Did you do that?

This memory is courtesy of my friend, Chris Huff. He wrote this article yesterday and it brought this experience to mind. I have changed the names to protect the perpetrator.

I am a recovering engineer. I wrote software and worked in industrial automation for 25 years. I am getting better now with 12 years behind me in real estate. I used to work in the automotive industry and mostly for General Motors Truck. This happened at the GM Truck plant in Shreveport, LA.

You have to understand first that a running conveyor is critical to a production line. If you stop a conveyor for more than about 10 minutes you get to ‘meet’ the production manager. If it’s longer than about 15 minutes you get to ‘meet’ the plant manager. It’s not fun if you are the reason the line stopped. Line stoppages cost the plant about $20,000 per minute back then.

I worked in the paint department. It’s a complex environment with lots of moving parts that were all controlled by the software and equipment that my company and others built and programmed. It’s a noisy place but there is comfort in the noise. When things are running right there is a rhythm to the noise. You can tell everything is OK just by listening for a few minutes.

My friend Ronnie and I were working in the powder prime booth and making some maintenance updates to the software. He worked for the robot company and I worked for the automation side. We were talking a bit and just doing our jobs. The line was running and it was the middle of the morning. It’s a blessing to work during the day just because you get to sleep at night and most of us consider that normal. There were a group of folks that worked nights and they say they love it but I know from experience I don’t get to sleep much when I work nights so I am glad to be on days.

As we worked and joked a bit I was focused on my job. I know that if I make a mistake I can crash the entire system and it can take a while to recover. That is true of any live system. Back then the hardware and software was more limited than it is today and it was easier to allocate memory incorrectly or corrupt the data files and that can stop everything.

While I was working I got used to the sounds. The big fans running, the pumps, robots, spray guns all make a unique sound and the symphony created is comforting, knowing everything is OK.

Then it went silent.

I don’t know how to explain it exactly but there was no noise. Not even a little bit. My first thought was ‘crap, what did I do?’ but it was soon apparent that it was not me. My systems were up and I could see I had not done anything wrong. I looked over my shoulder at Ronnie and I asked ‘Did you do that?’ I could tell by the look on his face, he did. Eyes wide, beads of sweat forming on his forehead and I could tell it was not going to be a good morning. For him.

I quietly packed up my stuff and looked at Ronnie. He said ‘get out of here’ and I left as the production manager was walking in. The system was down for about 4 hours while they worked to restore the back up programs.

Ronnie lost his privilege of working on a live production line for a while and I was a lot more aware of the chances I had to cause problems. Thanks to Chris Huff for the reminder.

Thanks for listening,

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