About Al Wick

My background is Quality Assurance Management. I worked 14 years for a company that manufactured spur gear and planetary gear winches. Similar to psru's utilized on auto conversions. World leader. They also made various types of 4wd hubs (clutches) sold to Ford, Gm, etc. I held titles such as Precision Inspector, Quality Engineer. Even spent a year writing computer code. One of my job responsibilities was to research failures, write a report of my findings. This responsibility grew to the point where I spent most of my week solving problems. Components that failed ultimate strength tests, electrical failures, paint adhesion, assembly errors. Huge variety. Fabulous company, I could spend all the time I wanted researching the failures, testing and proving hypotheses. I traveled all over the US. They sent me to Ford, Gm, Jeep, AM General when there were problems with our products, routinely to analyze warranty failures.

I've always been fascinated with how ignorant I am. I started out confident my natural problem solving skills would lead to errors. So I use unnatural methods. Instead of accepting the obvious cause for the failure, I force myself to also measure other causes. I keep asking questions. Then do an experiment to prove it. I did blind and double blind experiments to make sure I was objective. Time and again I would find at least 2 or 3 different factors had caused the failure. I got more and more technical training as time went on. There are simple statistical methods that predict just how much each factor contributes to the problem. However, I write my report, and the engineer never addresses cause 2 and 3. We all have a natural tendency to blame everything on one item. It's bizarre.

When I heard about a method used in Japan to improve quality, I would research it. Then try it out. Spc, Taguchi Doe's, FMEA's. They make a huge difference. Yet I was pretty much the only one in the company interested in new methods. Certainly the only one to do Doe's and FMEA's.

As time went on, I identified what are called systemic root causes for the problems. These answer the question:" Why do we keep making these same types of mistakes?". These same patterns show up time and again. I was just a little pea in the pod. Could never get the company to take action on anything but the single obvious cause. So I finally decided to test my ideas out in the real world. I quit and got a job as Quality Manager for a precision sheet metal supplier. I had zero sheet metal experience. When I left 2 years later, our customer return rate was 1/2 of what it was when I arrived. They had a pretend profit “sharing“ plan. Had never had profits high enough to pay anything out. When I left they paid profit sharing for first time in 7 years. Reducing failures has huge affect on profits. It was pretty cool. Finally had proof that my strange way of viewing problems works.

Next I managed quality at an aluminum foundry. Large permanent mold castings and precision machined hubs for heavy trucks. Once again, I had zero experience in this field. In previous occupation, I had measured quality performance of this company compared to 200 others. They were the worst! However, the new owners gave me full support. Their main problem was internal scrap rate. When I started, they annually scrapped 6% of what they made. 1 year later, the average was 3%. This increased profits by millions. But that wasn't the cool part. All of our customers measure our performance. Warranty returns, assembly problems, etc. No one could touch us. Paccar (mother company for Kenworth and Peterbilt) gave us a Preferred Supplier award. We out performed 2500 companies. Then a couple years later, FMC (Military tanks and vehicles) selected us to be the first to receive their Preferred Supplier award. The ceremony was pretty cool, as they brought along "secret" video of our tanks blowing the tops off of Gulf war opponents. However, the award I'm most proud of was from Hewlett Packard (Greeley, Co). Every year they have an awards ceremony for their suppliers. They start the ceremony by getting us in front of the group. Give us an award. Then they explain to the suppliers that we have never provided them with a single product! They created this award because they had never seen any supplier so thorough, creative, and effective at prevention activities prior to shipment. Of course they also "threatened" that we better deliver too!

Last job was Quality Manager for a tubing processing company. Once again, I had zero experience (I love learning new things, my goal was new company each 2 years). Their #2 customer warned they were going to be eliminated if they didn't improve. Worst performing of all similar companies. It took two years before we got letter that we were now their number one rated supplier.

I'm not going to apologize for my success. I do know the ins and outs of problem solving. That means I KNOW I'm an idiot. So I design my plane accordingly. I assume that every failure we read about will also happen to me. Every change I make will fail. So, yes, I do look at things differently. Managing Quality Assurance gave me the control to test my theories on finding permanent solutions. I would implement a solution, then measure how often the failure recurred. New solution, re-measure. How does this compare to “normal” problem solving? We naturally have a tendency to spend around 10 seconds analyzing a problem. We identify a familiar cause. A genuine cause, like “pilot error”. We know we are right, case closed.  I’m not satisfied until I find 4 causes. I seek more than one solution that has proven lasting benefit. I implement multiple solutions.

 

I do offer one piece of advice: If you can force yourself to challenge your beliefs…. Without bias, compare your beliefs to facts. You’ll discover a few of your beliefs are outright false. Many are true, but very insignificant. Most of your beliefs fail the test for significance. Much bigger truths out there. 

 

I used these same tools to retire in 1997 at the age of 45. I don’t live a luxurious lifestyle, but enjoy myself. I was a bit of a workaholic, and this was a way to force myself to pursue the other side of life. I now spend my time volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, a massive remodel of my home, and…..my passion….building and experimenting with aircraft.

 

Divorced after 30 years, now in relationship with a special person, Barbara. Proud of my two successful adult children, Chris and Allison, and grandchild, Evan. Greatly enjoy travelling and exploring this little planet.