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WEIMA June 2023 Leader
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Making quality a priority

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Operations Excellence by Sepp Gmeiner
Sepp Gmeiner is a partner with Lignum Consulting. For feedback, questions and/or suggestions please email s.gmeiner@lignum-consulting.com
Have you had a 
close look into your waste bins lately?  Do you know how much is thrown out on a daily basis? You will find raw material, parts and product at different stages of completion and see the volume that is thrown out. Do you know how many warranty claims you are sending out on a regular basis? Do you consider two or three service calls as normal on a kitchen installation?
All these questions 
point to cost of quality; 
the cost to fulfill the 
customer expectations.
Allow me to take you for a moment into utopia, a place where your company is in a perfect setting. Everything done there will be correct the first time! There will be no mistakes, no omissions, the colours will match, and nothing is out of tolerance. Picture this for a moment and memorize it. This 
will be our North Star. 
We know we will not 
get there, but it gives us the direction.
A lot of people cringe when you talk about a quality system.  Visions of bureaucratic nightmares and tons of paperwork that adds little value are associated with the ISO 9000 hype of a quality system. But what is the alternative? A motivational speech, an urgent memo and a set of inspirational posters in the factory will not do it. This is not a system and will not really put you any further ahead. Soon, you will be back where you started and have a people-based system, based on tribal knowledge. No matter how you look at it, you need a formal and systematic approach to quality.
There are a number of systems available that can be implemented. I personally prefer the WOODMARK system over the ISO 9000 standard. WOODMARK follows a similar structure but is, however, not as document intensive. The fact that it was developed by professors at the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing (CAWP) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) makes it geared more towards the woodworking industry.
The basic principles of quality management and control apply to all organizations, no matter how small or large the company. Growing companies benefit greatly from formal structures for leadership and governance, data collection and benchmarking, training and continuous improvement. As complexity increases due to more employees, employee changes, more machinery and more customers and orders; it becomes increasingly difficult to control all the various aspects of manufacturing. Companies that have grown beyond the classification of a mom and pop shop without putting formal quality management frameworks in place,  can face huge challenges with respect to maintaining quality levels. Ultimately quality performance is dependent on the commitment, vision and most importantly, the leadership of the company.
Implementing a quality system is not a short-term fast sprint, it is a marathon run. When you start you first need management commitment and some resources.
The first and universal requirement is management commitment. Each system has a suggested, textbook implementation sequence.
You can also pick the most urgent pressure points and start implementing the elements supporting these best. Later, you can back into the other elements as well.

Why are you implementing a 
quality system?
What are the real drivers? Do you need a certification which allows you to attract customers? Is your cost of quality too high and you want a method to systematically reduce your costs? Has the company grown too fast and/or too many key people have left, and the tribal knowledge cannot be maintained properly? Any of the above reasons would give the implementation priority a different tack.
A practical approach and a good start is to understand and quantify the current situation. This means collecting data and establishing the cost of quality (COQ). This COQ consists of internal and external elements.
The internal cost of quality is all the costs in the manufacturing process and typically the cost of repair (rework) and replacement (remake).
The external cost of quality is all the quality related expenses after the product has left the factory. This can be replacement parts/products, service calls and discounts.

Let the data guide you
Establishing the cost of quality as an overall score is an important measurement. Converting all quality issues to dollar costs allows us to produce an aggregate measure – the cost of quality. Most companies already have useful data, or data which might need a little tweaking to make it useful. For example, each part of the cost thrown into the waste bin has different cost. To keep track of the exact cost is far too labour intensive. If you just have a piece count and multiply with a reasonable average cost per piece, you have reasonable data. Remember the objective is to reduce the cost, so the accuracy required must allow you to see a trend. You keep score by reason codes in weekly or monthly intervals. The most frequent reasons for quality problems are selected and addressed.

Continuous improvement
The quality system is 
of value only when combined with a strong and effective continuous improvement routine in place. Keeping employees involved in setting the standards and establishing proper procedures is key to success.   

Visual aid
In the woodworking industry we have a few intricacies which are hard to describe. For example, at the chop saw where the operator decides what is good enough for a kitchen cabinet door. Some parts must be perfect all around, some just require a good face and on others some blemishes are even acceptable on the face. If you try to put this into a written procedure you will be in danger of creating a voluminous document, which nobody will read.
A good visual aid is a display wall at the operation, in view of the operator. This display will include good and bad samples and will give samples only at the limit of good and bad. These are much more effective.

Setting the standard
An exercise such as establishing some limit samples is often an eye-opener for management on how complex the processes are. It is most interesting to observe as even key and senior people will argue what is acceptable and what is not. If even the key people are not sure, how do we expect the workers to make the right decision. Setting the standard for everything step by step will get us there. And using a definition out of the Lean book: “Quality is not deviating from Standard.”

Final quality inspection
Final quality inspection is often required because there are too many deviations from standard upstream. We know that inspecting the product at the end will not create quality product, it just prevents bad product from going to the customer.
Making quality assurance a priority will not increase your costs, it will improve your efficiency and reduce your costs.

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