The Parts We Play

Making parts is as much of a people business as any other business is. This may seem counterintuitive.

Columns From: 2/1/2008 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

Making parts is as much of a people business as any other business is. This may seem counterintuitive. Shops make the parts from designs and send them to where the product is assembled. Not a lot in the way of human relationship would seem to be required.

But job shops know differently. For example, the owners of G&G Precision, subject of this month’s cover story, commented that their customer for any work is not the company, but rather the engineer at that company who can see the value this shop can deliver. The shop can lose business if a customer company cuts back, but more often it has won business as engineers aware of the shop have changed jobs and found homes in other places.

Machining is a people business on the shop floor, too. Though shops describe themselves by their equipment lists, those lists offer limited information about what the shop can do. The same machine can be more or less productive depending on the ability and commitment of the people involved. Production facilities placing help wanted ads for machinists or programmers don’t hope for just a generic machinist or programmer. Instead, they hope for a special employee who can help make the equipment list truly valuable.

In fact, all of manufacturing is aimed at people. The parts have no value unless people put them to use. All work is like this, even when the end user is not seen. That is, all work is service to people. But then: Service to people is service to people, too.

Recently, here and there, in one setting or another, various people in the orbits of my life have revealed to me problems or perils with which I never knew they struggled. Experiencing this has left me to think back with regret about the many times I have been enmeshed in a group—in workplaces and even in family circles—without doing much to learn whether there was a word or effort on my part that might have provided someone with quietly needed comfort.

That idea I mentioned, that my work equals service to other people, has always been clear to me. The problem was, this let me believe my service was done. At G&G, one other thing I picked up during my visit was just the good feeling there, specifically the mutual support among the shop’s small staff. I’ve encountered the same feeling in other places. However, encountering it this time gave me yet another reminder of a vital and simple point—that human life is a people business, too.

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