Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Never Good Enough, But It's As Good As It Can Be

Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't post about when I make improvements to my process or my whistles, because I worry some people might feel bad about not having the latest and greatest. But then I remember what W. Edwards Deming said once when challenged about some changes he had made "I refuse to apologize for improvement." He was a crusty old sod when I met him as the 80's were turning into the 90's. But he was always dead on when he got in somebody's face about something.

I learned from Dr. Deming that if things appear to be all the same, you are not measuring closely enough. There's always variation at some level. It's foolish to pretend there isn't. Nothing is ever perfect. So don't set specs within which a product is considered "good" and outside of which it is considered "bad" because it just ain't so. Maybe a customer says they will only buy product within certain specs, but even that is foolish because they probably could be getting better, or at least more uniform product, if they just specified a target and took what you made, as long as both you and they know how much variation exists in the product and there's confidence you are working to get better and better.

Enough of the quality improvement theory for now, here's what's new in the shop...

In this case the intonation of the whistles was the subject of my scrutiny, and while my then-current whistles were better than those of the recent past due to the adoption of a solid whistle hole template (rather than a set of six stops sliding in a groove on my jig which were difficult to position accurately) I was frustrated by the effort involved in making a new template when I wanted to move a hole a little bit.

So, just before drilling the holes in the last batch of whistles it dawned on me that I could make an adjustable hole template that was very easy to adjust accurately and once the hole positions were known I could then make a new fixed template as easily as I could drill holes in a whistle.

Below you see the results of my work. The black rod with the six holes is one of the permanent hole templates. The screw on the end lets me adjust the collection of holes in case there is a need to. The new R&D template is in the foreground. With it, I set the holes to match the whistle I want to change, then budge the stops to the new hole positions and make trial whistles. Once I arrive at the new improved hole locations I simply put a piece of the black rod in my jig and drill the stop holes.

After using the jig to refine my C whistle template, the best whistles in a batch didn't get any better, but the variation in intonation from whistle to whistle has been reduced. Which is a good thing. Are they noticeably better? I wonder. Are they are more alike. No doubt.

I know, "Just send me the whistles, and don't tell me how the shop works!"  HA!

Stay "tuned!"