I had the pleasure of attending Sub-Zero Wolf (SZW) factory training last week in Madison, WI. Flew in on Monday, training was Tuesday thru Thursday, and then flew out on Friday. The class consisted of 15 techs from around the country but also included a tech from Puerto Rico and another from Barbados. The techs included a few students from Master Samurai Tech and some Appliantology members.
This session was all Wolf products: gas and induction cooktops, gas and dual fuel ranges, vent hoods, downdraft vents, coffee makers, and microwaves. We worked on 5 different wall ovens, 4 different ventilation systems (both hood and down draft), 4 different ranges, 4 different cooktops, 2 different microwave ovens, a steam oven (each lab group actually baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies!), and the coffee maker system.
The 3-day training session was held in Madison, WI, from October 11-13 (Tuesday thru Thursday). Everyone arrived on Monday and SZW took us all out that evening for a traditional Wisconsin dinner of locally brewed beer and real Wisconsin brats and sauerkraut, beef brisket, and mac n' cheese. It was fantastic! SZW provided all our food during the training and paid for our hotel rooms. Breakfast was at the hotel, lunch was catered at the training center, and they took us out to a different restaurant each night for dinner. A shuttle took us from the hotel to the training center and back each day.
The training format was a mix of classroom instruction and "lab" exercises. During the lab portion, we broke up into groups of 3 or 4 techs and rotated around working on different product stations as we solved specific problems on those products. Doing this required extensive use of Sub-Zero's servicer site, Service Central, that we accessed on our tablet computers to find and refer to service manuals, schematics, and bulletins for the model/serial we were working on. Numerous rolling tool chests and Fluke meters with the LoZ function were also provided. Instructors would roam around from group to group to answer questions and provide hints, tips, and instructions. This was a great format for getting familiar with the products.
Part of the training was a factory tour of the Wolf production facility including the new 4,000 sq. ft. manufacturing space to accommodate the production of their new dishwasher, Cove, which they'll start selling in 2017. The facility was immaculate, highly organized, with surprisingly few production personnel on the floor. What amazed me most about the manufacturing process was the amount and sophistication of robotics they're using for everything from fabrication to QC testing. Every finished product is connected to electricity and/or gas (as appropriate for the product) and 100% function tested using robots!
After the factory tour, we got to sit in with a tech line tech and were given a headset so we could listen in to both sides of the conversation as they took calls from techs in the field. It was dizzying seeing how fast these guys could fly around Service Central pulling up service manuals and bulletins to help the tech on the phone. Most of the guys who called in while I was there were authorized and had access to Service Central so could have probably answered the question for themselves if they had just spent a few minutes at Service Central and then RTFM. Getting authorized techs to effectively use Service Central is one of SZW's big training objectives. Even among SZW authorized techs, there's an over-reliance on tech line and flow charts instead of reading the service manuals, using the schematics, and applying gray matter.
By the way, SZW tech line will help any tech, authorized or not, who calls in working on one of their products. Non-authorized techs are treated exactly the same as authorized techs and they'll be talked through as much as they need to complete the diagnosis and repair, including step-by-step disassembly if needed. Their main concern is getting the customer's appliance fixed as quickly as possible, not protecting SZW service information.
Sitting with tech line, I also realized why SZW uses a select circle of parts distributors (Premier Partners). Here's a typical scenario: a tech calls in working on a SZW product and, working with tech line, determines he needs a kit described in a recent service bulletin to fix the problem. Tech line is tied directly into the inventory database of all their Premier Partners and can tell the tech if that kit is in stock there or not. If it is, he'll go ahead and have that part shipped right then and there. If not, he can check factory inventory and have it shipped to the partner right there during the call. There's no ambiguity about whether a part is in stock or where it is or when it will arrive like there is with so many other manufacturers.
In addition to a great technical training experience on Wolf products, I also got a good feel for the SZW corporate culture. Not surprisingly, it reflects the people who work there, mostly native midwesterners and particularly Wisconsin: not at all stuffy or pretentious but instead clean, organized, competent, down-to-earth, get things done. Real people making really excellent, 100% US-made appliances. If any of you guys are SZW authorized and haven't been to the factory training yet, you really should go. I think you'll be impressed and learn one helluva lot.