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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tempest in a Teapot (aka, Khaw's Routine Matter)

It pains my heart to see how this hapless Minister Khaw Boon Wan is being excoriated for speaking the truth. For an engineering organisation to (1) find fault with and (2) send faulty equipment back to the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is really a ROUTINE matter.

When You buy Equipment Some Degree of Defects Are Expected
When YOU buy electronics (rice cookers, ovens, cars etc...) do you not expect (as a matter of routine) that there might be failure? You don't? Really?

Then why do you insist on a warranty, huh?

In some cases, at Courts or Harvey Norman, people pay extra for a one-to-one replacement warranty. Companies ROUTINELY provide warranties because they also ROUTINELY know that a small percentage of their products might fail. To keep customers happy, they ROUTINELY provide After Sales Service. The fact that you want a warranty means that you ROUTINELY expect that your product might fail, even though you chose to buy it.

So, tell me again that sending faulty equipment back to the OEM is not routine (and all in a day's work for an engineering organisation)?

People say that all of this is NOT routine because hairline cracks would later pose a safety problem. This assertion is very strange for a two reasons.

(1) What has a later safety problem got to do with whether a practice is routine or not? A routine is "normal practice". The notions of "later safety problem" and "normal practice of finding fault and sending equipment back to OEM" have no relation to each other. One is a routine practice. The other is just a potential safety problem.

(2) There is no safety problem anymore because LTA and MoT have ALREADY taken the ROUTINE initiative to remedy the hairline cracks before they pose a safety problem.

There really is nothing to discuss. The controversy is a non-issue. Faults were found and dealt with.

Must Be LTA Cheapo lahhhh...
Reputable brands and manufacturers can fail too. I bought a Fisher & Paykel fridge years ago. Sexy American brand right? Well, they came and carted away the whole fridge 2 months after I had bought it. I was given no new fridge. I was given a crappy interim fridge to use whilst they repaired that one. When it came back, it still gave problems. That was the last Fisher & Paykel I had ever bought.

After that, I bought a CHEAP Korean made LG. No problems for 12 years. Since then, I buy LG everything.

Smelly Boy's Macbook Air developed a crack across the screen 3 months after we bought it. The service centre told me that it would cost $1500 to fix it despite the warranty. I was so shocked that my hair stood on end.

In contrast, when my CHEAP ACER laptop went kaput during the warranty period, ACER fixed it for me at no cost. ACER's After Sales Service was top notch. I later owned 3 ACERS in a row... a relationship that spanned 12 years before I recently yielded again to Apple's seduction.

So, LTA and MoT bought trains from China. I don't see how different that decision is from my own when I chose to buy a cheap Korean made LG fridge. You guys have never bought cheaper electronics and been pleasantly surprised?

CSR Sifang's After Sales Service 
So, hairline cracks were found on the aluminium chassis of the trains. When alerted, CSR Sifang Kawasaki went into After Sales Service Mode. It packed up the trains, shipped them back (at their owncost) and changed the WHOLE chassis. Man! This sure sounds like what ACER did for me when my ACER laptop died.

As someone who uses electronics, I know that there is a chance that some products have defects. I felt safe with ACER because it had a top notch after sales service. CSR Sifang - Kawasaki provided LTA top notch After Sales Service. If it were me, I would be more than happy to buy a 2nd lot of trains from them.

Would I Have Bought the FIRST Lot of Trains Though?
Despite what I said herein above, here is where I think there was poor judgment. CSR Sifang had not much of a track record AND this was a matter of an entire country's rail service (and not just a laptop). It is also a PRC company and I would have worried about the quality of workmanship, given the notoriously poor quality of China made products.

If we hadn't bought the first lot of trains from them, there would be no issue of hairline cracks today. However, I believe that buying a 2nd lot of trains from them made perfect sense.

The 1st lot of trains were bought by a previous silly Minister. Now, Khaw Boon Wan is left taking crap in the face just as he is working hard to improve transport.

Was There Intent to Cover Up a Deep Dark Secret?
No lah! If you work in an equipment intensive organisation, it really is ROUTINE. There was no secret. Simply, no one thought such a ROUTINE matter was worth reporting (especially since it had already been dealt with).

A month ago, Nissan made me drive my 8 year old car back to the Service Centre to change a part that would have safety implications (not yet) some months or years later. I took time off and did it. I did not tell my kids (who ride in my car). I did not tell my in-laws (who also ride in my car). I did not tell my friends (who ride in my car). I wasn't COVERING UP anything. It just was a problem that I had already dealt with and so I found no utility in mentioning it.

There was a potential safety issue later on if the part were not changed out. Nissan changed it and case closed lohhhh...

It was Nissan lehhh... not Cherry QQ.

Open Report Every Routine Action LTA Takes?
Asking LTA and MoT to open report something like that is not reasonable. They do hundreds of things a day. You really want full open reporting of every routine?

Poor Khaw Boon Wan
I really feel for him. People make fun of him all the time. To me, he is worthy of every respect. Every time I walk into Khoo Teck Puat Hospital I thank God for the blessing that is Khaw Boon Wan (aka, Mr Fix It). Have you even been to Kuala Lumpur's public hospitals. There is paint peeling and mould growing on the walls. Patients are parked along the corridors with frayed blankets. The place smells funny too. In contrast, when I visit the hospitals in Singapore, it is like walking to a private clinic. There are paintings, flowers, comfortable armchairs and competent staff.

People who find it easier to get HDB flats now also have Mr Fix-It to thank.

Mr Fix-It has given his whole life to the service of Singapore and he has done so much for us. If you don't thank him, at least stop bullying him.


Anonymous said...

If your family members found out about the problem with the car and that you did not mention it, how would they feel? How would you feel if the tables are turned?
If HDB found cracks along the external walls of your flat and just patch it up without telling anyone, and you found out about it from a friend in JB, how would you feel?
A routine matter that don't affect others is ok, but when problem has potential to affect massive people, what's wrong by putting out a notification? If LTA or smrt had announced the problem and what they are doing to address it, it would have been a non event.

Petunia Lee said...

Everything that LTA and MoT does affects masses of people. Even something as tiny as a broken wheel or warped rails or perhaps cracks on the pillars that hold up the tracks. Tons of things are found everyday and addressed quietly. These are men and women who dedicate their lives to quietly keeping you safe. Every thing they do affects you. If you want notifications for all that they do that affects you, you will be overwhelmed. Too much information.

My family members did find out over dinner a a few weeks later but it was a non issue because I had dealt with it.

I am the one that patches up my house and makes good the waterproofing etc... cracks and repair things in my house all the time. I assure you, my family does not want to know. They would tell me to just fix it and not bother them.

Anonymous said...

This is really a storm in a tea cup. HDB's flats have been with us since 1965. Since then, thousands of blocks have experienced cracks in the blocks of flats. Does HDB have to announce to the public every time cracks appear in a block of flats. A routine procedure would be to have a structural engineer check and certify that the flat is safe. Even in private condominiums, cracks appear in brand new apartments but I have never heard of any HDB or private condos collapsing in Singapore what more made public. Singaporeans are just too ready to infer conspiracy theory into everything done by the government.

Gary said...

It wasn't a couple of train from a batch of 35 (36?) with the defect, it was some 29 trains -75%. In terms of quality control, that would qualify as a CRITICAL defect of the entire batch as it indicates a systemic failure in the manufacturing process. Impurities don't just happen to be in the aluminium allow sheets used to build the train, it is a sure sign of the maker of the trains buy and using sub-standard material. It could also be a case of staff being bribed by accept the sub-standard/cheaper grade of aluminium sheet from the supplier. Bribery is still rive in the PRC. A fact of life there.

The defects have to be found throughout each train and not at isolated spots of a train for such a drastic measure shipping the defective trains back to the factory for repairs. Furthermore, there are other defects like shattering glass guard next to train entrances. So the monkey business is not confined to the aluminium body alone. Who knows there could be other parts and components that are substandard too.

It is common experience for PRC-made consumer products to look good cosmetically, but they don't last as well as other comparable products in the market from Japan and Korea for instance.

Also, it will take at least a couple of years before the repaired train are returned to the SMRT. In fact, an earlier report gave it as 7 years before the repairs are completed.

Perhaps most important of all, such a big number of rejected trains is definitely going to affect service in the meanwhile. Yet, Khaw gave NO INDICATION at all of how train service is going to be affected by such a large number of trains being absent. Imagine, ageing trains which the new trains are meant to replace would now have to be continued to be used - how is this going to affect safety and service reliability? Perhaps too, some of the trains may be meant to increase service which now will continue to be in 'deficit'.

Buying trains is not like buying a car. You don't go to a showroom, take your pick and would be driving your new car on the road in a couple of weeks if not days (perhaps not in Singapore because of the COE system, but certainly in most other countries). Buying new trains requires preparation of specifications, a tender process, evaluation of offers - both offer cost and technical/technological aspects, delivery, pre-service inspection of delivered products and preparation for service, etc. A appreciable lead time is required.

Petunia Lee said...

I agree with u Gary. The decision to buy those 1st lotta trains was not robust but that is not Khaw's fault. He is trying to fix someone else's mistake... and I think he needs our support and thanks. Not excoriation.

He is a courageous man to take on the Transport portfolio. He does not have to. He has made enough money and is old enough to retire.

On this blog, u will find posts that are highly critical about this new PAP but I think we are all in this together and Khaw needs our support so he can focus on fixing some other stupido's mistakes!

Gary said...

Petunia, we could debate for hours on this but neither of us really wish to nor do we have the time for this. I would be among the first to support any government leader in their responsibility and work to make this a better place. However, it is conditional. It being that they, the leaders, accord us with equal respect, that we are not some dumbo before whom they can willy nilly in words and in actions insult our collective intelligence.

Singapore's MRT trains have been running since 1987. Where is the accumulated decades of corporate memory and experience gone that should have been brought to bear in the acquisition of new trains to replace/replenish ageing 'rolling stocks' or to augment service?

Unfortunately for us when you add up all the recent years failures and stoppages in the system, it is impossible not to conclude that there is bad news for train commuters, for instead of growing from strength to strength, we see very clear symptoms of REGRESSION.

On the part of Khaw he has made his indelible 'notoriety' over the AIM fiasco 'witch hunt'. It is sad and disappointing when we see that elected government leaders are unable to doff their partisan party political hat (Khaw, I believe is still the Chairman of the PAP) and rightfully and dutifully put on their hats as the government leaders to seriously address the people's valid concerns in this case over the purchase of seriously defective MRT trains and how this is going to affect their daily commute to work, school and what not. IMO, the correct action to take is for Khaw to investigate and trace the exact cause of the latest fiasco (I believe he has already done that and knows) and to be aboveboard and forthright enough to inform the public, especially the commuters who depend on the trains to travel for work and pleasure, who have the right to know just what has happened here, what he has found, instead of being so dismissive and non-chalant about it. Government leaders have no duty to protect the guilty parties (you called them stupidos) from public knowledge. Just as you honour those who has perform good and excellent public service on 9 August, so too must the government declare and expose the disservice and poor performers. Strange as it may sound, this is fundamentally how you can win the trust of the people. People are not dumb, they have a god given brain and mental faculties, many are well and even very well educated and/or experienced that it is a fool's errand and childish to want to antagonized. There is a saying that Dr Goh Keng Swee would give any aspirant to be of service to him, as much rope as the person wants to hang himself. By that measure, Khaw should have himself committed seppku (hari kiri).

Briefly, that Khaw has to be shunted around as Lee's chief trouble shooter and mender of broken systems, is an encyclopedic admission that far too many of our government leaders are sub-par, whose 'sworn' loyalty to the party far outweigh their real capabilities to be where they are.