Some weeks ago, I was asked for technical information and spare part sources for a very old honing machine. The former machine operator, who had been with the company for many years, died before training other colleagues on that special machine and sharing his knowledge with them. Now, honing skills are not available anymore at that garage - even though honing is one of the key competences for an engine reman garage. In addition - and making the problem even worse - the machine is so old that it is impossible to find technical information, or even someone who knows the machine manufacturer.
I don’t know what the garage’s solution will be: to invest in a new machine is only one part of the solution. Our industry field needs very special equipment and very skilled people. These machines do not – in contrast to transfer lines in big industrial engine reman facilities – do their job after pushing the start button and achieve a honing quality and honing angle automatically! Not at all! The machine operator in a representative small- or medium-sized engine reman garage has a lot of years of practical knowledge and a honing background which encompasses the machine itself plus the honing tools.
Because he has this knowledge and experience, he is able to achieve a final honing result of the cylinder surface to a quality which is similar to a new cylinder surface, with no difference in surface roughness and all the other relevant parameters affecting engine performance, emissions, fuel and oil consumption and reliability. And this is independent from the block/cylinder material, size and geometry. What a skill…which is gone now forever.
And this real-life example goes for every technical process within an engine reman garage: from
cylinder honing to grinding of crankshafts, from cylinder head surfacing to valve seat grinding, and all the other processes in between.
Have you ever imagined the huge knowledge pool that you have in your garage, in your company? Have you documented all that? Do you have access to machine-related data like specifications, drawings and electrical wiring diagrams as well as spare part sources and technical service contacts? Do you organise internal training sessions where skilled machine operators and skilled employees transfer their longstanding knowledge, acquired over years, to their colleagues?
Never say: “It's going just fine as it is,” but always ask: “What if a colleague leaves, retires or (see above) dies. Am I prepared?” Well, are you prepared?
Having everything documented and under control in your database has another advantage which is not to be underestimated: you cannot be put under pressure by an employee because they are the only skilled operator for that special machine or process, who wants more money or is threatening to leave.
Transferring skills is about tradition - the handover and delivery of expertise means you will continue to be a market player in the future.
Remember: tradition is keeping the fire burning, not praising the ashes.