A reputation for high quality is the goal that most any business in any industry strives to reach and maintain. Whether it’s the service they provide or the products they produce, any
company would prefer that their brand is associated with the idea of quality. Achieving a high, tangible level of quality, however, can be a daunting task for any organization. It requires a substantial amount of time and resources to reach a desirable, sustainable level.
The difference between achieving this quality level or not could mean the survival or demise of a business. Therefore, it’s important to understand the known tactics that are required to reach a quality goal as well as the nuances behind maintaining this reputation. One tactic that has proved highly effective is staffing a quality assurance manager whose sole purpose is to ensure that the procedures and products coming out of the day-to-day activities are consistent with the quality standards set in place. Furthermore, if there are specific certifications or standards that a company wants to achieve, a full-time quality assurance manager is an important asset to utilize.
Another tactic that companies consider important in terms of achieving a reputation for quality is to get certified by a third-party organization. For example, an ISO 9001 certification is a desirable standard certification to achieve because of what it means and the message it sends to customers.
In regard to ISO 9001 certification, some customers wouldn’t even give company a second look without it while others may use it as a clear deciding factor when selecting a fabricator. Because the standard has some notoriety, many in the industry know what it is and what it means.
Those making buying decisions don’t need to simply “take your word for it” that a company puts quality on such a high pedestal. Even if they have worked with a company in the past, seeing that little “seal of approval” when they read that ISO 9001 stamped on the company’s brand gives an incredible level of peace of mind. They know that the fabricator not only produces great, quality work, but also that the procedures are in place to ensure that the work is of the highest quality every single time it’s delivered.
Furthermore, an organization might want to become certified to an additional standard compliant to a specific industry sector such as aerospace, aviation, defense or automotive. For example, WB Industries, a custom fabricator based in O’Fallon, Mo., is certified to both ISO 9001 and AS 9100, which is a widely adopted and standardized quality management system for the aerospace industry. Fabricators that feed into the automotive sector might consider IATF16949:2016 certification. Both of these industry-specific standards have additional requirements to the ISO 9001 standard. Buyers in these industries often look for additional certification beyond ISO 9001, making it a noteworthy differentiator when they are vetting a fabricator.
Adding a manager
Any company that desires a certification to a specific standard must understand customer expectations. It is a very time-consuming exercise, and it helps tremendously to have a qualified individual on staff when trying to comprehend the requirements, processes and procedures that will lead to a certification like ISO 9001. This is where the quality assurance manager becomes most valuable.
Once all the requirements are understood, the quality assurance manager quarterbacks the exercise of performing a gap analysis, discovering the areas of improvement and then training any member of the staff who plays a key role in the quality management system. Once this is completed, a third-party auditor performs an audit on the quality management system and issues a certification, if warranted.
During the certification process, a substantial amount of data needs to be gathered and considered. This includes data from processes that ultimately flow down to customer delivery. A fact is highlighted during this exercise that is yet another reason why a certification may be critical to a company – the supply chain.
When all the data is gathered relevant to a standard, part of that input is information regarding suppliers. Customers must be confident that every aspect of what is delivered meets a quality standard. That means a fabricator’s materials supplier must meet a specific standard, as well. Similarly, a fabrication shop’s deliverables may make their way to another process. That entity needs to be confident that what they received meets expectations. This is why a universal quality standard that different players in the supply chain work toward is so vitally important.
Don’t be fooled by the word “certification” as if it’s a one-and-done exercise. Just because a shop reaches a certification standard doesn’t mean it gets to keep that in perpetuity. In fact, in addition to annual spot reviews, known in the industry as surveillance audits, every three years, a full recertification must be achieved by a third-party auditor. This means there is no “off-season” for quality.
It’s not like a shop can ignore its quality management system for years and then ramp up to achieve the certification when it’s time. This is not only due to the obvious gap in quality products the shop would ultimately be delivering its customers, but also due to the sheer amount of attention and work it takes to prepare for an audit. If a shop isn’t staying current, they are falling behind.
To achieve and maintain the quality standards and leadership that a fabrication shop desires, a quality assurance manager has a slew of responsibilities, beginning with inspection. This
includes inspecting the purchased material used in fabrication, continually inspecting various processes during fabrication and inspecting the final product before it is delivered to the customer. But the word “inspection” is kind of a relative term. What are we inspecting it for?
The answer is quality. And the quality a shop is looking to achieve has everything to do with the customer expectations. For this reason, having someone in a quality assurance role that has a firm grasp on what those customer expectations are is vital. These dictate the requirements that are set and then, subsequently, met. Thus, continual customer contact and keeping an eye on the trends in the industry is important.
For a metal fabricator like WB Industries, everything is done through a customer-centric view. The company likes to say that it has even higher standards than its customers, and the only way to achieve these is through quality processes.
Another key function of a quality management system and, thus, the quality assurance manager, is to not only ensure that there is quality in the product, but also in the processes. If there are issues, it’s the manager’s responsibility to get to the root cause of a problem.
In a custom metal fabricator’s case like WB Industries, this could be the most critical element to the position. As everything WB Industries does for customers is completely customized, the team only has one shot to get it right. Although fabricators that do production lines have their share of headaches when it comes to quality assurance, for a custom fabricator, it is a unique challenge. The only way to prevent work that may need to be completely redone is to make certain that the approach to a project and subsequent process is rock solid.
No matter the project, it’s important to establish a universal procedure to assure quality results are achieved every time. At WB, staff are encouraged to work “smarter not harder.” It’s a common phrase, but by assigning a task to each letter that makes up “SMARTER” that follows proper procedure, and a mistake to each letter of the word “HARDER,” the company has found it is easier for staff to follow and for the quality assurance manager to confirm.
Quality assurance managers at fabrication shops play a critical role in the longevity and reputation of the business. They also are paramount to the exercise of achieving and maintaining any kind of quality standard available to the company, such as ISO 9001. Depending on the volume of work the fabricator sees on a regular basis, it can be hard to navigate the waters without an individual dedicated to quality assurance.