Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Quality Control
Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Quality Control
The quality of the product you send to the jobsite has a significant impact on your bottom line. High quality designed and manufactured products eliminate the need for costly repairs or call backs, and build trust and respect with installers and your customers. Great craftsmanship can differentiate you from your competitors and, in price-competitive situations, can give you second looks on jobs. Your quality products also reduce headaches and hiccups. With field labor as tight as it is, your reputation for high quality products can make the difference in whether a builder chooses you over a competitor.
Unfortunately, quality doesn’t just happen automatically. High quality is only attained through a constant commitment, from the top down, to monitoring and improving your production process and a dedication to implementing quality control (QC) best practices and procedures throughout your company. QC helps ensure you produce a consistent product where variation is managed to the greatest extent possible.
Variation is a natural part of component manufacturing. The important thing is to have a process in place that can show you on a regular basis if the variation occurring is acceptable, and whether or not it’s self-induced (meaning, your equipment is to blame). Your approach to QC should then focus on providing an early warning for manufacturing machinery and production employee issues that may cause quality defects. In this article, we’ll explore how targeted employee QC training can be beneficial to your company, and provide insight on how best to implement that training.
All Hands on Deck
In order to have an effective QC process, everyone in the company needs to be involved, not just managers. 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.
- Material receiving staff ensures that the material received is as specified (i.e., grade, moisture content, etc.).
- Sawyers verify that the material flowing through the assembly line is the proper grade and properly culled; 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, replace lumber as needed, and concentrate on accurately placing 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.
- Managers follow through on all QC expectations. During walk-throughs of the plant, or finished goods in the yard, any QC issues they notice are tracked through to their source and addressed.
As this list makes clear, in every area of production, poor QC can cause real headaches and threaten the cost-effectiveness of your operations. So the first question is, where do you start?
Formalizing Your Approach to QC
Implementing a formal QC process doesn’t have to be difficult, given you probably are doing some aspects of QC already and just not calling it QC. 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 formal approach to QC complements that process and, ultimately, lets you improve production through gathering valuable management information that gives you the ability to more effectively evaluate and identify opportunities for processing and material through-put improvements.
At its most basic level, a formal QC process isolates a problem and puts a system in place to help you avoid repeating that problem. Isolating the problem starts by conducting in-plant truss inspections, which compare a finished truss to the truss design drawing (a.k.a. engineering drawing), its related joint details, and quality criteria in the building-code-referenced ANSI/TPI 1 Chapter 3.
Focus on incremental improvements in the manufacturing process, not a wholesale change overnight. Establish benchmarks upon which to compare inspection results and measure improvement. Then focus on making those improvements in a step-by-step fashion. Schedule a few “toolbox” talks to address a simple problem uncovered by the inspections, and then evaluate how effective the trainings are (i.e., do problems persist, or do they disappear?). Sometimes, these kinds of informal interactions with employees can uncover underlying practices or production methods, such as incorrectly tacking plates, that contribute to the problem.
Like any new thing, installing a new machine for example, production may be affected while employees get used to doing inspections and making corrections. However, it’s important to keep in mind the program isn’t meant to diminish efficiency. In the end, the ultimate goal of implementing a formal QC proces is to help you improve efficiency by reducing the amount of time spent on customer call backs and field repairs.
Take Advantage of QC Inspections
It can be advantageous to conduct QC inspections on various aspects of the production process. Management should then check the QC inspection records, note any discrepancies, and focus on ways to improve processes or procedures based on the inspection data. Periodically, it’s also a good idea to have management walk the yard, perform a visual observation of trusses stored for shipment and run through a checklist to record any QC issues.
Based on observations made during the QC inspection 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). Without that data collection and analysis, it’s much harder to determine how and where to fix a recurrent production issue.
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. 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 you lose the opportunity to build that trust and respect with your customers.
What the QC Process Looks Like in Practice
Making an overt commitment to quality changes the focus of your employees. Don’t believe me? Here’s what several CMs have to say about their formal QC processes.
“If you measure the success of your company by how many board feet of components you produce, that will be the thing your employees focus on,” said Dave Motter, Structural Engineer for Louws Truss in Ferndale, WA. “You have to accurately measure quality in order to convince your employees to focus on it. ”
“Having everyone aware and invested in the QC program means there’s no question if something is ‘close enough.’ Through our QC program, everyone is aware of the tolerances allowed; there is no gray area, so everyone is focused on if it passes or not,” said Steve Wangen, Design Manager at Gold Standard Truss in DeMotte, IN. “We have line monitors that watch all the QC issues, and if something out of tolerance gets through and is caught, our production guys know they’re going to be fixing it the next day. So they take the time to do it right the first time.”
“A formal QC program has helped our end line guys identify quality issues, and has given them a quantifiable process to send trusses back to the production line,” said Terry Lillard, Plant Manager for Sun State Components in Chandler, AZ. “In turn, our production guys pay closer attention and fix problems immediately because they don’t want trusses coming back to them. Because of the culture we’ve created through our QC program, our production guys are always looking at the condition of the wood in the plate area. They’re all empowered to toss stuff out at any time. That puts more responsibility on our sawyers and pickers to not put bad lumber into the system in the first place.”
SBCA has worked with component manufacturers across the country and taken the guess work out of how to implement a formal QC process in your facility. The SBCA In-Plant Wood Truss QC program (sbcindustry.com/qc) includes everything you need to train your employees on quality issues they should look for, how to conduct truss inspections, how to document each inspection, and best practices on how to benefit from the data collected. The best part is, it’s about to get even easier to implement. The QC program is shifting to an online interface, which can be accessed by any computer or mobile device in your facility. Not only will it be simpler to input QC data from inspections, it will be easier for managers to access the cumulative data and quickly get a sense for areas where QC issues need to be addressed.