Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cleanliness is next to...

I work for a defense contractor in an extremely large manufacturing facility, large enough that the main hallways have street names. I can actually tell someone that my cube is near the corner of Main Street and Barnstable Avenue and they will be able to find me. There are approximately 4,000 employees working in this facility and as you might imagine, there is a lot of foot traffic in the main corridors.

In my first month, I've seen an employee whose main job appears to be cleaning up the shoe scuff marks that people make as they are walking along. This happens most with the rubber comfort-sole dress shoes. Every day, I see this employee patrolling the hallway outside my section with a bottle of spray cleaner under one arm and a roll of paper towels under the other. Whenever he spots a shoe scuff, he'll spray it, drop a paper towel on the spot, and mop it up with his foot. He'll give you a disapproving look whenever you accidentally leave a scuff mark, so I try not to make eye contact with him too often.

I've been around long enough to know that looks can be deceiving. Perhaps there is a really good reason for keeping the floor scuff-free. There is a large circuit fabrication area across the hall from my section; maybe that will provide the clue to solve this mystery. I investigate, and notice a number of large signs posted which state that this is a FOE (Foreign Object Elimination) area. Our corporate intranet is one of the best I've ever used, so I go back to my desk and search on FOE programs, and soon I've learned more about our program than I ever thought I would want to. My corner is an area where assembled electronic components need to be moved through prior to being incorporated into the final product. The presence of any foreign objects (like dirt, or shoe scuffs) contributes to the failure rate of these sensitive circuit boards.

This attention to cleanliness makes much more sense to me now.

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