[Humor] Reflections on dysfunctional manufacturing

This is my 11th year in manufacturing, I’ve been an engineer for the last two. This was a cathartic essay I wrote on a lunch break a while back when I starting to lose my marbles.

----

The train is not put together as a hallmark of manufacturing, the efficiency of a supply-chain, the skill of the technicians, nor through brilliant design; it is assembled, rather, out of spite.

The transfer of an item from warehouse stock to the production floor results in an ERP movement from one warehouse location to another. The production floor is itself regarded as a warehouse location within the software, and the database regards all items as being “stored” on the production floor. This storage locations within the production floor warehouse are undefined, and the “stored” items may find themselves in the coincidental positions respective of a fully assembled product. The items can only be destroyed if scrapped, and cannot be consumed by the assembly process until the unit is “sold” to another department. The items must be stored in a very particular fashion with specific procedures and order of storage, and the successful storage of these items results in a sellable product.

Because there is no locations in the ERP for items in the production floor “warehouse,” there can and will become disorder. The larger and longer the operation, the greater this chaos grows until the system is recognized by all as being entropic. Acceptance that this entropic system has emerged is universal; it is understood as living fact by all, from operators and technicians, to the site leadership.

There are those who will defy this reality, in an attempt to make the process more efficient and reduce waste. They declare that the observed behavior has an explanation, a reason, one that is sensible and controllable. Their folly is looked upon with pained remembrance from the seasoned employees, and openly mocked by the jaded. Exuberance on the part of these foolish warriors will only carry them so far. The time cost of untangling the entropic zone slows down production to a crawl, yet the product must be produced on time. Discouraged, these bold few will either descend into madness, or acceptance, becoming one of the jaded.

The path of the jaded is simply to lessen the acceleration to lunacy, a forestallment of the inevitable. These few become acolytes to the entropy, gaining an almost hidden knowledge. These are identified by their mad, vacant smile they possess when hearing about another production hold-up. These few are the ones who always know where the caches are, the lost boxes, the equivalent parts and spare tools from old projects sitting in the rusted shed out back. All these band-aids seek to stem the tide until one day, as reality fractures and continues to peel back, the horrifying truth becomes startlingly clear: time and space are broken.

The entropic zone, once created, always grows, and cannot be destroyed without brute cataclysm. Parts are seemingly consumed, but are nowhere to be accounted for, and the time-energy needed to secure them always increases. Indeed, all the materials present in the entropic zone, but not stored in final configuration, and all the energy and sanity spent on attempts to navigate the zone, contribute to the collective mass and inertia of the system. Sufficient physical and emotional mass will stress the system into implosion; and upon collapse, a wormhole is created that will tunnel the lost parts into some goddamn ludicrous place in the drawer of some retired engineer’s desk, to be uncovered months after they have been forgotten.

By then, a new project has come to feast on the unhealth of the supply-chain, and the warehouse adds a new district to its dimly-lit, forgotten underworld.