The Loss Function and the Alt Right

As a young engineer, I was washed over by the first waves of Six Sigma and the teachings of W. Edwards Deming to break on US shores back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Prior to and during this revolution in manufacturing, I worked for a defense subcontractor – my first job was a line engineer over a line manufacturing 30mm aluminum (7475 alloy) cartridge cases for the GAU-8A Gatling gun in the A10 Warthog. In those days, we used “go/no-go” gauging – imagine a drilled hole and to verify you inserted two plugs of known diameter – as long as the smaller one went in and the larger one didn’t, you were good to go – you didn’t know what the actual size of the hole was, you just knew it was in between the smallest and largest it could be. It was the same with inspections – we used Mil-STD-105, which, believe it or not, specified the allowable number of defects in a given sample size representing a lot (batch) of material. It listed AQL (Acceptable Quality Levels) that might allow you to accept a lot of material if you found one defect out of a sample and reject on two.

A lot of the new thinking about manufacturing is based on the Loss Function developed by Genichi Taguchi. The loss function states that there is waste and a cost imparted to society through variation. If you can reduce variation, you can cut scrap, tighter tolerances can make machines work longer and more accurately – essentially if you drive out variation, everything fits and works better. If that seems to theoretical, have a gander at the mileage people get out of vehicles these days – in the 60’s, an engine was considered worn out at 100,000 miles – today’s engines are just getting broken in at 100K. That is due to the precision of the fit in the mechanical pieces and the accuracy that electronic controls have brought to engine science.

In order to eliminate variation, you first have to understand it. To understand it, you have to define it and to define it, you must measure it. To measure it, you have to put the process by which a thing is created under a microscope and understand which variations are controllable and which are natural. For example, controllable variations are related to how well you can adjust a particular machine or how well the tooling is designed. Natural variations are those that occur because of variations inherent in the machine and the conditions under which it operates (variation in the construction of a given machine is transmitted to the part it makes).

When you start looking at a process under a microscope, you see things. You find things that have always been inherent in the process but you just never saw them in the degree you can see them. It isn’t because they weren’t there, you were just blind to them because you weren’t looking.

As we sought to eliminate all variations, we realized a truth, that while the theory goes that all variations should be eliminated, companies rarely attempt to remove them all because some of the variations are not material to the end use of the part. For example, in a machined part, particular dimensions may be critical where others are not – or even the color of the material may be different – but if color has nothing to do with how well a piston rod or a camshaft functions, then it is immaterial.

The media is falling in to the trap of seeing things because they are now looking for them. Every ideology has its fringes and in a twist of irony, the fringes of the left and right wings tend to be closer to each other than traditional linear understanding of the political spectrum contemplates. Actually, I’m intrigued by the “Horseshoe Theory” of Jean-Pierre Faye which states that rather than the far left and the far right being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, they in fact closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe.

This is why I more or less dismiss the MSM’s new found fascination with the so-called Alt Right and White Nationalism. These deviant folks have always been part of the process – just as the Communist Party USA and the Nation of Islam have been. The difference is that the MSM have decided that this is a problem for the GOP and now seek to elevate a small group of nutbags to national prominence to prove it. It is the epitome of a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is an example of “fake news” where the media chooses a relatively insignificant “movement’ and promotes it to prominence in service of a particular agenda – same as the media did with the #blacklivesmatter “movement” and the #occupywallstreet “movement” a few years ago.

As with my aforementioned description of variation in a manufacturing process, this Alt Right variation is not material. It is color variation in a camshaft having nothing to do with its function or longevity.

As we began the quest to drive out variation, we made the mistake of trying to drive it all out – and in the process, started to create costs that were not supported by our prices. My first mentor, an old-school manufacturing guy once told me that “sometimes, you can know too much” about a process. I didn’t understand what he meant then but as I matured, I got it. What he was trying to tell me was that we shouldn’t let the irrelevant data overwhelm the relevant data. That’s what the MSM is good at – overwhelming the public with irrelevant information.
Something to consider.

One thought on “The Loss Function and the Alt Right

  1. Before we accept the reality of the Term…..we should do a retrospective of its inception. What and Who are the “alt Right” ?

    It is a “now-ism”, media hyped word….full of sound and fury and….signifying nothing…. in the long run. A convenient rhetorical tool engaged by the media to do what they always do…..deflect !!

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