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Planning for success

Quality control: Anticipating all outcomes in a volatile environment

Quality control is a matter of utmost importance for any fabrication shop that prides itself on delivering top-notch products, parts and projects to its customers. Developing well-executed plans for maintaining this level of quality is the best way to ensure that projects are done right, the first time.

Fabricated Products Group (FPG), a custom fabricator and machine job shop that specializes in the design, engineering and manufacturing of architectural systems and components, knows this and takes quality control seriously. In doing so, the company is able to provide its customers with exceptional quality and breakneck turnaround times.

A manufacturing team’s collective knowledge is key in addressing quality control issues in a timely fashion.

Finding best practices

Depending on the type of job, the mistakes that come out of a lack of quality control can affect the look or even the functionality of a project. In a world of lightening-fast turnaround times, schedules must be adhered to. The timetable of tasks to be completed is important to understand and see carried out. A delay in just one part or task can upset the entire project.

When a part has to be redone, it can delay entire portions of the project, which can hinder the customer’s schedule. It can also set back the fabricator’s process in getting to future projects. Quality can then take an overall hit when workers are trying to quickly yet effectively fix the mistake that happened in the first place. It’s advantageous, therefore, to have a comprehensive plan for quality control in the beginning.

When unforeseeable outcomes occur, a project needs to pause so the team can assess the situation, respond accordingly and learn from what happened so the issue does not arise again. Benefits of having the entire team involved include: learning from each issue, tackling the situation, addressing what went wrong and working together toward a solution that saves time for future projects.

The team’s collective knowledge is helpful in addressing and understanding precognizant issues that may come up, both accidents and random occurrences. This cumulative team experience can be the difference in producing high-quality products on time versus constantly scrambling to correct issues as they present themselves.

Culture of success

In building a quality team, it’s important that the culture is shared between everyone – a bond of accomplishment when the work is done right. It should be stressed to employees that what is created is something in which to take pride.

If a part is damaged or has to be recut for various quality issues, it can delay entire portions of the project.

It should also be stressed that the planning process for each project is just as important as its execution. Therefore, a significant amount of time must be spent on pre-production planning. Past mistakes, experiences, conferences, seminars and workshops all give the team valuable understanding of the level and type of preparation needed for each job. They are then able to appreciate the amount of work that goes into a project and be proud of the final creation.

As with many industries, in a fabrication shop, culture fit is very important. During the interview process, it is important to find a willingness in the candidate to take responsibility for both successes and failures at work. If someone does not fit in the culture of the company, it can negatively affect the rest of the team. As part of a close-knit company, every person must have a strong sense of accountability. After all, others’ behavior and actions affect the entire team around them.

To further inspire employees to take accountability for the projects they’re involved in is to set key performance indicators (KPIs). In doing so, employees are given the direction and drive they need to achieve the desired results. For a custom shop, it’s more common to have KPIs set on the processes because the projects are more individualized, whereas for larger projects they exist as product-based initiatives.

The teamwork aspect of accountability keeps everyone on the same page and focused on their part of the larger project. If one part of the team fails, everyone fails. It is, therefore, up to each member of the team to make sure that if a problem is found, it is corrected early on. Understandably, it’s important to re-balance the job needs immediately rather than address the problem later.

Individual worker accountability is a big part of the overall team effort to make sure that if a problem is found, it is corrected early on.

In some shops, every process of the office has a KPI – whether it’s answering the phone, replying to emails or putting together proposals. Everything has a best-practice process, which should be a constant review-revise process to make sure that every step is the best plan of action.

The most dangerous mentality to have in a job shop is to think that everything works out in the end and that there is no need, therefore, to work on improvement. When the mindset of continual learning and growth is lost, shops begin to fall behind.

Experience and work ethic are paramount to passing down the best possible tips and tricks through the workforce. By hiring and retaining talented individuals with a high level of quality work history, a culture of coaching, mentorship and community can be instilled where each craftsman is dedicated to creating the best possible work.

Tools of the trade

For fabricators like FPG, measurement tools are a go-to for ensuring quality while also speeding up the production process. One such tool is the go/no-go gauge, which shows an acceptable range for part conditions or attributes that are in flux. It’s essential for establishing workability standards for materials. The go/no-go gauge is also beneficial when incorporating protective materials on products to ensure they aren’t damaged in the machining process.

Likewise, indicator markers on packaging can show any potential shipping changes that have occurred. One such indicator is a tilt-indicator sticker that lets the customer know that something happened during shipping. This shows what may have occurred during transportation, possibly affecting the structure of the pieces being shipped, which lets the team know the product needs to be inspected closely and may need to be repaired, remade or reordered.

Quality control must be top of mind even after an order has been packaged and is waiting for shipment.

Adding layered protection and insulation on certain products is an important quality control measure to take to protect parts even after they’ve left the shop. For FPG, many of the company’s architectural products are destined for job sites with conditions that could be hazardous to product integrity.

Additional product protection comes in the form of thorough documentation, which is crucial to make sure that everyone knows the status of the materials in each step of the process. In case any damage is incurred, it’s easy to pinpoint exactly when and where it took place. To properly record the state of all materials coming in and out of the shop, it is helpful to keep a ledger of the materials and their attributes, possible markings, scratches or flaws.

Quality control boards are the best training tool that can help everyone understand the processes needed for a project. Each team member can learn from the individual issues that have taken place on other projects. As is true in any project, communication is vital to achieving overall success.

As a team, focusing on clear communication is imperative, within the team and also with customers and suppliers. By keeping a culture of communication at the forefront, potential issues can be quickly addressed while the quality and reputation of the company can be kept impeccable.

Fabricated Products Group