Commentary, 9 May 2013
How vain and foolish to imagine that I could have ‘invented’ WADITW (although I hadn’t previously seen that bizarre scrabble of letters). So many talented business people, medical experts and consultants – such as Kenneth Heselton, Darryl Stevens, Utah Public Safety, Kelby Ergo Design, Prevoyance Group Inc, Jim Blasingame, Deb Parsons, Navy League of Canada and Jon Walker (Excellence Institute) – have examined the origins and pitfalls of the WADITW syndrome. My only original contribution is to assemble this catalogue of technical errors which could have been fixed by reading a basic handbook of paint technology.
WADITW (Wah – DEE –too!)
I’ve invented a new word – but probably one which is regularly used in manufacturing around the world. Apologies in advance for any unwitting plagiarism…
If you were to criticise a manager for asking a job candidate whether they were married, he would protest: “Why shouldn’t I ask them? It’s a perfectly normal question about someone’s life…we have always asked about family life…and We’ve Always Done It That Way!”
I once went into the factory production area to collect a sample for QC testing, and found the lads shovelling aluminium paste into a vat of furiously-stirring resin solution. When I protested that this wasn’t the appropriate method for preparing silver paint, they told me to sod off. So I went to see the Technical Director; armed with a printed copy of the approved blending technique (explained in detail by the producers of aluminium paste) I pointed out that our method was expensive and wasteful, since it destroyed the metal-flake structure.
He just shrugged and said. “But we’ve always done it that way…you can’t change things now.”
On another occasion, I discovered that the workers on the shop floor would routinely make pale blue paint by adding commercial tinter material to a batch of white, even though we had the equipment and pigments to make it entirely in-house.
“Yeah, well, but we tried that and it was no good ‘cos the colour fades on storage and the customers complain so we do it like this now”, one of them told me.
After looking at the formulation for a few minutes, I realised why they had a problem with colour-fade; the millbase contained so much resin that the blue pigment was unable to disperse correctly. When I made up a few small batches in the lab (at a reduced resin level), I found that the colour was completely stable and there was no need for us to purchase expensive blue tinters.
Again, the Tech Director was completely unimpressed: “Look, this is how we’ve always done it, and we’re not going to change now.”
One day, not long after starting a new job, I arrived at work to hear a high-pitched whine emanating form the lab. When I looked inside, I found a ten-litre tub of white paint being stirred at top speed; a cardboard shield had been positioned over the tub, but even so there were hundreds of tiny white spots on the wall and bench around the stirrer.
My colleagues explained they made up this white paint for carrying out the tint-reduction process by mixing together all the pigment and water in one go and stirring for several hours; the resulting blend, however, still often had lumps of titanium oxide sitting at the bottom of the tub, which meant that we didn’t actually know what the final concentration was.
I suggested that we could make the paint by dispersing the pigment into a smaller volume of water; this would be quicker and produce less splashing. However, I was told that there was nothing wrong with our established method; ‘This is how we’ve always done it.’
And at one company, I remember the lab procedure for measuring the density of pigment. This involved weighing the powder into a graduated flask, topping up with white spirit, and weighing the difference (from which one could determine the volume occupied by the pigment).
However, the method sheet specified that the specific gravity of white spirit – used in the calculation – was 0.808, when the actual value (at room temp) is 0.778. This meant that for years we had been sending out incorrect pigment density values to clients. And when I pointed this out to the Lab Manager, his response was – of course – ‘So? We’ve always done it this way.’
So, whenever anybody suggests an alteration to the existing procedures or methods, I always imagine a bunch of senior managers listening in dismayed silence before brandishing their fists and yelling “Wah-DEE-too!”