Honeywell FM&T has found a myriad of ways to pass job know-how from senior to junior engineer. Now executives and managers identify important design areas that can be demonstrated via finite element analysis technology. Then, manufacturing and design engineers as well as analysts can run the demonstrations to learn key parts of each other’s jobs. The simulation advisors are developed under Honeywell’s knowledge capture program, which makes sure that key process information is not lost and is as widely distributed as possible. The company takes a multifaceted approach to what managers at Honeywell refer to as knowledge preservation or knowledge capture. The advisors simulate a manufacturing or engineering process that the new engineer will be called upon to carry out. Newbies can play around with a model. They might change settings on a virtual machine or experiment with how different diameters or materials would affect a part, much as they would when running a part analysis.
Much of the time we're running on autopilot. Consider the act of shaving. You don't have to talk yourself through it every day like you did the first time. Most likely, your mind is on other things even as you pull a razor blade across your skin.
Or driving. A daily driver pulls out without thinking. The teenager with license newly in hand still runs through a mental checklist before he moves the car onto the street.
The same could be said for new employees, says Jim Mahoney, a simulation engineer at Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies in Kansas City, Mo. A prime contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy, the company makes electronic manufactured, and engineered-material components for the defense industry.
Many engineers spend their entire careers at Honeywell FM&T, Mahoney said.
"We've been in production for so long we have folks toward the end of their careers, like mechanical or metallurgical engineers, that have 30 years experience on how to make parts on a certain machine or assembly," he said.
They know how to do their jobs inside and out; they've learned the tricks of the trade to the point that they take them for granted. It 's not information they think of as knowledge per se. So they don't consider imparting it to their younger colleagues.
"When someone is here 30 years and decides to retire, it leaves a huge hole," Mahoney said.
Honeywell executives saw that vital engineering information was walking out of the company year after year and decided to do something about it. The company has found a myriad of ways to pass job know-how from senior to junior engineer, said Michelle Maurer, a staff engineer at the company.
"Our concern was that the workforce is getting older and a lot of knowledge is going right out the door," she added.
Honeywell FM&T executives wanted to specifically ensure that none of what they defined as the company's manufacturing specialties, like welding, machining, forging, and product assembly, degraded as engineers left the company. They figured that if design engineers better understood manufacturing processes and if manufacturing engineers better understood how mechanical engineers do their jobs, they'd work together toward the most manufacturable products.
At first, executives tried cross-training finite element analysts and manufacturing engineers to understand each other's work. Because each field is equally intense, it was quite hard for analysts to get up to speed on the manufacturing engineers' specialty, and vice versa.
So Honeywell came up with a better idea. Now executives and managers identify important design areas that can be demonstrated via FEA technology. Then, manufacturing and design engineers as well as analysts can run the demonstrations to learn key parts of each other's jobs.
For instance, both types of engineers, by tinkering with Honeywell's homegrown software, can get a better idea of the relationship between the mass of a tooling fixture and resulting shock and vibration during assembly. The hands-on training system, called a simulation advisor, shows engineers how changing mass affects product assembly down the line.
The simulation advisors—which key all types of engineers into each other's processes—are developed under Honeywell's knowledge capture program, which makes sure that key process information isn't lost and is as widely distributed as possible.
The company takes a multifaceted approach to what managers at Honeywell refer to as knowledge preservation or knowledge capture. On the computer-simulation side, Mahoney and his team—notably Aaron Seaholm—build the simulation advisor using computer interfaces that closely resemble the Internet and software tools new engineers are already familiar with.
The advisors simulate a manufacturing or engineering process that the new engineer will be called upon to carry out. Newbies can play around with a model. They might change settings on a virtual machine or experiment with how different diameters or materials would affect a part, much as they would when running a part analysis. Fledgling employees get quick results on how their changes might affect part or process.
The advisors roughly simulate and are intended to speed up the way older generations of engineers learned on the job: by trial and error.
In fact, the simulation advisor is nothing so much as a virtual mentor. It allows all Honeywell engineers to run key processes virtually, learn from their mistakes, get the hang of the process and the manufacturing machines, and to pick up on the little ins and outs that they'd spend a long time learning hands-on at the actual job.
Seaholm and the computer simulation team built advisors for seven manufacturing processes during the past year or so, including an inertial welding program that new engineers train on to learn Honeywell's rather unique process. That way, they can better design parts that can be easily welded.
"In inertial welding you take a part, leave it stationary, take another part, and put a flywheel to it to spin it, then jam it into the other one," Mahoney said. "The intimate contact and the friction and the flywheel force a diffusion bond."
A number of factors implicit in that process affect part quality.
"How much force you use on impact, how fast you turn the part—they all have a measure on how the part turns out," Mahoney said. "If the force is too light, it doesn't come together.
"A 30-year engineer knows this," he added. "But a new one wouldn't know the outcome of using too much force. He's just trained on how it's done. He needs to be able to kind of fool around with it."
A new engineer could learn all this slowly over time at the actual manufacturing machine, although he'd have to wait in line to get time on the machine; or, he could simulate it and play around with force and flywheel speed on the computer.
"So this new engineer can run a whole bunch of these simulations very quickly and get an understanding of how they work," Mahoney said. "That and mentoring is how someone learns very quickly. It's really kind of a niche or an advantage we have in understanding how products can be formed."
The simulation advisor uses FEA technology that runs in the background, and an engineer training on the advisor sees only a visual interpretation of the process on a Web browser. That is, the engineers use an interface they're familiar with and don't need to learn the ins and outs of an analysis program. For FEA, Honeywell uses Abaqus from Abaqus Inc. of Pawtucket, R.I.
Seaholm also uses Web authoring tools and the free-use Python programming language to create the advisors.
Why This Way
The simulation advisors get new engineers up to speed quickly, and although they still can't simulate 30 years of field experience held by a retiring engineer, they can help a new engineer learn by trial and error.
An older engineer alight know that a mechanical engineering or manufacturing process needs to be done a certain way, but he might not know why, Mahoney said.
"Our knowledge preservation program is good at showing us how we make something, but it's not good at showing us why we don't make it another way," he said. "The simulation tools show us not just why we do it, but what would happen if we tried to do it another way. We can ask what-happens-if questions.
"Engineers can try things out, they can double the load for a part and see what happens," he added. "They get to fool around with stuff."
The simulation advisors help new engineers learn how to make a part and how to design a better part by picking up on the variables inherent in a manufacturing process they may never have used before, he said.
Multiple Media Training
Still, new Honeywell engineers have yet another training ace up their sleeve. They can call upon a wealth of archived information glean ed from other engineers. Those archives—stored on a variety of multimedia applications, all accessible via the company's intranet—aren't just for fresh hires.
Michelle Maurer heads up the knowledge preservation program that maps in detail how certain processes are done. All engineers have access to that information, brought to them right on their desktops, for a quick tutorial.
The maps cover things a person wouldn't intuitively figure out or that simple documentation wouldn't cover, Maurer said. High-level maps offer a broad overview of a process. Users then circle in until they're learning the minutiae of a process within a process.
The maps take the training manual and on-the-job training a step further. The digital maps are often coupled with video clips of interviews with engineers explaining how they perform the process at hand. Engineers' notes are also included. The experts speak on screen about how they arrived at the best method for performing their particular process.
The entire knowledge preservation program is a lot like an oral history. You want to record what people know while they're still around to tell you about it. In this case, you want to catch engineers in order to pick their brains before they re tire.
The program gives older engineers a way to record their methods and talk about how they discovered the best way to carry out an engineering process. It also gives Honeywell a way to arc hive a tip sheet on a process that the company no longer runs. In the defense industry, you can never be sure a manufacturing method is really retired, even if it hasn't been run in 15 years, Maurer said.
Human memory being what it is, engineers can't be expected to pick right up and start production of a part they haven't worked on in more than a decade. An archived process map gives them a quick tutorial, ensuring that they won't have to reinvent the wheel while getting up to speed.
Maurer's department documents about eight to 12 processes a year, most recently the company's hydroforming method. Documentation starts with the computerized maps that go over a process in minute detail, covering the critical steps.
"You're told to mix something, but what exactly does 'mixing' mean?" she added. "It might mean shake it 20 times just so.
"That's the kind of knowledge the experts have and it may go out the door with them," she said. "Or it may get lost if we're not running the process anymore, and then we bring it back."
Maurer's team documents only advanced engineering and manufacturing methods that, through the years, have become Honeywell signature processes.
"If we do something unique with gold plating, we show an operator putting a part in a bath while a narrator gives step-by-step instructions," she said. A plating engineer's notes are included on screen, telling you why he does a certain thing a particular way.
"The material engineer's notes talk about how they had to buy a certain material, that they tried another material but it reacted differently," Maurer said. "Then we'll have a chemist talking about how he analyzes the solution."
Other mixed media presentations detail the company's fiber-optic polishing, plastics molding, machine gear-hobbing, and plating processes.
But getting those presentations pinned down isn't easy. Especially when it comes to engineers, who are generally a retiring lot that shy away from being video tap ed. They're often self-conscious when speaking of something they do every day; they may not consider their information noteworthy, Maurer said.
But once those engineers work with the videographers and media specialists who put together the program, they often jump at the opportunity to document another part of their job, she added.
"The engineers can leave happy without feeling like they're walking out without telling someone how they did something," she added.
The training department has told her that the mapping and media programs take months off training time. But it has another use as well: tracking what others might think of as an outdated method. Those outdated methods, after all, can be needed on a moment's notice.
For example, Honeywell hadn't built a particular cable in several years. Luckily, the knowledge preservation team documented how it had been made. Engineers referred to those video clip s and documents when they needed to reintroduce the cable.
"The soldering was unique. How it was put together was unique. The engineers could refer to information about that and learn from it." Maurer said. "We didn't have to do as many development parts."
Keep Information Handy
Honeywell found its own way to preserve engineering knowledge through a blend of technologies and media. Other companies that want to archive mechanical engineering information may wish to take advantage of certain features now included in many computer-aided design systems. Most software vendors refer to these features as knowledge capture capabilities.
For instance, the CAD program Catia version 5, from Dassault Systèmes of Paris, gives engineers the ability to capture their best practi ces, as Ed Ladzinski of IBM said, or to work under the guidance of a company's best practices. Ladzinski is worldwide analysis and knowledgeware domain manager for IBM in Armonk, N.Y.
Best practices detail how a part is best made, a concept based on years of experience and on corporate standard specifications.
"An engineer will make something and it has to go through levels of approval," Ladzinski said. "The engineer has to make sure company practices are followed and particular materials are used."
Corporate standards are programmed into the CAD system's knowledge-capture element so an engineer doesn't have to design parts anew every time. If a part needs to be made of a particular material, the CAD system lets an engineer know that. He won't be able to choose any other material.
Engineers also use that knowledge-capture feature to optimize parts. Older engineers may have programmed the CAD system with information they've gleaned over the years. A part might have a minimum weight requirement, for example. Design parameters would automatically nudge the engineer to stay above that minimum weight, Ladzinski said.
His system's knowledgeware feature also profiles an entire process. A company like Boeing, for instance, can store information on how it has created an airplane wing, so that it can be duplicated in the future by other engineers. This feature is accessed through the CAD program's attendant product life-cycle management system, Enovia, from IBM or SmarTeam from Dassault Systèmes. That feature also helps automate the design process to ensure that parts are designed consistently.
"The designer inputs critical parameters for a part he's designed, and then an Excel spreadsheet will show him where he's exceeded design parameters or where the cutter can't make the cut, so it can't be manufactured," Ladzinski said.
That information about the cutting machine may have been included by an engineer who has struggled with the machine in the past, and has learned the hard way ab out what it can and cannot do. An other engineer won't have to learn that same lesson the hard way.
When finances and time are a consideration—as they always are in the business world—you only get one time to learn the hard lessons. Companies recognize that. Executives understand that keeping engineering information at the ready that once 11light have been considered outdated speeds production and gives new engineers a leg up. After all, being the new person is hard enough.