What ever happened to checkers?

No, I do not mean the game. I mean those engineers “back in the day” that would make sure every drawing released from engineering was as correct and accurate as humanly possible.

Longer ago than I care to mention, I started out in the engineering field as a draftsman. I started out using lead pencils and electric erasers, if that gives you a clue as to how long ago this was. In a very large room with many drafting desks I was the low man of the group. At the top there were Checkers. These were the top of the engineering group at the time. They had the most experience and were some of the highest paid people in Engineering. A drawing of any type could not be released for production or customer consumption without one of the checkers first reviewing it. What stands out the most for me is that there were very few, if any, drawings that did not get some sort of red markup on them. I know, because when I started out I was the guy stuck fixing all the mistakes the checkers found. Keep in mind that they were not only checking the aesthetics of the drawings, but they were also checking all the geometry, equations, mass properties, interferences, and many other aspects of the design. They would even check if it was accomplishing the design intent for the overall project. At the end of the day I rarely heard of manufacturing having to come back to engineering for missed dimensions, or interference issues or anything else for that matter. It did happen of course, but not as much as I see in today’s engineering / manufacturing companies.

Now let’s jump ahead to the current day in most small to mid-size engineering / manufacturing companies, and even some large companies. I can’t tell you the last time I have seen anyone in a Checker role. Yes, I have seen companies do peer reviews, design review meetings and things like that. But there is no one dedicated to insure that nothing leaves engineering until it is thoroughly reviewed for mistakes or issues. Over the last few decades have engineers become perfect? I know of some that may think so, but no…that is not the case. What I see happening is manufacturing is now the group that is indirectly checking the work of the engineers. How many times have you seen manufacturing coming back to engineering to request a dimension change, or with other issues with the drawing or design? Sometimes it is minor issues, but other times it is a major design flaw. By the time manufacturing finds one of these major issues you could have significant money already spent on tooling, raw materials, man hours, etc. Think about how many recalls we have seen from major companies over the last few years? How many mistakes are not caught by manufacturing at all? In many cases it is not until the product is built and shipped before the issue is found. Think about the cost to the company in those cases.

The fact remains that in the overall corporate view, you are now relying on manufacturing to make sure you are not releasing flawed products to the world. As far as the so called time savings…what do you think takes more time? Having the checker verifying all engineering work, and then making a requested drawing or model change before it is released…or…Releasing designs to manufacturing, then manufacturing finds an issue. Now a formal change request is sent to the engineer. A change process is started. Dispositions must be made for any raw materials already acquired and so on and so on until the change has been properly addressed. If someone took the time to analyze the real cost behind all minor and major changes, taking into account man hours, material and time cost, I think you would be surprised at what you would find. Assuming a checker would catch 75% of these issues before they were released, I am betting the amount you would come up with would cover the cost of the checker role.

Some of this checking can now be done with today’s modern CAD software, or add-ons to them. Such as Creo and Model Check. So some of the more basic things checkers used to check can be done with software if configured correctly. This would save what would be the modern checker significant time. Plus there are even more tools available that require human interaction that could help them check and review designs more efficiently. Like Creo View Design Check. So the time it did take checkers could be drastically reduced, further justifying the need for this role again for all sizes of engineering companies.

I am not naïve enough to say a checker would catch all mistakes. Even a checker is human, mistakes will still happen. I am saying the number of engineering mistakes released would be dramatically less.

I would love to hear comments or feedback on this. What does your company do to ensure engineering releases are as accurate as possible? How much is caught doing peer reviews? How thorough are your design reviews? How many minor undocumented changes are brought to engineering by manufacturing to be corrected? How many major issues does your manufacturing department find? Do you feel there is still a need for checkers in today engineering companies of any size?