Pay Peanuts, Hire (fill in the blank)…

There is an old phrase that I don’t particularly like – I think it belittles people: “Pay peanuts – hire monkeys…” A better word for “monkeys”? Maybe I’ll think of one before I get to the end. But the point of this phrase is clear:

You don’t get an expert if you don’t pay for one.

And non-expert employees don’t capture exceptional opportunities.

I’m going to rant on this topic – please bear with me while I lay it out, and then trust me to “tie the bow” at the end. I have a home project that entails unusual materials (but not exotic) and modern 3D fabrication methods, and I am using some very modern software tools to move my project forward. My materials are 316 stainless steel and titanium grade 6. I am using 1/8″ wire rod bent into several 2D and 3D forms; I need common hardware such as clevis pins made of these materials. Nothing in this sounds exotically high-tech to me, but I have hit one brick wall after another – mostly due to the ignorance of the employees of the suppliers and service providers with every company I have dealt with.

Hardware – I need a small clevis pin in 316 stainless – many manufacturers will make this part for me for an extravagant sum – one large stateside manufacturer actually stocks this part and will sell it to me through their mid-scale distributor for a reasonable price. Fine.

“Mr. Distributor, I need a clevis pin with these dimensions in this material, please.”
“We sell this size in zinc-plated steel.”
“Please order this size and material from this particular supplier – please order this specific part number – it is exactly what I need.”
“OK, it is on order”
“What did you actually order?”
“They sell the stainless for $2 each – that’s what we ordered.”
“316 stainless?”
“What’s 316?” “Is it stainless?”
“You didn’t order the 316 stainless?”
“No, I guess we didn’t – we’ll reorder and be sure to use your part numbers this time.”
“Great – thanks”

“Mr. Wireformer, I need this 3D form in 1/8″ 316 rod, please.”
“Send us a dwg file – no problem.”
“What format version do you want – 2000 or 2007?” (my cad software exports to dwg-2007 more reliably than dwg-2000…)
“I don’t know – just send us a file, and we’ll see if we can use it…”
“OK – here is dwg-2007.”
“We can’t open it.”
“OK – here is dwg-2000.”
“We can’t open it”
“What software are you using?”
“AutoCAD LT.”
“This is a 3D drawing, not 2D – your software won’t work well with a 3D drawing.”
“OH – OK, we’ll get our expert to look at this – he has AutoCAD.”
“OK.”
“Our expert says that the file has no units – I don’t know what he means, but that’s what he says…”.
“Please ask him to use the dwg-2007 file and look at properties for units – he should see that they are inches.”
“OK.” “He says that he can’t use the 2007 file.” “He says that the 2000 file doesn’t have units.” “He says that you sent him a pipe part – he needs the path.”
“OK – here is a 3D line drawing.”
“He says that the curves are too complicated.”
“What does he suggest – what kind of curve is useful?”
“He doesn’t know how to answer your question…” “He says to please figure it out and send us a better file.”

It turns out that the wireformer needs dwg-2000 format line drawings with any elliptical elements converter to poly-splines – that answer from my software manufacturer’s user forum. Now, we’re talkin’. It also turns out that the wireformer’s AutoCAD user could have converted my pipes to lines, and converted my elliptical segments to splines – if he knew how – but he didn’t…

What is obvious here is that these employees at the supplier and wireformer are pleasant to talk to, but they are naive in their field – they are not experts – nowhere close. A conversation “business owner to business owner” revealed that these companies have shed their experts, opted for lesser-paid employees, and try to turn away unconventional requirements.

I find this same trend with several of my own clients. In a nutshell, a few of my smaller clients have steadily shed their expert engineers over the years. They offshore technical services as much as they can, and I guess that they cross their fingers that they can address their opportunities when they come. These clients are each grumbling that their business is declining and that they are less and less able to attract business from their long-standing service provider customers because they are more and more often technically noncompliant.

My advice to my clients and also to their service provider customers: pay for expertise – hire a few more talented engineers – your deficient resources won’t deliver exceptional products and services. Engineers build the future, and more importantly, they make it work!

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