Quality Control Your Destiny
Quality Control Your Destiny
Quality. It’s the word you want each and every one of your customers to attribute to your products. It’s a word that implies reliability, a characteristic that builds trust and respect. It’s also a concept that points to superior craftsmanship that differentiates you from your competitors. What you may not immediately attribute to the word is how it represents significant cost savings to you through less waste, fewer customer call-backs and greater production efficiency.
Unfortunately, as you are acutely aware, quality does not occur automatically. It’s attained through a constant commitment to monitoring and improving your production process and a dedication to implementing Quality Control (QC) throughout your operations. This article, the first of a three-part series, will look at the impact QC can have on your operations, explore how easy it is to implement, and look at the In-Plant WTCA QC program and the Truss Plate Institute’s (TPI) Third-Party Inspection process.
The purpose of a QC program is to help ensure you produce a consistent product where quality variation is well managed. Variation is a natural part of all manufacturing operations, so the important thing is to have a process in place that can show you on a regular basis whether that variation is acceptable or not. Your QC program should also provide tools to help you with targeted employee training, and provide an early warning for manufacturing machinery issues that could cause quality defects.
This information should help you make good decisions on whether big-picture or more targeted measures should be implemented to address a particular QC issue. For instance, monitoring and taking some plant-wide action with respect to knots in the plate area at the saw should speed up production table time because everyone on the table knows exactly what to do given the process that has been implemented in the plant.
2005 SBCA President Don Groom pointed out in his first Editor’s Message, “When we take a job, we know that we owe our customers a quality product—it’s simply good business. But while an effective QC program helps to keep our customers satisfied, it also reaches much farther than that, touching every segment of our businesses.”
Implementing an effective QC program involves everyone, not just a supervisor or an inspector. QC is a part of everyone’s job in the process. Here are examples of how each area of your plant participates in QC:
- Designers set the fabrication tolerances and optimize the design/lumber, while keeping in mind the ability of your assemblers to construct a particular design.
- Design departments can save costly re-dos and repairs downstream, which will be the topic of the third article in this series.
- Material receiving staff ensures that the material received is as specified (i.e., grade, moisture content, tolerable defects, etc.).
- Sawyers verify that the material flowing through the assembly line is the proper grade and free from unusable defects; they can even perform preliminary joint QC prior to sending the webs and chords to the production line.
- Assemblers double-check for good material in the plated area and replace lumber as needed; they also concentrate on accurately placing the plates and ensuring tight joints.
- Stackers verify that all plates are installed; visually check for any excessive member-to-member gaps, plate rotations over 10 degrees and plate embedment; and check for consistency in plate alignment between like trusses in a bundle.
- Drivers provide a final verification that the load being delivered is the proper one, the order is complete, and they ensure the product isn’t damaged upon delivery.
That lengthy list drives home two good points: one, QC is truly part of everyone’s job; and two, there are a lot of areas in the production process where poor QC can cause real headaches and threaten the cost-effectiveness of your operations.
“One of the biggest concerns component manufacturers have when they’re deciding whether or not to implement an in-plant QC program is that it will be too time consuming. If an employee is doing inspections, he or she isn’t building components,” Groom pointed out in his message. “It’s true, running a program will take some time that would otherwise be devoted to building components, but the benefits of a QC program far outweigh the lost time.”
Two additional factors to consider in evaluating the benefits of having a QC process in place are: one, having a formal program can significantly reduce your liability and exposure to risk through the documentation and data you collect; and two, conducting in-plant QC inspections may be required for certain commercial projects through the building code. We will touch on both of these issues in greater depth in the next two articles in this series.
Not Difficult to Implement
Implementing an in-plant QC and third-party inspection program doesn’t have to be difficult. You already make minor adjustments throughout any given day, with the goal of getting trusses out the door as fast and efficiently as you can. A QC program complements that process and, ultimately, lets you better focus on production by putting valuable management information in your hands to evaluate and identify opportunities for further processing and material through-put improvements, not to mention the potential savings in reduced call-backs and increased customer satisfaction.
The goal of a QC program is really to improve the education of plant personnel on what it takes to make a quality truss from a TPI 1 perspective. As you probably know, TPI 1 is the consensus-based standard that establishes minimum requirements for the design and construction of metal plate connected wood trusses. What you might not know is that TPI 1 also includes methods for establishing manufacturing quality where it states in Chapter 3, “Metal-plate-connected wood Trusses shall meet the minimum manufacturing quality requirements specified in Chapter 3 of this Standard, so that design assumptions are met.”
A good QC program focuses on incremental improvements in the manufacturing process, not a wholesale change overnight. Further, it assists in establishing benchmarks on which to compare inspection results and measure improvement. Like anything new, production may be affected while employees get used to it. However, the program isn’t meant to diminish efficiency. In the end, its goal is to help you improve it.
In-Plant WTCA QC Program
If you’re still skeptical about implementing a QC program in your plant, know that a lot of the hard work has already been done for you. SBCA worked with TPI and component manufacturers across the country in the late 1990s to develop a comprehensive QC program that helps manufacturers comply with the QC requirements of TPI 1 Chapter 3. Over the past two decades, hundreds of plants have implemented this program, providing significant input on how to alter and improve the program to make it as seamless and effective as possible.
At its core, the In-Plant WTCA QC program is a production management tool. Analyzing QC data and related information gathered from the shop floor to spot trends in your manufacturing are critical steps to strategically improving your quality. The adage, “garbage in equals garbage out,” definitely applies here. The effectiveness of your QC efforts is directly tied to the data you collect and use to make your decisions.
Here’s how it works. The In-Plant WTCA QC program outlines, through your plant QC manual, how and when to conduct QC inspections of various aspects of the production process. Management regularly checks the QC inspection records and notes any discrepancies and focuses on ways to improve processes or procedures based on the inspection feedback. Periodically, management will also walk the yard and perform a visual observation of trusses stored for shipment and run through a checklist to record any QC issues.
From observations made during the QC overview process, you can more accurately identify key areas where there is a need to improve education and training of staff, repair or adjust machinery, or address the quality of the material you receive (and possibly negotiate a different approach to your raw material buying with your suppliers based on your material quality findings). The In-Plant WTCA QC program allows you to collect all of the observations from inspections into one database so that you can make well-informed decisions on when and where to make adjustments. This data will also allow you to set goals and track incremental improvements over time.
Setting regular achievable goals not only makes the program more effective, the success helps build employee engagement and teamwork. In the end, you want to establish a QC culture that encourages ongoing awareness, participation and feedback so that processes truly improve. For example, you want your employees to know and embrace the fact that it’s okay to find errors so they can be corrected. Without employee observations and feedback, errors don’t get fixed, quality suffers, and the potential for unhappy customers and even future re-do costs, liability-related issues and lost customers become a possibility.
In the next article, we’ll explore how some component manufacturers have implemented the In-Plant WTCA QC program in their plants and give some concrete examples of how this program has changed their operations (for one quick example, read Scott Ward’s Editor’s Message on page 5).
TPI Third-Party Inspections
Having an objective review of your QC efforts is vital to your success. A third-party QC inspection has many tangible benefits; it provides: an independent, critical eye on your operations (sometimes you can be too close to the problem to recognize it); a trained QC observer who knows exactly what to look for; and, the needed documentation to verify the quality of your product to your marketplace. Add to this the fact that a third-party inspection can either be a simple way to ease into the QC process by providing evaluation on basic TPI criteria, or it can be the culmination of your QC efforts because the In-Plant WTCA QC program requires a third-party inspection for certification, which will help you further differentiate your company and your product in the market.
TPI brings some unique benefits to its third-party inspection program. It’s hard to argue that any other entity can have the same level of expertise as the organization that is responsible for TPI 1 and is the original truss industry association of plate suppliers and CMs. As steward of TPI 1, it also has the greatest depth of knowledge with regard to the inspection requirements contained in TPI 1 as referenced by the building code and, therefore, building code compliance.
In addition, TPI worked hand-in-hand with SBCA in developing the criteria used in the In-Plant WTCA QC program. TPI has an intrinsic interest in going beyond simple adherence to QC criteria by consulting with you to suggest potential areas of improvement to your QC process, and lead to greater production efficiency, higher quality and lower call back costs. Finally, utilizing the TPI third-party inspection process allows TPI to provide resources for other efforts to benefit the components industry, including industry-specific structural testing and standard development.
Whether it was Don Groom in 2005 or Scott Ward in 2013, both CMs recognize and tout the benefits of having a good QC program. Not only does it lead to spending less time and money on production, it leads to happy customers and a strong reputation in your market. There are several approaches to take, from starting with a third-party inspection process like TPI’s, to adopting the In-Plant WTCA QC program and becoming certified through third-party inspections.
You are in the best position to make the choice as to what will work well for your operations. To help you in your decision-making process, next month, we will talk with some manufacturers who have already gone through it and give you their take on why they chose to do what they do and look at how it has benefited their operations.