06 Nov Face to Face
In an age when office mates bridge the 10 foot communication chasm between their desks with email and text messages, Key Tech actively recruits engineers and designers that enjoy and excel at the lost art of face-to-face communication. Two weeks ago, Mariano (a mechanical engineer at Key Tech) and I “took one for the team” and headed to Stockholm, Sweden for two days of meetings. I have family in Sweden and spent a lot of time in the country as a kid, and was looking forward to testing my forgotten fluency and for the opportunity to meet our Swedish contacts in person. For the past year, we have been working with a company in Stockholm that designs and manufactures pumps for a wide range of industries. Their pump is at the heart of a medical product that Key Tech is developing for a global client. The pump is a critical component with a direct impact on both the durable and disposable elements of the product. The instrument development is currently in the “beta” stage, when we typically make our final design changes of significance, so we must ensure that the pump design is on target.
Key Tech requested significant customization of the beta pump design to address performance and human factors requirements that are unique to the product. For the past several months, design concepts have traveled back and forth across the Atlantic via email and phone using solid models, PowerPoint slides, and hand sketches. Calculations and testing have occurred on both continents, with results communicated to the rest of the team in weekly conference calls. The Swedes speak excellent English so the language barrier is a minor concern; however, communication of a complicated design and maintenance of a relationship between two companies across 4,000 miles of ocean is challenging – signals can get crossed, words can be misinterpreted and critical schedule and performance can suffer as a result. Our visit to Sweden was focused on mitigating those risks.
After an uneventful flight, we arrived at the hotel shortly after breakfast, Stockholm time, caught a quick nap, and headed to the meeting site by lunch. The weather was unseasonably warm; a real plus this time of year in Stockholm. The afternoon consisted of introductions, a facility tour, and a review of the prototypes that we and the pump vendor developed in preparation for the meetings. The ability to sit in the same room and collaboratively interact with the prototype hardware was invaluable. The discussions and brainstorming of features and design aspects of the pump assembly accomplished more in several hours than we would have achieved in a week of email correspondence and teleconferences.
The second day consisted of more technical discussions and conversations related to QC, reliability, checkout procedures, labeling and serialization, and other topics associated with the details of design, fabrication, and support of a critical component in a medical device. The meeting concluded with a discussion of design and fabrication schedule for the beta pumps, and a summary of action items for all parties. We wrapped up the meeting in time to visit the Vasa Museum that contains a 15th century ship that sank on its maiden voyage out of Stockholm. The ship was incredibly well preserved in the mud in the archipelago of islands in the Baltic Sea near Stockholm, thanks to a combination of factors including the brackish water near Stockholm and a high level of pollutants in the mud. After visiting the museum we were treated to a spectacular dinner high on a bluff overlooking the city of Stockholm.
As we departed Stockholm early the following morning on the high speed train to the airport, gliding along quietly at 130 mph, Mariano and I reflected on the 2 days of meetings, content in the knowledge that we had achieved our goal of establishing a solid technical pump design and a realistic schedule agreed upon by all parties. We also solidified our relationship with the pump vendor; an asset that will be invaluable as the project progresses and challenges arise, as invariably occurs on complex projects like this. These goals were achieved in only two days as a direct result of face-to-face communication and hands-on interaction with the hardware. The luxury of looking our counterparts in the eye, listening to their tone of voice, and reading their body language is a vital part of communication that seems to be lacking in many professional interactions today. We plan to keep this art alive at Key Tech.