Contemporary Standards, Writing and Manufacturing

Subject: Contemporary Standards, Writing and Manufacturing
From: George Mena <George -dot- Mena -at- ESSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 15:37:00 -0700

Dear Mary Durlak,

Greetings from California. =) I was genuinely taken aback by the story
you wrote:

The CEO of a local manufacturing co. who wanted me to "review" a
copy of a user's manual that a temp sec'y wrote for him. After reviewing
it, he wanted me to write a letter saying that it "was up to
contemporary technical writing standards"--*and* act as an expert
witness should the firm be prosecuted!

When I refused, citing my attorney's advice, he got testy with
me. So I found him someone who would review the manual for him...a local
communications professor with expert witness credentials...who charges
$395 an hour for the service. The agency rate for the temp who wrote
the manual was $12/hr.

This guy sounds like someone who's a real loser and who has no faith
whatsoever in his product line(s), his engineers, his incoming QA
inspectors (probably didn't even have them), his production people or
his (probably undocumented) manufacturing and testing processes, which
is *not* good. I'm curious to know what his product(s) was. I'm also
surprised he thought *your* testimony would somehow shield *him* from a
product liability lawsuit when it wouldn't have.

This is definitely one of the downsides of the manufacturing sector:
the small shops like this one. The shop gets an order in from a
customer to build a widget, hand-drawn sketch is faxed over, item gets
built and delivered. Later, when the customer realizes he needs to have
an engineering drawing for the part the outside vendor had made in order
to pass an ISO 9000 audit, the engineer has to actually develop one in
AutoCAD or have a tech writer like me do it.

Unfortunately, it's the machine shops and the custom fab folks like this
outfit that suffer when his customer(s) get slapped with a product
liability lawsuit. The customer's been burned and doesn't want to do
business with them anymore. By then, the customers have to find
*another* shop and not necessarily a *better* one after the courts have
handed the CEO his legal head. And the old machine shop doesn't always
change its ways, either. After all, they *were* following the
customer's instructions.

You'll also see it in offshore manufacturing with the larger companies.
In 1988, Intel had to send people over to Samsung in Korea to teach the
Samsung assemblers how to build DRAM chips and how to test them in
accordance with the methodologies required in MIL-STD-883. Offshore
manufacturing may be cheaper in the short term, but more expensive in
terms of Returned Material Authorizations (RMAs), which involve returned
product and customer reimbursement for causing assembly line delays and
shutdowns. Most good manufacturing firms try to avoid RMAs and revenue
givebacks like the plague.

George Mena
Technical Writing Consultant
George -dot- Mena -at- esstech -dot- com
ESS Technology, Inc.
48401 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538

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