September 25, 2015 / LIT, material costs, product liability, quality, root cause analysis, supplier relationships, supply chain, workflow process
When most managers think about quality, they tend to think about their internal operations and the competency of their employees. Quality control is largely based on the processes that managers have put in place to ensure that tolerances are met, cosmetic expectations are achieved, and errors are kept to a minimum.
However, it is important for managers to remember that quality begins with the supply chain. According to the white paper, Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges That Cut and Process Metal, operations managers need to be sure they are tracking the quality and accuracy of the material coming from the supplier. Product liability and traceability continue to be huge concerns for forges and other metal-cutting companies, and raw material mix-ups can be both expensive and dangerous. Even major organizations like Boeing and NASA have learned this lesson the hard way.
Put simply: thorough inbound inspection processes are just as critical as outbound quality processes. By taking the time to confirm what is coming in the door, forges can confidently supply products that are both accurate and fail-safe.
The most successful way to ensure inbound quality is to devise a standard operating procedure (SOP). If you don’t already have one in place, an archived article on alloy verification from thefabricator.com provides a good starting point. According to the article, a good SOP should include the following six components:
- positive material identification (PMI)
- inspection frequency
- test methods
- acceptance criteria
- marking and documentation
- resolution of discrepancies
(For a detailed explanation of these six components, check out the full article here.)
If you already have a standardized inbound quality process in place, another article from Quality Magazine suggests ten ways manufacturers can optimize this critical procedure. Below are a few best practices that will likely apply to your forging operation:
- Share inspection plans with suppliers. Be upfront and honest with suppliers about what features you plan to inspect at incoming inspection. A good supplier will incorporate inspections in their control plan to verify those features. Sharing the inspection criteria will build a sense of teamwork between the customer and the supplier, and drive defect detection upstream to the supplier.
- Understand your supplier’s measurement system in depth. Where practical, “accept” based on the supplier measurement data. The supplier is the expert in the type of component they produce. In many instances, they will have a superior measurement system (i.e., equipment that is able to measure more precisely). Use your measurement system to confirm supplier data.
- Ensure only confirmed nonconforming parts are returned to suppliers. Alpha risk, also known as producer’s risk or Type I error, refers to the situation where conforming parts are rejected. Oftentimes suppliers report “no problem found” after analyzing a rejected shipment. Install a double check system where an engineer or senior inspector confirms the out-of-tolerance condition. Doing so will eliminate unnecessary shipping costs, line downtime, and reinspection associated with returning conforming parts to the vendor.
- Incoming inspection is to protect the customer, both internal and external customer. This is the fundamental purpose of the incoming inspection process. Reinforce the importance of this purpose. Doing so will create an environment where quality is more than just an activity. It will become part of the organization’s culture
In the end, quality starts well before a piece of material even makes its way to the shop floor. Don’t underestimate the value of verification—or the cost of assumption. By implementing, enforcing, and optimizing inbound quality inspection processes, managers can stand behind every product that comes in—and goes out—their doors.