by Bob Beranek
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The most difficult part of training a technician to be productive is teaching the mastery of the tools unique to the auto glass industry. Unlike the common tools at your local hardware store, auto glass tools may need practice to acquire the skill to use them properly. In the next couple of blog posts, I plan to make a number of observations, hints and ideas that will assist in the use and care of auto glass tools. I urge my friends in the tool business to contribute and add their thoughts to the discussion. The comments that I will be sharing are my opinions based on experience with tools and observations of problems I’ve witnessed over the years. I will be happy to share my thoughts on any tool you wish to discuss, so, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or comments.

Let’s begin with cut out tools and with the most difficult tool to master, the cold knife. Before there was a cold knife there was piano wire with two pieces of wood for handles. There will be a whole separate discussion of the new wire-out tools in the near future.  But for now, I would like to discuss the most commonly used cut out tool in the industry which followed the piano wire as a new innovative tool that would change the industry for decades.

According to Reid manufacturing, the cold knife was invented in the early 1960s by Harry Cothery. When it was invented it was thought to be the savior of vehicle paint and damaged interior trim, as well as a quick way to cut out the new glued-in glass parts. It certainly proved its claim. Our industry embraced the new tool and improved the tool and the blades over the years so that now it is still the tool of choice for many techs.

The introduction of urethane as the adhesive of choice by vehicle manufacturers led to a challenge when it came to the use of the cold knife. Those out there that remember the first time they tried to pull a cold knife through urethane knows what I mean. We swore the manufacturers used liquid concrete to adhere the glass to the vehicle.  However, over the years we perfected the method by which the cold knife is now used and have developed different blade designs introduced to ease the cut out.

Today, I want to talk about the proper use of the tool. The various styles of cold knives and its wide variety of blade styles are designed to separate the adhesive from the glass at the glass surface. The rigidity of the glass and the sharpness of the blade are used in a scissor type action to cut the adhesive from the glass.  This is the difficult part to master because the user must find the place where the tool separates the glue from the glass without breaking through the glass and without pulling the blade through the strength of the urethane. This is what I call the “sweet spot.” It is like hitting the baseball right on the meat of the bat, hitting the golf ball in the center of the driver and scratching the itch in the center of your back. Once you find it you know it, but to find it is the problem. It may take you 20-50 uses to find it and another 20-30 pulls to perfect it.

It starts with the insertion of the blade into the adhesive. Typically, it is easier to pull the cold knife instead of pushing it because you can use your body weight more efficiently. There are times, however, when both methods must be used due to access to the glass edge. Insertion is usually in the top or bottom center and pulled to the corners. When you first insert the tool the blade is positioned in the adhesive about midway through so the goal is to get the blade up to the surface of the glass.

To accomplish this, it is necessary to use the blade configuration and the tool’s vertical handle (steering handle) to position the blade for smooth and easy cut out. The blade configuration is the configuration of most cut out blades used in the auto glass industry, flat on the glass side and tapered on the other. When the handle is slightly angled back while pulling and pushing, the blade’s natural travel is up towards the glass part’s underside surface. When it reaches the glass surface the handle’s angle is then positioned more vertical.

As you pull the tool with the cabled handle (power handle) toward the corners, it is best to use your entire body weight to create the power of the cut. Using just your upper body strength will work, but long term muscle fatigue and injury is a possibility. As you pull, pay attention to the glass curvature and position your body behind the curve. If you pull the knife while in one stationary position, the blade has a tendency to break through the glass. In other words, go with the curve. The same goes for going down the “A” pillar. It is best to be below the tool and not stand above it unless you’re pulling upwards from the bottom. Standing creates the same result as not going with the curve—the tool breaking out from under the glass.

If you notice the design of the cold knife, the pull handle is mounted to the tool under the horizontal part of the blade. The most efficient use of the tool is based on the proper placement of your hands in relation to the handles and the side you’re currently working on. The proper use of the knife requires that you will be pulling with your right hand on the bottom driver side and the top and side of the passenger side, and you will be pulling with your left hand on the remaining sides. This causes you to use both of your hands for a power source and that is uncomfortable for most installers. However, if you use only your predominate hand for power, the tool will be harder to learn because it will be much more difficult to maneuver. The discomfort will go away once you master the tool.

Next week will talk about the evolution of the cold knife and its blades and their various designs

The last type of training I would like to discuss is the training demonstration or demos. Demos can be very effective or a complete bust if not done correctly. The tech can learn how to do it right or misinterpret the entire thing. Here is how I suggest that demos be conducted. Use the SERO method of demonstrating a procedure or process.

Show the proper procedure—Demonstrate the process in real time and with the proper equipment. This illustrates the procedure’s elements in the proper sequence and in a real time frame. If you explain what you doing while demonstrating the procedure, then the audience loses the effect, especially if questions were answered during the initial demo.

Explain the process—Once the initial demo is completed, then explain how it was done, why it was done that way and the importance of the procedure. Entertain questions and answer them completely until all attendees understand. If a question was asked that you do not know the answer to, do not guess, tell the questioner that you will research the correct answer and get back to them with the details. Make sure that all attendees are also informed of the answer.

Repeat the procedure—Now repeat the procedure again with a brief explanation of each segment and entertain all questions that might come up. Highlight the important parts, especially those that may be construed as safety issues. If you can manufacture possible problems or concerns while repeating the process, by all means do so. This demonstrates the ramifications of thrown curveballs and how to handle the problem.

Observe demonstrated skills—Now that they know the proper procedures, it is now important to make sure they can do it. Have the attendees accomplish the training procedure under your observation. Correct any mistakes and have them repeat as often as necessary to master the process. It is best to split up in teams at first and then break them out separately to finish. This encourages compliance without intimidation or stress.

Follow these simple steps and you can assure that you techs will learn the process correctly and fully understand the reason why it must be completed the way you instructed.

Hands-on training is the most widely used and most improperly conducted training style there is in the trades. Many owners/managers mix training with production in a misguided attempt to have their cake and eat it too. The results are always wasteful and usually stressful for the trainee as well. This can result in failure of a potentially good employee when it needn’t have happened.

Here is the scenario: The manager realizes—too late—that he needs another technician and hires the first guy that looks like he could do the job. He puts the new hire with his best technician and then loads them up with jobs hoping that the new guy learns something through osmosis. The training team goes out every day the same way and gets the jobs done. That is good, right? It may be, if production is your goal, but it isn’t training.

In addition, the productivity is costly because you’re using two guys to do the work of one technician and likely paying overtime to do it. Does that make sense? The sooner you get the new technician trained and productive, the sooner you can make real money by having the two guys out doing two separate runs and saving overtime.

I know that the work needs to get done, but if the manager anticipates the need in advance, he eliminates the trouble that comes with combining training with productivity. Many managers train their techs following the scenario above and think they are doing the right thing. Instead, they are slowing down their most productive technician, putting stress on that same valuable individual, stressing out and possibly ruining a good installing prospect, taking much longer to get a new hire to productivity and losing valuable revenue.

I’m not going to comment on anticipating the new hire. That is subject matter for a different blog. However, I do want to address the training techniques that have worked for me over the past twenty-five years. Anyone can use these techniques to improve the training process. Keep in mind though, that the best trainer may not be your best technician. Your best technician is your best producer and may not have the patience to be a trainer.

  • Demonstration – Demonstrate the procedure and then allow the trainee to complete the same procedure. DO NOT do the work for the trainee. The student will not learn if you do all the work.
  • Job Limits – The training team should limit the jobs to no more than four per day when the trainee begins installation instruction. Too many jobs put undue pressure on the trainer and the trainee. Gradually increase the workload as confidence improves.
  • Singular Concentration – Singular concentration means that we must instruct one step at a time until that procedure is mastered. If the trainee is swamped with too many tasks, none of them will be learned in an effective way.
  • Tool Mastery – Our tools require a certain learning curve to master. The tools that are targeted for mastery are:
  • Cable knife (cold knife)
  • Utility knife/scraper
  • Long-handled utility knife
  • Plastic paddles/hook tool (for gaskets)
  • Molding release tool (chrome tool)
  • Insert tool (filler strip tool)
  • Various power tools.
  • Caulk gun

 

Utilize the singular concentration method of training tool usage. It may take as many as 30 to 50 uses of the tool to become comfortable.

  • Part Diversity – Don’t hesitate to take the difficult jobs. Show the trainee all the diversity that is out there. Train on windshields, door glasses, vent glasses, back glasses, quarter glasses, gasket sets, rain sensors, PAAS and all the variables in between. Easy jobs spawn ineffective technicians.
  • Weather DiversityAs a trainer, you would be doing your trainee a disservice if you do not expose that trainee to the conditions he/she will experience. Don’t train only in the shop. If your company does mobile installations and your trainee is expected to do mobile installations, make sure you train for that eventuality. Check with your adhesive manufacturer on the procedures they recommend and train accordingly.

I do not believe in coddling a trainee but I also do not believe in the “sink or swim” method of training either. You may get a person that can keep his head above water, but you will seldom find the guy that can swim across the river.

In the words of Ben Franklin, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”