The Power of My Checklist

35 years ago I was a little taller and skinnier with no gray hair and zero experience in the metal finishing world. Like so many other people, I was a little overwhelmed the first days on the job. I learned quickly that I did not know everything; in fact, I was a “plating dummy”. Time after time, I walked into plating shops, discovered a problem and had to call a technician for support. Slowly, after a few hundred incidents I knew what to check and in what order to troubleshoot my client’s problems. I had developed a checklist. Finally, I reached a point where I could honestly say I knew what was happening from hearing the symptoms without having to review my checklist.

The “I know everything” attitude served me well for quite a while. Then I ran into a chromate haze over a mixed chloride zinc deposit. The problem lingered for almost 2 months on my client’s rack line.  We looked at all the usual suspects–high organics in the zinc solution, sour dip contamination, pH of the chromate, etc.

The “as plated” zinc deposit looked awesome. Both the blue bright and yellow chromate final appearance after dry-off displayed no sign of a cloud or haze. I knew the solution was simple; I was just not sure why it was taking me so long to find it. Frustration set in. New chromates were tested; both yellow and blue bright. The chromate adhesion looked good and the chromate finish off the line looked excellent; however, the problem did not disappear.

Then one evening I was on the second shift, walking the line with the line operator. As we were standing and talking, the dryer oven opened and I caught a whiff of strong hydrochloric acid fumes. The first words out of my mouth were, “I believe we have finally found the problem”. I had not realized the trough was next to the dry off oven and was installed there a couple months prior; coincidentally when we began to have the cloud or haze problem. The acid trough was installed to clean the work bars to assure proper electrical contact.  As soon as the trough was moved down the line next to the zinc tank and the problem immediately went away.

The solution was so simple and so obvious; I was upset I had not noticed it immediately. And then I realized something, if I had been following my checklist from my second year in the business I would have solved the problem in a couple of visits rather than a couple of months. As a salesperson I pride myself on the value of my 35 years. Frankly, if it happens in a plating shop I have seen it and serviced it. I have worked in a huge variety of processes and some pretty exotic applications. Unlike the attitude I had years ago, “I know everything”, I have learned the value of my checklist. I use it to troubleshoot the simplest and most complex problems. I refer to it every time a customer brings me an issue and I use it to prevent problems before they start.

After 35 years working in metal finishing, I am a little shorter and a little stouter with a head full of gray hair and plenty of experience in the metal finishing world. Fortunately, I no longer feel overwhelmed. Best of all I wake up every day happy to be doing work I enjoy in an industry I love with people who are ok hearing “I don’t know, let me get my checklist” whenever we have a problem.