Quality fabrication services are, of course, the aim of every metal fabrication job-shop. Quality assurance and quality control are, very often, touted as a company strength—and even value statement—for most shops. After all, imagine a marketing message that proclaims the opposite, “Hey, we are a great fabrication shop, but our quality is suspect!”
Certainly most, if not all, metal job shops are seeking and very much intend to fabricate quality-made parts. Still, quality assurance is often easier said than done. The question is why? Why can it be tricky to manufacture and fabricate consistent, quality-made parts?
Of course, the simple answer is that people are human and mistakes just happen—very true!
The answer then is not to fix the people, per se, but to fix the processes the people are using. Most quality mistakes result from poor processes.
Consider the following example—imagine for a moment that you are getting ready for bed and starting your nightly bed routine which, we hope, includes brushing your teeth. Pause for a moment and think about how you brush your teeth.
Now, take this seriously—really imagine it. Where do you start? Do you start in the back of your mouth or the front of your mouth? Do you start on the top teeth or the bottom teeth? Do you work your way from right to left or left to right? The truth is, if you really think about it, you brush your teeth the same way almost every time.
I start back-left-top-outside of my teeth. I work my way around that top row of teeth to the front and then head back and brush back-left-top-inside all the way to the front. I then go to back-left-bottom-outside, then back-left-bottom-inside…you get the point.
We each follow a tooth-brushing process. In fact, some of us follow it so rigidly, like in my case, that I get in trouble at the dental hygienist office because I am wearing my gums down, which is a great place to pause.
My process is causing a quality defect. Am I working hard at brushing my teeth—yes! Do I care that I am doing a good job—yes! Still, despite how I am working and trying, I am causing a quality issue with my gums. In other words, my best efforts are being tipped over by the way I am brushing my teeth—my process needs correcting.
Quality control, in my opinion, starts with work and a good attitude, but is only really installed when everyone in the company has the power and vision to step back and inspect—not parts—but processes.
All of us, each day, are consumed by processes and most of them happen in the background. It is the auto-pilot part of our brain. We develop these processes to put tasks and jobs on autopilot, thus allowing us to consciously think about other things while working on the task at hand.
Quality assurance begins to grab ahold when the company starts to awaken to the concept that our processes need to be scrutinized and sometimes changed when mistakes happen.
The goal, of course, is to never let a mistake land on the customer’s receiving dock, but it goes even deeper. Catching a mistake before it gets to the customer saves face, but it doesn’t save money. Quality mistakes are costly whether they get to the customer or not. The goal is to create processes that eliminate quality mistakes altogether.
This is, of course, often so difficult that many companies resort to inspecting quality in their production. This is often necessary but again comes at a cost, which is usually the quality inspector. Inspecting parts can backfire if the machine operators basically abscond themselves of managing their own processes because it is not their responsibility to fabricate quality parts—instead, it is the inspector’s responsibility to make sure the operator is making quality parts.
As is often the case, the answer is usually in the middle of all these ideas. Successful shops that produce high quality parts often have a mix of all that we have talked about. They push for process control; they use corrective action and preventative action tools when mistakes are discovered. They measure quality performance in such a way that they can see where mistakes are happening. They use root cause techniques; they communicate in a positive way to their employees about the importance of following pre-determined processes; and naturally, they have employees hired to check and monitor the system regularly to make sure everyone is on the same page.
There could be pages written about each of these practices. These tools, and many others, comprise an overall quality approach in a metal fabrication shop. The key is to have a balanced approach and to not overly employ any one tool at the risk of forgetting about others.
Underlying all of this is the importance of establishing a culture where it is okay to make mistakes so long as we learn and grow from them. Being human necessarily means mistakes will happen but too often employees hide their scrap or quietly rework their parts without making it known for fear of repercussion.
This fear, if embedded in any organization, does more to perpetuate quality errors than fix them, because, again, we are losing the process changes that could be happening if employees felt safe to let others know that a mistake was made.
One thing I can almost guarantee is that there are far more quality issues bubbling around in a company than reported. The costs of those mistakes, even if they don’t make it to the customer, can be staggering and many of those costs are simply tucked away where the owners or company managers never see them.
Why not change your culture to a place where people own the issues and then, with some coaching and feedback, start working to change the processes at play.
My dental hygienist happens to be my sister and yes, I was her practice patient in college when she was attending school. I used to give her feedback regularly that she was scrapping my teeth too hard or jousting me with that needle too abruptly.
Gratefully, now-a-days, she is giving me feedback about my wearing down gum line and I have changed my process. I purchased an electric tooth brush and I tilt the head about thirty degrees and do not overly focus on one area of my mouth. I brush for two minutes each night before retiring to bed and my gums, as I am sure you will want to know, have made a full recovery.
Process, reporting, feedback, change, improvement—all of these are critical aspects of working in a shop that has high quality fabrication. Ultimately, this is how successful metal job shops transform quality promises into reality.
All Metals Fabrication strives relentlessly to endlessly improve and to fabricate high quality parts!
Find out more by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And go brush your teeth.