, some of which you can anticipate and some you cant. Thats what I saw in the Biondo wheel spinning fixture, the Bowey-bar and the turps bottle. I wasnt as interested in the products as I was in the process of developing them. What were the common denominators the fundamental principles that could be applied to the next project?
You dont have to be a professional designer, model builder or engineer to recognize some of the fundamental principles of product development that I recognized: 1) Go as far as you can in your head or on paper and track what youre doing. 2) Make the damn thing. 3) Test it find the hidden flaws. 4) Repeat the first three steps. 5) Refine the product. 6) Refine the process.
None of these things became a part of the product development process at Ford unless it started at some official level of leadership and worked its way down or someone brought them in through the back door. If Jim Biondo hadnt been a Master Modeler his wheel fixture probably would have never made it into the system. Although we could experiment all we wanted to in the Large Car studio, thats as far as it went. All of my innovations that ended up as part of the Ford Design process came in through the back door or popped up years later with someone elses name on them.
You cant always see the path of your future career. Between 1984 and 1987 I couldnt even be sure of how the men who would influence my future at Ford saw me. I couldnt be sure who all of them were or who which ones had veto power over the others. To some extent you plotted your own career path by what you did and didnt do to profit the company but you got ahead only to the extent that the people above you recognized what you did. Sometimes they couldnt acknowledge what you did without exposing flaw in the existing process that they wanted to hang onto .
Although most of Large Cars efforts went toward creating the86 Taurus and giving it face-lifts for 87, 88, and 89, we were also charged with face-lifting the Ford Crown Victoria and its Mercury counterpart. Just as we referred to the Taurus and Sable jointly as Taurus, we called the big Ford and Mercury the Panther series.
Frank Baylow, one of the most respected and highest paid Master Modelers in the Design Center led the modeling on the Panthers in another studio. He considered himself the best modeler at Ford and most modelers who saw him in action agreed with him. Like Joe Seibold, Frank Baylow came to Ford in the 1950s. He was good then and he got better. He was blunt in his criticism and spars in his praise. When he gave one to you a compliment, you knew that you he truly believed you earned it.
The Panthers had been around in more or less the same form for so long that the factory tools used to stamp the sheet metal were beginning to wear out. Consequentially, the cars that rolled off of the assembly lines didnt always match the SLR drawings that created the dies. I encountered that problem on my first assignment with Frank Baylow when I tried to model a strap that went over the roof from the driver side of the B-pillar to that passenger side. There were actually two parts. Where they were supposed to meet in the middle according to the strap drawing, I got a half-inch gap according to the C-pillar drawing.
The strap drawing was not a new addition for the Crown Vic. It was as old as the drawings for the roof and B-pillars. I was just duplicating it so that we could apply a new molding to it. The discrepancy was so great that I figured I must have screwed up somewhere. When I couldnt find the error I took the problem to Frank Baylow. He couldnt find the error, either but his experience told him what had happened. He told me.
The designers cheated the engineering parameters. The modelers cheated the clay surfaces. The draftsmen cheated the points and templates. The people on the factory floor made adjustments that were never recorded to pull everything together. They probably wouldnt have been able to do it if the engineering parameters had been honest. In other words, the cheating done all around averaged itself out to the extent that it was possible to assemble the car but not possible to get the best fit and finish. In all the years between the cars inception to this point in its history I was the first person honest enough to identify the problem.
Frank Baylow told me that I did an outstanding job and that he would pass it on to McBain. We worked together for only a few hours so it didnt count for as much as it would have if we had worked together for as long as I worked with Greg Arceri and Ray Campau. Moreover, it was a technical issue and Arceri and Campaus biggest criticism of me was that I was too technical when I should have been more creative.
By creative, Arceri and Campau meant that they though I spent too much time on details instead of whipping in a surfaces for quick reviews which led to whipping in more quick surfaces for more reviews. That approach to modeling is what led to the fit and finish problems we had with the Panthers and always cost more time than it saved. It wasnt as if the Master Modelers didnt know this in their heart of hearts. Whenever someone cracked, The faster we go the behinder we get, everybody smiled knowingly.
Bill Harbowey got upset with me as we were working on the Taurus SHO, a sporty version of the Taurus, when I went into the back room and started writing an article for the Highlight. The designer, Dennis Reardon, was stuck on what to do with the rocker panel on my side of the model as well as Harboweys side. Harbowey busied himself by spotting in sections to give Dennis more choices and Dennis went around in circles trying to make one of them work. To me that was more than a waist of time. It was counterproductive.
I could see how confused and frustrated Dennis was getting. He didnt need more choices; he needed time to think a couple of them through. His confusion on what to do with Harboweys side showed in his confused sketches. Nothing flowed together the way it should have. When he came over to my side, where I was doing as little as possible, we talked a little about the rocker and a lot about his beautiful Fine Art paintings, his family and his ambition to become a more successful designer. He doodled as he talked and when I said, You need time to think about this, dont you? his face melted in relief.
He left the job to work out his sketches. Thats when I went to the back room and started writing again while I waited for him. Harbowey came to me fuming. He said that I spent too much time in the back room when I should be out on the floor. I told him why I left and he told me that I should have been working twice as hard to help the designer get unstuck. I told him that Dennis didnt need my help at this point. He was a good designer. He had a fuzzy idea of what he wanted and he needing time to clarify it in his mind. Harbowey finally left in a huff, more concerned about my image than the model. He wanted to help me and I dont think he realized that I appreciated what he was trying to do.
I had seen enough of Dennis Reardons work to have confidence in his ability to clarify his intent when he relaxed enough to do it. He went away and returned sooner than I expected. The new sketch he gave to Harbowey was pure busywork. It had little character and no chance of making it past the first review. The sketch he did for me was very close to the SHO that went into production. Now that he knew where he wanted to go he let me do what I knew how to do to get him there. It worked in reality because nobody cheated on paper or in the clay.
The SHO project lost me creativity points and initiative points with everyone who counted except Dennis Reardon. Never mind that the job didnt have to be changed in Feas to accommodate build and assembly considerations we missed, re-designed to recapture Reardons design intent that got lost in Feas or re-SLRed. When I gathered and applied all the critical information I could get before slinging clay or backed away from the job until I could get it, that was the end of my appraisal. It marked me as a guy who wasnt creative enough to make something nice out of conflicting information or industrious enough to work harder when the critical information wasnt available.
My creative talents in other areas were never questioned.
When Dennis Reardon wanted to make duel exhausts for the SHO clay model that looked like they were emitting exhaust fumes during a patio review, he asked me to make them. Reardon, Harbowey and I tossed around different ideas and between us we came up with the best solution. Dry ice was a natural for simulating the fumes and Reardon picked up enough of it to suit the purpose. I designed the mechanism that made it work and Harbowey and I made the sporty exhausts.
The exhausts were a big hit. Harbowey thought that it was the coolest thing to come out of the studio. I dont think that he or Reardon ever realized that the coolest part of the project was the collaborative process. It was an easy job for me to do on my own but getting Dennis and Harbowey involved gave us the best result in the least time. To me the idea of pooling the strengths of everybody around me to produce a realistic working model was more important than the model itself. I believed in the Team Taurus ideal. I believed in it because I saw that it worked every time and expanded the capabilities of everyone involved.
Jim McBain never caught on to what I was doing. He was thrilled with the smoking exhausts but he gave me too much credit for making them and too little credit for demonstrating how to do it. When he needed a fixture for anything that worked better than one we got from the Metal Shop he asked me to make it with full confidence that I could. To him it was a special talent I had that he could use whenever he needed it like a special tool in his managerial toolbox. The idea that some of the things I could do were possible for anyone in the studio never entered his mind.
Youd think that I would be thrilled with that kind of distinction. I would have been if I had been a Sculptor on the high end of the pay scale with a realistic shot of becoming a Master Modeler. As it was, the one thing I needed to be seen as to advance in my career was missing from McBains analysis. I needed him to see me as a top-notch modeler in general and a leader, not just as a specialist in solving certain kinds of in-house engineering problems. I was not an engineer. I had no desire to become one and to be thought of in that way did not help my chances of ever reaching the top of my profession.
A popular myth held that there were two basic kinds of modelers, technical and creative. If you were tagged with the label of being a technical modeler, you were expected to follow prints to a fault when the modeling problems confronting you required creative solutions. If you were thought of as a creative modeler your technical skills mattered only to the extent that they allowed you to make a great looking model quickly. You were expected to violate feasibility parameters that got in the way of the best looking designs for hour-to-hour or even minute-to- minute evaluations of what you were working on.
This is how the modelers most touted as being the great ones did it. It took me ten years to see it see it but once I did it was too late for me to change my ways. By then I knew that I was doing it they way the great ones should have done it. It wasnt just a question of playing the game to get ahead; it was a question of ethics. I couldnt take money for doing things that I knew would cost the company more than they paid me. At the same time, Ford wasnt paying me enough to make it worth the money to work overtime.
There had to be a way to demonstrate conclusively that my way of doing things was putting the company miles ahead. I was making all the right moves, which were demonstrated by the fact that my jobs never came back to be reworked. I even solved the final surfacing problem for the Sable because of miner feasibility violations in the body side that went to the Feasibility studio and translated into unacceptable highlights. I did it in one day rather than two or three weeks because my surface obeyed the rules. Therefore the drawing made from my surface obeyed the rules and the feasibility model made from the drawing was correct.
My problem was that I did the job too quickly. Ray Everts and Fritz Mayhew could not conceive of that happening the way I did it so he attributed the flaws in the Feasibility surface to bad modeling. I got the job because the portion of Feas model that was jacked-up was the way it should have been when I did it. But the problem was in another portion of the body side that led into it. I did the job so quickly that no one else in the Large Car studio recognized that I did it at all.
Two projects cropped up shortly after that, close enough together in time and in such sharp relief that my modeling approach should have gotten the recognition it deserved.
I was assigned to model a face-lift for the Ford Crown Vic rear end. An A-modeler named Bruce Berringer was assigned to do a rear end face-lift for the Mercury. The partial bucks were positioned side by side. Graham Bell was the manager and chief designer for both of them. His duties were spread thin and the face-lifts started on the back burner so he wasnt able to give us much direction. When the projects moved to the front burner we were still looking for specific designs. All I had to go on was a general idea that the Ford taillights were going to be big and two or three rough sketches that didnt have much in common. All Bruce had to go on was a general idea that Mercury taillights were going to be slim and two or three rough sketch that didnt have much in common.
While Bruce worked frantically to keep up with all of Grahams hand waving changes, I backed off and concentrated on nailing down the carryover trunk, the rear quarter panel and the license plate pocket. I made changes to the taillights as slowly and superficially as possible. My glacial pace and my choice not to work overtime drove Graham up a wall but he couldnt do anything about it because I was so much farther ahead than Bruce was. The harder Bruce worked on the Mercury the farther ahead I got on the Ford. It reached a point where Graham stopped paying attention to me altogether and replaced Bruce with two Master Modelers, Greg Arceri and Ray Campau.
Greg, Ray and I knew that the Mercury mess was Grahams fault, not Bruces. They had the same problem of tying to keep up with Grahams changes that Bruce had in addition to the problem of getting familiar with the job and trying to balance what they were doing on each side of the model. With all of the changes they made, they inevitably scraped away clay surrounding the taillights that should have been held and had to start all over when they checked a critical point and found that it was wrong. My biggest problem was drawing a line that defined the shape of the taillights in a way that was consistent with the information I had.
All things considered, it wasnt a big problem. I took the time to think about what I was doing and the implications of trying to do something else and came up with a line that fit all of the conditions. Eventually, Graham would have done the same thing because there was no other way to do it. Besides, it was his job to do it. I needed a break and since Graham Bell was ignoring me I took two days off for a vacation.
When I got back I was astonished to see how much farter behind me Ray and Greg were than they were before I left. I expected that one of them would take over the Crown Vic but in the time I was gone the Mercury had gotten into so much trouble that Ray and Greg were starting from scratch. There was total a tear-up on both sides of the Mercury. The Crow Vic was just the way I left it.
The heat was on everybody because we were rapidly approaching a full dress show and the production models were scheduled to go to assembly soon after that. I didnt feel the heat at all because I didnt have much to do. I just sweetened the line around the driver side taillight, put it on the other side and called for the plastic shop to come in and make a plaster cast for the lenses. An hour or so later, when the casts came off, I started digging out the cans for the light bulbs. Meanwhile, Ray and Greg were still working like maniacs on the Mercury with two different taillight proposals in the rough.
When time got so short that Graham had to choose one side of the Mercury to go with, I was polishing the surfaces of the cans for foil. I knew that the plastic lenses would fit perfectly because the surrounding area did not change. The final Mercury design looked a hell of a lot like one of the first ones Bruce Barringer modeled. That decision didnt surprise me because the rules of aesthetics dont change and that was the best design that could have been achieved considering the lines and surfaces that had to be kept. All of the problems with the Mercury boiled down to trying to change things that could not be changed things we all should have known before we started.
Naturally, the finished Crown Vic model was a jewel. Three was no excuse for it not to have been. I had several weeks to work on it. Naturally, the Mercury was a bit ragged. Ray and Greg had only a couple of days to work on it.
The lessons should have been clear. Taking a little time up front to clarify what youre aiming at before you pull the trigger gives you a much better chance of hitting the target. It saves time in the end and a hell of a lot of ammunition. But the only lesson Jim McBain, Greg Arceri and Ray Compau got out of the situation was that Graham Bell worked his modelers too hard because he couldnt make up his mind. I think I lost points there, too, because of the time I took off from work.
Soon after that incident I was working on loan to the Taurus Interiors studio headed by Mimi Vandermullen when one of her designers gave me the same problem I had with Graham Bell and the Crown Victoria. Three modelers were doing proposals for Taurus Instrument panels. This time my job seemed to be farther behind because of the time I took to figure out where we were and where were we needed to go. I made sure that I put in all of the basic information correctly but that was about it.
Around 9 A.M. I got a call at work from the Detroit Police telling me that a man had knocked my son off of his bicycle in a park and stolen it. I took most of the day dealing with the police and my hurt and angry son. That night I got a call from my old friend Homer Robinson telling me that his sister had been murdered. I went to the funeral the next morning and stayed with Homer the rest of that day.
When I returned to work I found that I was again way ahead. The other two instrument panels were so far from where they had to be that they required total tear-ups. My finished IP was gorgeous in every detail because I had weeks to work on in. The other designs may have been better but the modelers had only days to finish them so in a side-by-side show the IP I worked on won the competition hands down. I won points with Mimi and Dennis Phinney, the Master Modeler I worked with on a problem seat as well as the winning IP that went into production.
I wasnt sure if my success in Taurus Interiors carried over to the exterior studio where I was assigned. On my 84 performance review Jim McBain gave me an EP, not an O. Still suffering under the illusion that I had to be a Master Modeler to get an O, I accepted the EP gratefully. McBain was making noises like he wanted me to be on the next list of candidates for Master Modeler and Vic DeBono was giving me the kind of leadership assignments in McBains absence that McBain, Ray and Greg had given him to support his candidacy for Master Modeler.
On top of that, McBain had taken part in a group problem-solving exercise for management that he brought back to the studio and called his Masters and two of his Sculptors into his office to work on. Steve Kocsis was one of the Sculptors. I was the other. As a group we failed, but the complex logic problem intrigued me so I took it home. It was supposed to be too difficult for one person to solve in the allotted time of one hour. It took me close to an hour to discover a fatal flaw in the problem that defied a conclusive answer and another hour to propose a solution that was most probable, instead. My point-by-point analysis proved my contention but it was difficult for McBain to follow. He suggested that I send my solution to the Ford executive who dug up the problem.
The executives name was Ray Sauers. He sent me a hand-written letter acknowledging that I was right and that partly because of my discovery the company would stop using the exercise.
I didnt anticipate the political fallout. Dave Turner had figured out the supposed right answer ahead of anyone in his group and that alone put him on a fast track to bigger and better things. The same was true with other executives and some Master Modelers. Sauers could not issue an open acknowledgment to everyone without making the executives who were now up for big bonuses and promotions for coming up with the wrong answer so quickly look ridiculous. Nevertheless, I figured that I had to be piling up points somewhere.
By the time the Taurus and Sable hit the road with universal acclaim, piling up points mattered a great deal. The cars were so successful that the company was again going to start paying merit increases.
Jack Telnack and Fritz Mayhew called us to a meeting where they explained that the new merit system would make it possible for more people to get higher increases every 12 months. The plan was so new that the 12% to 3% annual increase scale projected on the screen was written in longhand. They tried to sell us the idea that getting rid of the annual 3% increase for everybody to help fund the new system was a good idea. That way the slackers wouldnt get the money that the real workers deserve. For the most part their sales pitch worked.
Everybody could point to somebody they believed was less deserving than they were. Unfortunately, they made their assessments to often according to groups. Most white employees thought that they deserved more than all of the black ones in their group. Most of the men thought they deserved more than all of the women. The highest paid employees thought that they should get the highest increases. The people who were due for a raise when the merit increases were frozen thought that they would get preference over those who got their raises before the freeze. I thought that I could see it in their faces during the meeting. After talking to as many people as I could in the next few months I confirmed it.
Back in the studio I told Greg about my misgivings. He looked at me as though Silly Putty had mysteriously taken the place of my brain.
You should be turning cartwheels, he said. Youre one of the people thats gonna really make out.
Yeah. You got frozen way low. Everybody knows what you can do. The new system was made for guys like you.
My fortunes had been rising steadily before the freeze. I got another EP in a long series of them. Not everyone knew everything I did it the Taurus studio and few of those who knew what I did understood how I did it but so many new something that it had to add up. Greg was on my side. McBain was on my side. Vic DeBono was on my side and so were Frank Baylow, Bill Harbowey, most of the designers and all of the draftsmen and engineers. How could I lose?
 SLR once stood for Surface Layout Release. These were the mechanical drawings created by draftsmen from points, templates and digital scans of the clay models for factory tools. When Body Engineering approved these drawings they were used to make cube models in hard, shiny resin for final review by Design. Cube models were more expensive to change than clay models and the entire budget for design and engineering was only a fraction of the costs for tooling. Therefore it was far more expensive to make design changes after the SLR date than before it. Gradually, however, the term re-SLR crept into the system with increasing frequency until the meaning of SLR changed to Surface Layout Recommendation, which added to the tooling cost. A proposed design could be re-SLRed an indefinite number of times.