Quality at the Source – Getting Started

by James P. Tate on January 4, 2012

The last article explained the theory behind “Quality at the Source”.  This article will address the implementation of this lean tool.   Quality at the Source is a relatively simple concept in which you endeavor to make only products of the specified quality at a work station.  However, implementation of this concept is deceptively tricky.  It is agreed that everyone wants to make products of the proper quality.  But, the actions necessary to achieve the proper level of quality are dramatically opposed to the curse of customer delivery times.

To implement Quality at the Source start with one work center at a time.  The initial work center should be one that has a history of quality problems.  Manufacturing management should be prepared to see the work center shut down as problems are fixed.  This may mean that over-time or alternate routings  may have to be used while problems are being worked out.

Now that you have identified the initial work center, select a quick reaction team that is prepared to stop their usual work and go to the work center the moment a problem is reported.  This quick reaction team should be composed of engineers, workers, quality inspectors and have enough management participation to get action from other departments.  Many people will object to being assigned to a quick reaction team.  This assignment means they will have to drop what they are doing and rush to the work center to solve a problem.  I’ve found that resistance to this assignment decreases when the reaction team members realize it gives them license to leave meetings to attend to a work center problem!

The next step is to standardize the work performed at the work center.  This involves a review of work documentation and an audit of the work performance to determine if everyone at the work center (on all work shifts) is performing the work in the documented manner.  If the documentation is wrong or out of date, now is the time to correct it.  In addition to documentation and training, look to ensure the tools and the raw material specifications are correct.

The quality department and the engineering department should identify the critical dimensions of the finished product that must be correct for the product to proceed to the next work station.  Develop simple gauges (Go/No- Go gauges) and measuring devices to enable the production workers to measure their products as they are working.  Establish a frequency of measurement and a tolerance level for each measurement.  The purpose of this step is to enable the workers to measure their own production and to report any problems immediately.  This will give the workers an important sense of responsibility for their work.

With this groundwork laid, the production can begin.  As workers begin to measure their work and find problems, they are instructed to signal for the quick reaction team.  The quick reaction team assembles at the work center and begins to analyze the problem to determine the cause.  Some times the remedy is very simple, the team is finished in less than an hour and the work center is back on-line.  There will be other occasions (especially at the start) where the solution is complex and requires several days to implement.  This situation will result in a management decision to keep production running or to shut down and rush the solution.  There is no standard answer to this question, but it must be recognized that the solution must be implemented even if the production line continues to limp along.  This decision is perhaps the hardest decision to accept.  Management should take care not to allow the “Quality at the Source” project to fail because workers think management isn’t serious about it.

It is helpful to measure progress throughout the effort.  An initial measure of quality levels and through-put should be taken to establish a base line for the “Quality at the Source” project.  Regular measurements should validate the improvements and justify the work.  Posting the measurements in a prominent place at the work center should help to keep morale high.

This is a continuous improvement project and it is never really finished.  However, at some point you should be prepared to move to the next work center and implement this lean building block once again.  You will see steady progress at each work center.  If you stop seeing progress, it is a warning signal the project is no longer being taken seriously.

Your improvements will affect many different departments in the company.  You will see design changes, purchasing changes (vendors are replaced or reevaluated), modifications to machinery and sales changes (orders are defined differently to avoid confusion).  But the on-going progress will justify the effort.  Reduced costs, faster through-put, and better quality will be just some of the benefits you can expect from successful implementation of this lean concept.

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