When your product keeps planes in the air, seals Army tanks from biohazards, and enables exploration companies to drill oil and gas wells, quality control matters.
At Trelleborg Sealing Solutions in Ft. Wayne, Ind., it’s Frank Williams’ job to pay attention to and ensure product quality. As the quality manager there, Williams is responsible for all aspects of the product quality equation – a heavy responsibility considering that Trelleborg’s seals are used on virtually every aircraft flying today, including Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner where they seal everything from flight controls to windows and doors.
Because of quality’s importance in his industry, there is an increased focus on audits that ensure strict quality controls and procedures are in place and being followed. That’s where one of Williams’ early challenges arose.
“When I first started working for the company, we had 120 procedure books in use on the [manufacturing] floor,” he explains, “and of course when someone comes in for an audit if they find the one book that wasn’t updated, your quality score would suffer. We faced continuous challenges with document control.”
The solution, at least temporarily, was for Williams’ team of in-house programmers to try and build their own software for document quality control while he searched for and evaluated off-the shelf software to purchase. As part of that evaluation process, Williams soon realized that there was already existing software that would meet their needs, and that this would be a more desirable solution instead of the company’s programmers spending considerable time and effort writing new software. In the end, he chose Qualtrax, citing its ease of use and programming, that little or no IT assistance was needed, and that it is ISO compliant.
Finding the software, however, wasn’t the only hurdle Williams and his team had to clear on their way to a solution. They still had to justify their proposed purchase to a parent company. In a competitive business environment and working for a large, multinational company with more than 40,000 employees spread out over 43 countries, Williams knew that justifying and securing approval for any new software purchase that wasn’t already being used within the company and that focused solely on quality control would be difficult. So instead, he made his case based on the fact that the software offered far-reaching solutions for other teams, beyond just the quality department.
“We made our case to corporate that the software we wanted wasn’t just for quality control, but rather it was business management software, which it was,” Williams explains. “In addition to quality control, we also built workflows using the software – HR uses it for accident reporting, Engineering uses it for drawing updates, and Manufacturing uses it for attainment tracking.”
Business Uses Aside From Quality
Williams said that attainment tracking was one area in particular where he could show the software’s effectiveness as a business management tool, and why it was needed.
“As part of a lean manufacturing operation, we have more than 200 people on the floor, a large percentage of whom are machinists,” he explains. “Each machinist has a computer with Qualtrax software open and they enter how many parts they produced versus how many they were supposed to produce and any reasons for downtime. The next morning, business managers go into the software, run a report, consolidate all that information and see their efficiencies for the previous day.”
Williams said that prior to using the software, they were spending between two and three hours per day looking at and compiling the data so they could come to a determination on how production performed. Now with the software, they have their answer in just 15 minutes.
And while Williams continues to emphasize the software’s importance as a business management tool when it comes to justifying the annual purchase to the larger organization, it also plays an important role in product quality and productivity levels. The software helps employees across numerous departments save time, increases quality, improves efficiency and even makes auditors’ jobs easier while improving quality audit scores. Taken together, those types of improvements can impact a company’s bottom line and customer satisfaction levels significantly.
“One of the ways we use Qualtrax to improve quality is by using the software in conjunction with barcode readers for scrap input,” Williams explains. “The operators use the reader to scan a number of attributes specific to the work order they’re following – including the part number, work order number, material number, their shift and operator number, and the specific type of defect resulting in scrap.”
With all that data captured, Williams says he can now come in every morning, run a scrap report, and see any manufacturing errors or problems from the day or night before. “Having that information allows me to assign a corrective action and solve the problem less than 24 hours after it happened.”
Another area that Trelleborg uses the software is to improve their manufacturing efficiencies when working with elastomers. Because of the unique and continually changing characteristics associated with this type of manufacturing process, the manufacturing team is constantly learning new procedures and results based on modifying just one part of the process, whether it’s related to the type of machine used or the length of time for a given process. By using the software to enter manufacturing parameters, Williams and his team can develop an SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – for every part manufactured.
“The next time they go to manufacture that part, they just enter the part number and up pops the SOP on their computer with the manufacturing parameters,” Williams says.
No More Printed Procedures Books
As for the more than 100 procedure books floating around the manufacturing floor and creating headaches for Williams whenever there was an update or audit, he’s solved that problem too through software.
“We’ve completely eliminated the printed procedures books on the floor,” Williams explains. “The only way operators see that procedure now is on their computer, and they know whatever is on the computer and in the software is the latest procedure. We’ve also set up our documents so that if someone does print it out, there’s a disclaimer at the top of the page that reads, ‘Printed copies are considered out of control.’”
As a result of moving to electronic procedures, Williams said that Trelleborg has undergone 11 consecutive ISO audits without there being one finding or recommendation for improvement.
“With the system, we just have so much more accountability now.”
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