This of Pen Tips (Ball Pen and Gel
This Career Episode is a based on
an analysis of a customer complaint in my employment with CRI Limited, Ahmedabad
City, India.CRI is a world leader Ball Pen Tips Manufacturer Company having
manufacturing 3 plants and a Corporate Office in INDIA. I was working in one of
the plants as Deputy General Manager – Quality Control & ISO Systems. I had
50 inspection engineers and executives reporting to me for the day to day
activities of Incoming, in-process, Final and Dispatch Inspections of various
type of Pen Tips (Ball Pen and Gel Pen), Chemical & Oil Testing, Customer
Complaint handling, Research & Development activities and ISO
implementation phase. Alost all Pen Manufacturers and Writing Instruments
industries were the customers of CRI. We were exporting too in Asian Countries.
CRI designs, manufactures and sales Ball Pen and Gen Pen Tips of various shape
and size. There is also an aftermarket division. I was responsible for Day to day Product and Process Quality as it being
a Continuous Process Plant and to establish proper Quality and Working Systems
here. Implementation of ISO 9001 i.e. Quality Management System was my prime
objective given to me when I joined the organization.
CRI had received a complaint from one of its
customers and the complaint was, “DEAD Writing” meaning a Tip was not writing
on the paper. In simple terms, ink was not coming out of tip to write on the
paper. Basic Tip Nomenclature is given on Page 2 for better understanding. The
phenomenon of writing by Tip on Paper is, a Tip is inserted into a Refill
filled with ink of choice. When one tries to write, the ball at the front of
tip rotates due to the friction with paper and ink from the refill start
filling over the ball material due to its properties of viscosity and surface
tension and a writing is produced with ink leaving the ball. A DEAD Writing is
called when either ball doesn’t rotate so ink doesn’t come out on paper as
writing or ball does rotate but ink doesn’t leave on paper as writing.
PERSONAL ENGINEERING ACTIVITY
As it was a complaint and from a very
prestigious Customer, my MD told me to take a lead to find a cause of the
complaint with the help of Mr. Leighton Davis Smith, a PhD in Chemistry and
wide exposure with Ink Manufacturing Industries (Company had hired him on 1
year contract to develop Refill Manufacturing Facility for CRI, a Business
Initially I studied the Complaint Form
received from customer along with some sample Refill with Tips having Dead
Writing problem. I handed it over to my R engineer to do the routine
testing we do to find out the root cause as part of our procedure to respond to
customer for any customer complaint through Sales Department. My engineer did
various writing tests manually with the received sample refills having tips fitted,
took the tips out of refills, heated slightly and cleaned inside with a solvent
to remove any ink solidifying traces but still it was not writing. Then he went
for Machine Writing (CRI Standard Procedure for Testing of Tips during
Production) and still it wasn’t writing.
He then came to me with these outcomes. Suggested him to trace out the Batch Number
of that lot sent to that customer and randomly pick 10 tips and test those for
Manual and Machine Writing Tests as per CRI Procedure. He did both those
exercises and the tips were writing perfectly.
Knowing this, I then informed my Sales Team
to talk to customer to send us some more defective sample tips. He helped by
contacting customer and I received 50 more pieces of the defective tips. I
handed it over to my R&D engineer to do physical visual inspection of
received sample tips before going for the standard Manual and Machine Writing
Tests. The results were shocking to all of us. The Tips were looking perfect on
physical inspection but none of them were writing actuality, meaning they all
head DEAD writing that customer had complained. I had to involve at this stage
my production colleague, Vice President – Technical, the Consultant from USA as
he was available in the plant and my entire team from incoming to final
inspection activities. I had to manage people this way.
I advised the formed tem to go to the root of
this tips. From where the Solid Wire comes, the suppliers (Tips are made from
the Solid Wires of Brass, Stainless Steel and Nickle Silver materials). The
records of tips like which supplier wire was used, on which Machine the tips
were produced (CRI had 50 Special Purpose Tip Production Machines of two
different types – LX24 & PM20) and Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine wherein those
tips were cleaned. (As Tips are produced in the machine with high amount of
lubricating oil cum cutting fluid, it is essential to clean them in Ultrasonic
Cleaning Machine to remove every particle of oil as otherwise ink will react
with the residual oil and writing will be poor due to change in ink viscosity
because of addition of oil particles. Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine had t stages
of cleaning, Vibration, Hot Trichloroethylene and Vapor of trichloroethylene.
From coming out of this machines, tips are dried off with the help of a drier
and then goes for Final Inspection activities like, Dimension, Visual,
Machining Chips removal, without ball separation and Machine and Manual Writing
on random sampling of the lot.
Upon calling the
Quality person of customer, I got a fair idea that the entire lot of 100000
pieces of Tips have this problem. The lot was produced on Machine 36 (PM20
Machine) and cleaned in Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine 2. The Solid Wire used was
a Swiss Make Supplier wire. Initially after having these many information’s, I
told my team to verify the tips on random sampling basis for all the PM20
Machine tips being produced from Brass Wire (as complained tip had Brass Metal
Solid Wire) but the problem was not found. I also told my R person to
split the sample of complained tip in two halves and check the difference in
internal structure if any regarding the slotted channels thru which ink flows
from tip end to the top where ball is placed and comes out over ball surface
onto the paper while writing process. There were no any abnormalities found in
I also got the
kinematic Viscosity of ink tested by the original ink manufacturer sending the
ink sample from the received complained refills to them and the test report was
Then there was
only one option left to check whether the Ball is rotating or not. And when I
checked it, it wasn’t! It happens sometimes when impurities of ink goes inside
the slots of ink channel of the tips ether blocking the ink flow towards ball
or blocking the rotation of the ball itself.
And I found that
the ball is locked inside the tip and it’s not rotating while checking under
45x zoom level microscope.
I made the ball
popped out of tip, cleaned the ball seating area with compressed air and trichloroethylene and fitted it again on its
seat. It started writing for some time but still it got locked within few
minutes of writing. CRI testing practice is to write manually till the ink
empties in the refill – called Write to Life Test.
With all these sort of experimentation, I
concluded to the team that there is not any mechanical problems it looks as
there wasn’t any dimensional deviation in the tip and no change in ink
seriously doubted on CHEMISTRY then. I took help of the USA client who was PhD in
Chemistry, to explain me more about ink Chemistry. The materials used in
manufacturing of inks, the actual ink manufacturing process and then I searched
webs to get some more ideas about the cutting oil being used in our production
process and the cleaning agent – Trichloroethylene.
I also requested my MD to grant me
permissions to visit any of the nearby ink and Trichloroethylene manufactures
with approval for the SHOP FLLOR visit to see actual manufacturing activities. He granted and I with the help of sales department
finalized visits and visited physically for 2 days each at both ink and
trichloroethylene manufacturers. I visited with clear set of mind having listed
my queries and got it answered satisfactorily. Though they were our regular
suppliers for Ink and Trichloroethylene and I was in contact with then on
frequent basis for the discussion of the quality issues we faced in their
supplied products, I required approvals from their Directors also as I wanted
to see their Manufacturing Facilities for Ink and Trichloroethylene along with
technical understanding. In INDIA many industries don’t allow to visit their
manufacturing facilities. But due to my regular dealings with the respective
Quality counter parts and the director (to escalate quality issues being faced
by us in their products), I could get that permission relatively easily. My
better management of suppliers also helped in getting this permission easily.
After those two visits, I was pretty sure
about something is happening chemically at the narrow (approx. 50 micron) space
between the ball seat and ball outer surface from which ink flows out. But it
the space is too narrow, it was beyond the reach of a human eye to see it. I
then searched on net for the testing options and found High Beam Electron
Microscope with which such things can be found and measured.
I found the contact details and talked about
the possibility of such testing and they said yes with testing facilities of
Oils and Trichloroethylene also. I managed resources this way though it was
outside the organization activities but very much vital to come to a conclusion
of the ongoing problem.
I took permission again from my MD as the
testing’s were costly and the TESTING LABORATORY was in another city around 120
kilometers from CRI plant. He approved again and I reached there along with my
Vice President – Technical and PM20 Production head with the sample ball locked
complained tips, a sample of the used cutting oil from Machine 36 and sample of
used Trichloroethylene from Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine 2.
With the probable phenomenon in my mind that
what was happening in that gap of 50 micron among tip material (Brass), Cutting
Oil and Trichloroethylene. Under the High Beam Electron Microscope, my doubt
was confirmed with FORMATION OF a LAYER IN THE GAP OF 50 MICRON which was
preventing the ink to come out of ink channels and locking the ball itself from
rotating. This layer was a product of oxidation of residual chlorine from
cleaning agent trichloroethylene additives of cutting oil, Potassium and
Sulphur forming KCL (Potassium Chloride) and SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide).
This layer was clearly visible on the entire
periphery of the ball making it jammed in its position not allowing rotation
this way as depicted in the picture below leaving no room to ink to come out of
the back end of the tip over ball surface and ultimately transferred on to the
paper while writing.
This was surprising to all of the CRI family
as this was never thought or discussed in the history of the organization.
I made another visit to the Testing
Laboratory to reconfirm it along with my MD and the USA Technical Consultant
who approved my though seeing the picture above. I also got Trichloroethylene
and Cutting Oil tested there itself to check their alloying or basic elements
and with no surprise I found Sulphur and Potassium as additives in the Cutting
Oil and Chlorine is a base for Trichloroethylene.
The same I confirmed by calling both Cutting
Oil and Trichloroethylene Suppliers. Now, there wasn’t any doubt about what we
found. The challenge was not to find the root cause of this happening as CRI
has 50 Tip making Machine and Tips produced from only 1 Machine (No 36) gave
this problem. I also got this happening confirmed by dipping fresh tips
produced from other machines into the bath of Tea and Coca cola as both have
lower pH value means Acidic ph.
The problem of that complained tip was aided
by the Tip material itself i.e. Brass as it has a tendency to get corroded very
fast in open atmosphere and if it gets acidic environment then that helps the
Ball-Jam problem to occur even faster which was the exact case happening in
PM20 – 36 No Machine which was producing only Brass Tips and Cutting Oil being
used was a mixture of used oil from other machine to save COST!
Hence, this was the root cause found for the
complained Tips – Acidic atmosphere being crated unknowingly due to below
Usage of used/expired Cutting Oils in the PM20 Machine no 36
Ultrasonic Cleaning Process was not effective as there was left over
chlorine on the Tip available
Too narrow gap between the ball housing and ball periphery –
Unfortunately this can’t be changed due to technical limitations. Enlarging
this gap would get more ink out of the tip ultimately dropping in paper making
writing messy and unpleasant in looking. Narrowing more would not alloy low
viscosity ink to be used with the tip as it will not flow easily through the
gap to the ball surface.
I then presented this whole
happening of trial and error and reaching to the solution exercise – 5 months
approx. to the entire Plant and Sales team at Head Quarter along with the
technical teams of other two plants to make them aware of this unique problem
faced in my plant trough a customer complaint.
Unfortunately, the company had to give free
of cost replace to the valued customer but the learning for the whole
organization was great and it came with below listed corrective actions.
MD gave clear cut instruction not to utilize used-expired cutting oils in
any of the Tip Making Machines. However, he suggested to make an Oil Changeover
plan for the better utilization of the Cutting Oil as its consumption is also
quite high ( 300 liter/15 days/Tip making Machine). Two new Tastings started. Kinematic Viscosity
of Cutting Oil and AAV i.e. Acid Acceptance Value of Trichloroethylene by my
team under my guidance. The SET Parameters were agreed and set to monitor and.
One more stage of cleaning (by Drying) added in the Ultrasonic Cleaning
The Chemical Content of the Brass WIRE updated decreasing tendency of it
OIL MANAGEMNT PLAN for all 50 Tip Making
Machines was by made by me and explained to both PM20 & LX24 Production
Departments to implement successfully. I was monitoring it on fortnight basis.
The Oil Management Plan was a document showing a map of which supplier oil (3
Oil Suppliers) is running in which machine (50 Machines) since when and
depending upon the testing data of Oil Kinematic Viscosity and AAV of
Trichloroethylene, I had to ensure MENDATORY OIL CHANGE in the Machine once any
of these two parameters affected. The
same systems is adopted and implemented in other two manufacturing units
thereafter as a preventive action. This way, I managed to implement the
engineering plan within all the business units of the organization.
I finally made the Customer Complaint
Analysis Report and forwarded to Customer with regret for the said poor Quality
though unknowingly. I also talked to the Quality person there with whom I was
in touch throughout this analysis (taking feedbacks for the lot supplied to
them for the ongoing problem) and explained him why it has happened what
outputs we got as a result of this lengthy yet very fruitful analysis which
forced us to change our process. My management had already decided to give Free
of Cost replacement for 100000 Tip pieces. But they also praised me work and it was a
surprise phenomenon from them too being a renowned and very old Pen
Manufacturer. This was required for maintaining a better Client Relationship.
Well, this was a pretty different learning
and exposure as it was basically chemicals playing a role rather than
mechanical things. Once my mind prompted me towards probable corroding layer
formation inside the gap, I was confident on my chemistry knowledge being a
Received great support from my MD for his
confidence on my abilities. He always appreciated me that once I got in something,
I make the best use of it. That always there in the back of my mind to boost my
morale and keep thinking for the probable solutions.
Yes, it was hard in this case thinking out of
the box but I went persisting my instincts and technical skills and not to
forget my convincing abilities as many a times I had to get the approvals from
my MD directly though I was reporting to my CEO but as I was leading this
After this achievement, the administrative
and technical control of the new venture of setting Ink Manufacturing &
Refill Assembly Plant was given to me by my MD which was a token of praise and
his confidence in my abilities for me.