Nadcap – A Proper Goodbye

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This morning I awoke to being officially ‘between jobs’, closing another chapter in my life by leaving my job with Bodycote Thermal Processing yesterday.  Before I start opening the next one, I wanted to touch on a different chapter than may also have closed with yesterday as well … at least I am assuming so.  For most of my professional career over the last fifteen years, I was involved in a program called Nadcap (maybe involved is not the right word … ‘included’?  ‘imposed’?  ‘suffocated by’?  ‘slapped around with like a fish’?).  Nadcap is a third-party Aerospace Special Process Accreditation Program.  Basically, it performs technical audits of aerospace suppliers on specific processes to alleviate that activity by the ‘Primes’ (or the top level customers).  The program uses highly trained auditors to visit suppliers and follow meticulously created audit checklists so that risks to the primes can be mitigated without the need of each individual prime from going into each of those suppliers and doing the same thing … or at least in theory.  When I worked at Cessna, I was one of those ‘Primes’.  When I worked at Bodycote, I was one of those ‘Suppliers’.  Argue ably, my time at those companies required me to spend 30 – 50% of my time focused on Nadcap and Nadcap affected projects.

Nadcap was, professionally speaking, something I Loved to Hate, and something I Hated to Love.  It was many times a pain in my side, many times the excuse to drink, many times the reason to drink, many times my worst enemy, and most often the boost to my career.  To get a glimpse of what this program is to me, the story of my involvement has to start with the first I heard of it:

It was a Friday.  I was working at Cessna at the time, and had been there for maybe a year – short enough time that I still really didn’t know what I was doing.  For some reason, I was working late … on a Friday of all things … and it was getting to be about 5:30.  That’s when my phone rings.  It was my boss’s boss … sitting in my boss’s boss’s boss’s office.  To summarize that conversation, they said:  “What are you doing next week, before you answer … no you’re not.”  Some time before, they agreed to support Nadcap, but didn’t get budget funding until literally the Friday before the meeting started in Cincinnati on Monday.  Now desperate to provide the support, they literally went down the phone list and reigned in anyone answering the phone on a Friday afternoon.  Not only that, but even told me that I was going to support a commodity that I barely knew anything about … simply because, that was the slot that was left.  I went to that meeting, and nearly all of the 3 or 4 meetings a year through 2012.

And when I say I barely knew anything … that is an understatement.  So, I was in the commodity called Heat Treating (which is basically sticking metal in an oven to change it’s properties … kinda like cookie dough).  One of the critical parts of heat treating is a system of tests called Pyrometry.  It is what makes heat treating controllable, and gives definition to the process.  Basically – If you consider your oven at home (to make cookies again) and you are baking at 400 degrees – pyrometry is the means for the oven to adjust the heat to reach and maintain 400 degrees, measure the temperature, and then give us a way to validate that when the oven is set at 400 degrees, it is 400 degrees everywhere in the oven.  If you finished reading that sentence, then you officially know more about Pyrometry than I did after that first meeting.  I seriously have my notes from that first meeting where I wrote in the margin “Look up pyrometry in dictionary”.

That was 2002.  Practically a lifetime ago.  During that time, I watched the program move from paper audits to computerized programs.  I watched them make the dramatic philosophical change when they went from NADCAP to Nadcap (no seriously, that was major).  We churned through industry change after industry change.  I slid from one side of the audit table to the other side of the audit table.  It seems like most of my thoughts of the meetings are arguments I railed against — from the windmills I seemed to be chasing for no good reason (namely the website everyone will always think of, if you know that joke) to what became the closest thing to a motto I had in my career, namely “It’s Just F*ing Hardness”.

That all being said, Nadcap became the means for me to advance myself more than anything in my career.  You see, every one of the prime customers sent a representative to help guide the program.  Every one of the major customers would send one as well to make their challenges known.  This means the room was full of the brightest, most profoundly intelligent experts in the field.  Every discussion, every evaluation, every analysis because an opportunity to learn, grow, and discover not just what heat treating or pyrometry or auditing was about – but how we all can support and build the entire Aerospace Quality worldwide.  At that first meeting, one of the key staff members named Zia Karim figured out I knew so little, and quickly got me sitting next to legends in the field — I want to rattle off names but I will forget some (and I don’t know how may of y’all are reading this to get all pissy) but I would be missed if I didn’t mention John Gorley, a long time Honeywell expert and as much of a mentor as a friend —  and the closest thing to a ‘Yoda’ of wisdom and guidance, Tom Murphy.  Lucky for me, I did way more listening those first few meetings than speaking, and I learned … I learned a lot.

For that ten year run with Nadcap while I was with Cessna, I was honored enough to not only work with so many great people; but I got to be the vice chair of the Heat Treat Task group for seven of those years.  I maybe making it sound fun and enlightening but … well, it sucked too.  Think about all these smart people in a room, you can probably believe there maybe an ego or two in the room as well.  We spent hours arguing over the most mundane things.  We went in circles over the worst of topics.  So much time by so many great heat treating minds discussing grammar.  We picked fights, we played politics, we drew lines in the sand.  While this was the process that it takes for a program like this to improve — it still was painful.  PAINFUL.

One classic moment happened when we were on the last day of a meeting overseas, and we were all anxious to get out of the room.  The night before, a good friend gave me a gift of a bottle of Scotch Whiskey he brought from his home in Northern England, which we proceeded to share between a bunch of us – but still left one last glass in the bottle.  For some reason, the bottle was still in my work bag and with me in the room.  One of the more ‘talkative’ members of the group seemed to be on his worst game that day – and it seemed just as we were finding a reason to close out a topic, he seemed to make it all that much worse.  I pulled that bottle out, slammed it on the table and said “This is the best whisky I have ever had, and I want to drink it.  I can’t until we finish, so excuse me if I want y’all to get to the point or move on.”

And I am just getting started in Nadcap stories.  They had a tendency to schedule these meetings in exotic locations – so because of Nadcap I got to see the Great Wall of China, the Tower of London,the Lourve, the Roman Forum, Checkpoint Charlie, the beaches of Singapore, and a church in downtown Pittsburgh that sold pitchers of beer for the Steeler Games.  We laughed over falling back on a chair in slow motion, we argued over the appropriateness of posting updates from a ‘Satellite Office’, we pretended to be pirates, and we raised our glasses ‘To the Wives’.  Every time I came back from a Nadcap meeting, someone back in the office spouted their jealousy for all the adventures we had, and I would be quick to say “you want to go in my place, then take it” — while deep down hoping they didn’t take me up on the offer.

If there are regrets, looking back, it’s how it ends.  As I mentioned, I was a vice-chair of the Heat Treat Task Group for seven years, knowing that it was common for the next chair to be the last vice.  I joked for most of that run that the day I get named Chair would be the day I quit my job.  As it turned out …  I accepted the offer to move to Alaska on the first day I was chair at a meeting.  I couldn’t announce my departure awaiting the time to discuss it with my company – so I left without a word.  When I returned after my ‘Alaskan Sabbattical’, I attended a few meetings as a Supplier for Bodycote.  While I knew about this next job change at the last meeting I attended in October, again I couldn’t announce it.   Through all these years, I got to know a lot of people who retired or moved on – some that were well recognized for their contributions and service.  I don’t feel like I need to be recognized for my contributions to that program, but I feel jealous to those people because they did get that swan song.  So … I left without a proper good-bye … not once, but twice.

Where I am going doesn’t currently subscribe to Nadcap, but may choose to someday.  That doesn’t mean I won’t have the chance to come back – but I don’t want to think about that because that means that where I am going won’t work out (which is a whole post to itself for another time).  Whether or not I want to find my way back to some part of the program is not the point – the point is, I am perfectly fine to say goodbye to all those people and all that Nadcap has meant to my professional life – That’s why I needed to write this post.

To give Nadcap that proper goodbye.

To all of you I have ever known through this program – to all of you who have touched me, taught me, mentored me – to all of you continuing to fight the good fight and strive to make the program better every day …

Thank You, Farewell, and Good Luck
Just remember if you intend to attend the next meeting, bring your good liver.

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