Working with manufacturers and distributors to improve and transform their operations has taught us a variety of lessons relating to the best ways to implement a quality solution.
Questions to Answer Upfront
As manufacturing and distribution teams compare technology solutions, a strategic lesson learned about quality management is to consider the following questions:
- Will the enterprise integrate quality assurance and quality control into the actual production workflow rather than setting quality components up as stand-alone functions?
- Does the company have the most up-to-date information about compliance with industry standards?
- Exactly how long does it take to perform manual quality tracking processes and how many steps are involved?
Quality Problems Experienced by Small and Mid-Sized Manufacturers
Two of the kinds of problems we encounter with growing small and mid-sized enterprises as they embark on quality projects are these:
- Production processes that are not fully documented
- Out-of-date engineering drawings
As small and mid-sized enterprises grow and mature, we find that the task of fully documenting their production processes has fallen by the wayside – they may have hundreds or even thousands of routings that are inaccurate or inefficient, or they may have no documentation at all.
The same can be true with engineering drawings that haven’t been updated over time, which will cause significant problems when implementing a quality management system solution. Often when compared with what is occurring on the shop floor, existing engineering drawings prove to be inaccurate or out of date.
The first step to a successful QMS solution is to update routings, bills, and engineering drawings. Use the 80/20 rule to drive this effort. One potential way to do this is to hire summer interns from a local engineering college or university to update the engineering drawings. And, if you are keeping your existing ERP, look into a PLM tool to synchronize engineering drawings to the ERP, integrate with the CAD, and to automate the BOM creation process in the ERP by pulling in the BOM from the CAD.
Quality Metrics: The What and the Why
When an enterprise has fully documented its production processes and created accurate engineering drawings and routings, the next step is to take a hard look at quality metrics. At Ultra, we help enterprises with this during the business process improvement phase of a technology selection effort. Enterprises should define the quality metrics they “need,” and ask themselves why they want these metrics, and from where these metrics originate.
- Is there a specification?
- Do they need this metric for a particular level of field performance?
- Is this a customer-supplied metric?
- Is this an industry-defined spec (e.g., ANSI or ISO)?
Tests and Test Plans
To meet the defined metrics, enterprises develop tests and test plans to measure the raw materials coming in, the equipment readings during production and the quality of the end-product. They identify whether the measurements fall within their required specifications. For example, in production processes involving raw metal materials, we might be looking at specifications such as hardness, strength, tolerance, smoothness, ability to withstand temperatures, and processing speeds, amongst others.
These individual metrics or tests, are then developed into a Test Plan to meet the specification. Enterprises create and implement test plans and individual tests and assign them to items with the goal of hitting the specified metrics. These test plans should be part of the routings and BOMs, as desired metrics.
In the process of developing test plans, enterprises might discover that meeting certain specs would require too much work or might be unrealistic. Unrealistic specs are expensive in both time and money. In this case, the organization needs to go back to the specification and understand what is truly required and determine if there are other, less costly methods of achieving the specification levels.
Before implementing a quality solution, enterprises are wise to go through these business process evaluations and set up the proper conditions for implementing an efficient and successful QMS solution.
A Final Lesson: Listening
As business process transformation consultants, we have learned that perhaps the most important lesson in quality management is to listen to the project team members after the quality components have been deployed. It’s essential to determine if the quality solution is properly helping them achieve their goals.