Quality Processes Lead to Quality Products

by James Ricci, chief technology officer
Harbour Results, Inc.

Quality in tool manufacturing isn’t just about making quality products – it’s also about implementing quality processes. From design to production, training and tryout, each aspect of the product lifecycle must be assigned standards to meet the required product and service quality. This sounds easy, but it takes dedication and focus. Shops continuously must work to achieve quality requirements, as well as timing and cost goals.

Sure, most shops have gate reviews that include some kind of quality check, but these are often not thorough enough, causing quality issues to be routinely caught at the end of the process, when the costs to correct are greater. The cost of quality can be found in many areas of the business, including rework, scrap, delays and machine downtime, to name a few. Following are a few best practices for improving overall shop quality.

Establishing and standardizing processes

It was once thought that producing a mold was an art; however, it truly is a manufacturing process. Implementing a standard quality process should be a best practice for all mold shops. Establishing a clear, well-defined standard quality process is essential to maintain quality products, eliminate costly rework and remove inhibitors to hitting delivery dates.

Establishing standard quality processes starts with assessing all aspects of the mold building activities to determine the optimal way to measure quality throughout the process. This likely includes technology that can help verify if a component meets quality specifications, as well as human interaction and feedback.

Shops must work to identify the root cause of current quality issues and establish standards that eliminate these issues. A plan that incorporates the right checks to ensure each step is done correctly will assist shops in managing quality.

Oftentimes shops work with the same customer, which creates an opportunity to standardize the design process even when products are slightly different. With less design-from-scratch work, shops are less likely to make mistakes. Developing repeatable and standardized designs, components and processes are good ways to ensure product quality is high and process efficiency improves.

Once a quality process is in place, it is important that every employee receives training, so everyone is working from the same set of standards. For new hires who aren’t familiar with how a company works, an on-boarding program that reviews a shop’s specific methods and approaches to manufacturing should be established. This ensures new hires can experience a more efficient transition period and understand how their roles fit within the shop floor, while also mitigating “rookie mistakes.”

For a mold shop to have a successful standard quality process, it must be followed every time a mold is being designed and produced.

Documentation and feedback

Once a shop has established and implemented standard quality processes, it’s critical that the communication throughout the shop continues. This ensures processes are working and standards are being met.

How does your shop capture and communicate tribal knowledge? Developing a lessons-learned database may be a solution for storing and reviewing this type of information. Most shops view quality issues as “special cause” issues specific to a certain job. However, common cause issues are more frequent, and when information is available in a central, easily accessible location, shops can more effectively find their root causes and address them.

Maintaining paper logs for inventory and recording rework manually is a complicated and time-consuming process. Because of this, quality issue tracking systems are becoming increasingly more popular in shops.

A traditional pen-and-paper approach typically leads to inaccuracies. Sharing information with the entire business is challenging, and keeping a constant track of timely information becomes difficult. Quality issue tracking systems are designed to provide real-time data to an entire organization, while lowering the amount of paperwork employees need to complete.

A number of different tools exist for tracking and feedback. Often, the burden of entering data and following through with resolutions deters employees from capturing important issues. It’s critical that a shop pick tools and systems that work best with the team, product line and overall business. A continuous feedback loop is a must.

Continuous improvement

After processes and standards are defined and in place, and metrics and feedback are being tracked, shops must continue to look for ways to improve. For continuous improvement to be systematic and effective, a business needs to adopt a culture of continuous improvement.

Leadership must challenge team members to ask themselves what can be improved, how to do it better or how to address an issue. It also is important to observe what others are doing, either through assessments or discussion via industry associations. There are many best practices that can be implemented across different mold builders to improve overall quality.

Having marginal first-time quality is no longer an option for today’s mold builder. The benefits of focusing on quality far outweigh the costs of poor quality. To be successful, it is critically important to dedicate the needed resources, leverage the right tools and be diligent in ensuring all employees are following the same build and reporting process.

James Ricci is chief technology officer at Harbour Results, Inc. He has more than 20 years of experience in engineering, manufacturing, quality and supply chain focused on implementing lean and process improvement initiatives, developing and executing operational turnarounds, developing manufacturing strategies, performing competitive benchmarking and due diligence. Ricci holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Engineering Management from the University of Michigan. He also is a Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP). For more information, visit www.harbourresults.com.