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The curse of the 5-cent part (or, the importance of proper documentation)

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Mobius Photonics

Image on the back of the T-shirt given to me by Mobius Photonics

I always feel fortunate when I get the opportunity to visit a customer. Invariably, I leave a little smarter and more enlightened than when I arrived. Sure, every customer has a long list of feature requests, but at the end of the day, I’ve learned something about how they work and how they work with our product (BOM and change management software).

One such customer, Mobius Photonics, makes high-powered focused light optical devices (read: giant lasers). During a recent presentation to us, one of the co-founders and lead engineers, Red Byer, and the director of operations, Susi Guzsella, shared their “Culture of Documentation” – a sort of credo that certainly left an impression on me. Here are three of the seven tenets:

  • If it is not documented, the work you’ve done most likely will not add lasting value to the company

  • If you are going to spend the engineering effort selecting a part, capture value in that effort and give the thing a part number and some documentation!

  • Documentation improves communication

These points may seem obvious, but think about how we actually work. In spite of our good intentions, we get too busy (or too lazy) to always make sure that the latest version of a spec has been copied up to the network drive. We tend to rely on our email inboxes and sent folders to track communication. We pick up the phone and call our suppliers to verbally confirm that they’ve got the information they need to provide a quote. In our busy lives, these activities pass for document control.

Mobius Photonics

Our hosts led us to the stockroom for a most eye-opening document control lesson. Susi produced a tiny plastic cap from a blue inventory bin. This plastic cap, which costs just 5 cents, is used to protect sensitive optical components during shipping. She told us that this 5-cent cap was just as important as the $1,000 heat sink. Why? Because, the product can’t ship without either part. And without the right documentation, you put yourself at risk of running out of any part at any time.

Proper documentation may seem like a small thing, but then again, so does a 5-cent part…

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