Go see!

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As the newly appointed CEO for a European fluid power business, one of the “hot” day 1 issues on my desk was a series of quality complaints from a sister company.

The data was convincing and showed an alarmingly high number of quality incidents related to incorrect product assembly. To protect its customers the sister company had introduced 100% inspection of all product prior to shipment. And the recharges for all this inspection activity were crippling the European manufacturing plant’s profitability.

In that first couple of weeks I heard plenty of “push back” from the manufacturing plant about the integrity of their quality systems and procedures. There was clearly some dissonance between the sister company’s experience of product quality and the plant’s view of good product.  So, I went to the plant.

The company made hydraulic fittings and machined all the parts from bar stock. Once machined the parts were plated (sub contract process) and then assembled into fittings. There were over 1,600 product SKUs.

As we walked the plant on that first visit, following a piece of bar on its journey through several Wickman multi spindle lathes and machining centres, I soon saw that the plant’s quality systems and procedures were robust. The operators had been well trained and clearly had respect for product and process.

The assembly shop was light, airy and at first glance seemed well organised with a number of separate tables for product assembly. I was encouraged. Kits of parts were issued to the assembly shop for manual assembly.

But as we stood by an assembly table and watched several assembly cycles, I started to become concerned.

There were no standard work instructions, no assembly quality checks, no method or means for the assembly associates to check that they had the right parts to assemble and the team were assembling fittings with different thread specifications but common nut sizes on the same work table.

I stopped the operation and with the assembly shop manager inspected a pile of “nuts” on an assembly table. We soon found several nuts with different thread specifications to the product being made. Here was a quality incident waiting to happen and potentially the source of our sister company’s complaints.

That afternoon we introduced some basic pre-assembly picking instructions and inspection steps. Our objective was to ensure that picked product issued for assembly was 100% correct. We reorganised the assembly shop to ensure that each table worked on only specific ranges of product. By the end of the next day the assembly associates had defined some rudimentary work instructions and had introduced several more process improvements to ensure product quality.

The catalyst for this change was “go see”; going to the plant to look, watch and follow all its processes from goods inwards to despatch. The local team learnt to see what I saw and over the next 6 months embarked on an ambitious lean manufacturing journey. Within a year product quality improved 80% and availability metrics were lifted to >95% across all 1,600 SKUs.

Next time you have a customer quality incident, go see!

Go to the work zone and look with your own eyes at the process that allowed the error and how your processes failed to detect it:

  • Gather the team responsible for the work zone and with them watch several work cycles
  • Talk to the associates carrying out the process  
  • Discuss with the team what you can see
  • Make sure you focus on the reality of how the process is being performed in front of you
  • Map and measure the process (video helps)
  • Compare what you have observed with the “standard” procedure
  • “Sense and feel” that all involved understand the root causes and have a workable plan to fix the process

 You will soon have the data to drive improvement, eliminate the quality incident and ensure your customer only gets good product!