You Should Tell the Boss His Business
Kay Park, a Westinghouse worker, picked up a cheque for $375 because she found a simple way of doing her job better. Many others are finding the suggestion-box system pays off. And the bosses can afford to grin when “Mr. Anonymous” tells them to drop dead
NOT LONG AGO sixty-year-old John Pryde was tugging away at a wrench on a transformer tie rod in the Westinghouse plant in Hamilton, Ont. The wrench slipped and he skinned his fingers. He threw the tool down, stomped over to the bench, yanked a printed form off the bulletin board and wrote: “They should have socket
wrenches for tightening transformer tie rods.” Then he dated it, signed his name, shoved it into an envelope addressed to the Secretary of Suggestion Plans and dropped it into the interplant mail box.
A couple of weeks later John received his socket wrenches—and strange as it may seem—two dollars and fifty cents for making the suggestion.
Jim Orme, a Westinghouse diemaker, was having trouble drilling a hole through some extra-hard die steel without annealing it. He fished around in his toolbox and came out with a little squarenosed bit that he’d developed about five years before and all but forgotten. To his surprise it cut through the die like a knife cutting butter and it did the job in under four minutes, compared with the
several hours it took to do the same job with the old drill.
“A pal of mine got fifty bucks for one of these suggestions,” Jim said, “and I figured I might, too.”
After the company’s suggestion committee had investigated the tool carefully and computed its value Orme was awarded eight hundred and fifty dollars (of which the income tax department took $138). He went home and happily started buying furniture for his house. “Beats a quiz show any day,” he commented.
These are two examples of the suggestion plan in operation. This scheme for paying workers cash for practical suggestions on how to improve efficiency, eliminate waste, cut costs and promote safety got a slow start in Canada but recently has begun to spread fast. About sixty companies now have plans in operation and it is a safe guess that they have paid out more than a million dollars to wide-awake workers during the last decade. Westinghouse, one of the pioneers in the field and the company with the most extensive program, has forked over close to one hundred thousand dollars
for more than sixty-five hundred acceptable ideas since beginning its plan in October 1942. Atlas Steel has paid out more than five thousand dollars for two hundred and three usable ideas in the past two years. Dunlop Tire and Rubber Goods paid out $1,200 in a little over six months for useful suggestions.
The companies that have plans are convinced the system is the best possible builder of good labor relations. “It gives the man a sense of participation,” says George Petter, director of personnel for Christie, Brown and Company. After one year’s operation his plan has paid off eighteen hundred dollars to bright workers.
There is a Canadian Association of Suggestion Systems where representatives of the twenty-one member companies get together regularly to discuss the problems of giving money for ideas. This organization is affiliated with the much larger one in the U. S. (five hundred members) and last May met with it at a convention in Buffalo to listen to speeches on Super Vision for Supervision, Ideas, the Key to Production, Chips from the Lathe of Life, and suchlike.
Contrary to the impression given by hundreds of magazine cartoons, suggestion boxes are not entirely filled with hints that the boss should drop dead or go jump in the lake. Many represent months of trial and error and an amazing amount of inventive skill.
AÍ Jones, a jovial six-foot maintenance man in the Westinghouse lamp department, is the kind of fellow who is always inventing useful gadgets at home. He has rigged a walkie-talkie by means
of which his wife can call him and their eleven-year-old boy, Paul, home from fishing when supper is ready, and a minute microphone he lowers from his second-floor apartment to the street below to listen to the conversation of passers-by.
Al had been “fooling around” for about a year trying to dope out a better way to pick up tiny tungsten filaments and feed them into a machine where they become part of electric light bulbs. The old method of having a girl do it with a pair of tweezers was slow and tiresome.
After trying out four designs AÍ finally came up with a simple little hopper arrangement with a small arm which separates and picks up the rubberlike filaments by means of suction. He fitted it onto one of the machines and it worked fine. The bosses liked it so well they had it patented, attached it to all the machines doing the job and paid the inventor eleven hundred and fifty dollars. AÍ promptly sunk this cash into his latest hobby, ham radio. He has a class A amateur’s licence and is standing by for a big flood or other emergency so that he can leap into action.
The amount of money paid by a company for any suggestion depends upon a number of things—the ingenuity displayed, the safety factor involved and the actual saving in the manufacturing process. Most companies pay ten percent of the actual first year’s saving. Harry Heptinstall, of Christie, Brown, suggested a small change in the manufacture of corrugated cardboard cake trays that doubled their life and saved the company $1,330. Some companies have top limits (Massey -Harris, $750; Christie, Brown, $2,500) but others, such as Westinghouse, will pay as much as the suggestion is worth . . . regardless.
Dunlop Tire paid Peter Deschamps $500 for a single idea. And Joseph Takâcs, a swarthy Hungarian - born toolmaker at Atlas Steels, has banked $950 for five suggestions made to his company. One of his time-saving ideas increased the capacity of a lathe so that it now saves the company $3,330 each year.
Jack Craig, supervisor of the Westinghouse plan, says he receives an average of two hundred and fifty suggestions a month. They are written out on an eight-by-eleven-inch form that has two simple headings—HERE IS MY SUGGESTION, and, halfway down the page, HERE IS WHAT IT WILL DO. If an involved machine is suggested the form may be accompanied by a sketch or even a working model.
To find out what happens to a suggestion after it has been submitted I followed through with one that landed on Craig’s desk the other day. Under the first heading was written: “I have designed a jig for knocking out olive bearings from strips after they have been punched and countersunk instead of the system now being used for punching them out on a hand drill. This jig is roughly assembled and will work.” Under the second heading it said: “Improve job considerably as
hand-drill operation is hard on eyes. Increase production from 2,000 per hour to approximately 10,000 per hour.” It was signed, “Betty Hoik No. B7.”
Craig slipped around to B7 to investigate. What he saw amazed him—and after nine years of looking at gadgets Craig doesn’t amaze easily. Plump brunette Betty Hoik was sitting at a bench with what looked like a fourinch hunk of rough two-by-four in front of her. There was a hole in the middle of the piece with the sharp end of a
nail sticking up in it and a small groove covered with two tiny metal plates running from each side of the hole to the ends of the wood.
Betty placed the narrow strip of bronze in which the small bearings are countersunk into one end of the groove and pulled it over the nail in the hole; the bearings pelted into the container below like rain hitting a tin roof.
The whole thing couldn’t have cost any more than a dime but it was doing a tough job better and faster than it had ever been done before.
Craig took the new machine to his office.
The next step is to manufacture a tool that will do the same job as Betty’s little hunk of rough wood. When this has been tested and put into operation the suggestion committee, which meets twice a month, will consider it. This committee is made up of representatives of management, engineering, tool design, cost department, manufacturing methods and two foremen.
After studying the volume of production and the time saved the com-
mittee will set an award (Craig is sure she will get a considerable amount for ingenuity alone) and her immediate boss will present her with the cheque right there in the meter department. The company photographer will be on hand to get a picture of everybody smiling and this along with the success story will he posted on the bulletin board; it will also appear in the hi monthly Suggestion Committee Report that is mailed to each employee’s home.
That, however, will not necessarily he the end of Betty Hoik’s award. If subsequent use or a change in pro-
duction proves tins tool to be more valuable that was at first estimated the committee will reopen the case, make further cost studies and give whatever additional award is indicated.
Westinghouse maintains a full-time staff of five on its suggestion system. Craig, a wiry sharp-faced little man with a perpetual smile, spends about ninety percent of bis time talking with workers. He is on a hearty “Hiya chum” basis with everybody.
Every suggestion is acknowledged ‘ immediately by letter and if there is a delay (it may take upwards of a year) the suggester is advised from time to time of the progress being made. No suggestion is too small or too obvious to be recognized. One girl received two bucks for suggesting that a rubber mat be placed outside her office door to make it easier for the cleaning woman. A man got ten dollars for suggesting that waste buckets be placed at the end of the cafeteria tables.
Some of the cannier Westinghouse employees look upon suggestion money as a regular part of their income. Murray Wilson, an old-timer in the paint department, has won $1,580 for twenty - three suggestions ($600 for merely suggesting that transformer radiators be dipped instead of spraypainted) and always has two or three under consideration. Award money has furnished his kitchen, complete with stove and refrigerator, helped pay for bis car and insulated his bouse.
Others don’t hit the jackpot so often. John Pryde has made three hundred and twenty-nine suggestions in the past eight years and has had twenty-nine accepted with total winnings of about three hundred dollars. But it doesn’t cost anything to make a suggestion and, like a sweepstake-ticket buyer, he never knows when he might strike it rich.
A Puff of Smoke for $75
Every man is an inventor at heart. An employee of A. V. Roe, manufacturers of jet planes at Malton, Ont., sent in a suggestion for a jet engine to be strapped to the back of a skier —for Arctic warfare, you understand. He sent elaborate drawings and explanations for everything except how to keep the wearer from being burned to a cinder.
Ideas hit different people in different ways, sometimes completely by accident.
Fern Grace was sitting on a stool in the Westinghouse plant scraping varnish off fine wires preparatory to sticking them into a solder pot for tinning. Then, by chance, she dipped one that wasn’t quite clean. There was a puff of white smoke and when she pulled out the wire she found that the solder had burned off the varnish and done the tinning job as well. So the next time she didn’t scrape at all, just dipped. That worked, too.
While investigating her suggestion the committee heard from five foremen who said it wouldn’t work. But it was working, and they finally discovered that the solder she was using was just hotter than that in the other pots. She collected seventy-five dollars.
Kay Park, on the other hand, went after an idea and got one. A supervisor in the radio-tube department, she was working on statistical inspection and trying to figure why they were having to scrap so many radio-tube mounts. Finally she figured out that if they welded the top cathode after testing instead of before, they could repair the ones that didn’t work. This simple little idea saved 32,300 mounts in one year and netted Kay $357.
Often one suggestion leads to another. Alf Vardy, a sixty-seven-year-old car-
penter who works briefly in most Westinghouse departments, keeps his eyes open for ways of improving methods. He rigged up a jig for soldering heat exchangers but before the committee bad decided on it two more suggestions for improvements of bis jig bad been submitted by other workers. The committee finally paid five hundred dollars for the completed idea and since Alf liad been the originator gave him two thirds of the award.
According to Jack Craig, statistics on a national scale indicate that about ten percent of workers are constructive thinkers. He points out that the seventeen thousand ideas submitted at Westinghouse since the plan was inaugurated have come from fewer than a thousand of the company’s eight thousand eligible workers. Also, there is a big turnover among suggesters. The best ones keep getting themselves promoted to foremen. Along with executives, engineers, draftsmen, researchers and such, the foremen are ineligible for cash awards except for ideas that show ingenuity “beyond their regular duties . or responsibilities.”
Only twenty-three out of every one hundred suggestions sent in are worth money to the submitter, according to national figures, but the Westinghouse average is better. Its acceptance rate in 1950 was a remarkable forty two percent.
“An important value of suggestion plans that most people don’t realize,” says Craig, “is that it gives the men a chance to blow off steam and at the same time supplies us with a lot of valuable constructive criticism.” Many a grievance has been turned into a suggestion. One man wrote out a grievance about having to lift threehundred - pound kegs of nails in a narrow passageway. Craig persuaded him to tear it up and instead send in a suggestion that the size of the containers be reduced. He did and they were and he received ten dollars for the suggestion.
Every day, more and more companies are becoming what Craig calls “suggestion - plan - conscious.” Many send representatives around to study the Westinghouse setup with a view to setting up a similar system of their own. Westinghouse is now considering boosting its own plan in the only way that really counts—higher cash awards.
Herbert H. Rogge, president of Westinghouse, recently stated: “The sug-
gestion plan gives a man a chance to express himself on production problems and inspires the teamwork so vital to all concerned.”
Or as Dave Scott, one of his maintenance men who has knocked off $1,033 for fourteen awards, put it: “The money comes in mighty handy!” if