Keys To Stronger Corrective Action and Quality Management

Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2021

By Ron Beltz

A good day on the coating/finishing shop floor is one with no machine or supply chain issues, no operational breakdowns (equipment or personnel), no misplaced or mislabeled parts, and a part-processing workflow that works the way it’s designed. The staff works well together, everybody completes their respective processing step responsibilities, deadlines are met, jobs are completed, and products are shipped on time without defects. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

In the real world, we know that it doesn’t always work that way. Equipment does break down, operators make mistakes, and defects occur. When things go wrong, it takes time and costs money to fix and correct problems, and product quality suffers.

Quality control (QC) not only depends on having the right job processing steps listed on the work order with the proper operator instructions included, but also depends on continuous monitoring, continuous improvement, adequate documentation, production visibility, and ongoing staff training. Isolating why problems happen and taking root cause analysis and corrective action is crucial to QC.

Real-time data is incredibly valuable for powder coating companies looking to optimize every aspect of their daily operations. The true value of the constant flow of data from the production floor is the ability to quickly identify inefficiencies and areas of waste and stamp out mistakes before they become too detrimental to the bottom line. Companies all over the globe are harnessing their data to understand how to get better every single day.

The constant flow of information from the shop floor is vital for scheduling and tracking orders while effectively deploying team members and equipment. Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software with an integrated Quality Management System (QMS) is essential in managing the day-to-day operations of the production floor and keeping finished jobs flowing out the door in a timely fashion. With the correct data at the right time, managers and supervisors are given a window into every facet of their operation and have the power to act on that data and make adjustments (when necessary), in the form of a corrective action plan.

What Is a Corrective Action Plan?
A corrective action plan is a plan of attack for identifying a weakness, developing a way to remedy it, and then implementing it. It can only be as strong as the relevant information and data that led to the identification of the weakness in the first place. Powder coaters and surface finishing companies need a clear picture of what exactly is happening on their production floor before they can formulate an effective corrective action plan. The insight gleaned from utilizing QMS software is extremely valuable for beefing up corrective action plans.

The key to developing a strong corrective action plan is to understand its true purpose. It’s meant to address issues that could become systemic, meaning that they will not eventually work themselves out and go away without some type of intervention. If left unchecked long enough, these issues could lead to safety concerns for your workers or nonconformities in product that will not meet customer specifications and lead to complaints, rework, and lost customers.

Root Cause Corrective Action
Most companies work hard to prevent problems from occurring in the first place, but when any part of the powder coating operation fails, root cause corrective action is necessary. Sometimes the failure point is blatantly obvious, but the ‘breadcrumbs’ of the error almost always lead back to general baseline quality management. There are really four basic absolutes of quality management:

  1. Quality is very simply conforming to requirements.

  2. The system for causing quality is prevention.

  3. The performance standard must be zero defects; not “that’s close enough.”

  4. The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance.

What Causes Mistakes on the Shop Floor?
Some mistakes are simply human errors. Too often, however, they are symptomatic of other underlying issues, including:

  • Lack of a formalized part-processing management system backed by an integrated, well-executed Total Quality Management (TQM) system.
  • Not having the right processes, operating steps, and workforce instructions in place to avoid mistakes.
  • Not having visibility and accountability into what is really happening on the production floor while managing the end-to-end process properly.
  • Lack of QC monitoring to reduce risk and flag issues/ errors before problems escalate.
  • Lack of adequate workforce training—an experienced and efficient staff is your most valuable asset.
  • Processing jobs on out-of-spec equipment—your production control system needs to be able to enforce compliance with your internal (company) specs and external (customer) job specifications, and be able to immediately notify management anytime a ‘triggering event’ occurs.

Best Practices for Avoiding Corrective Action on the Production Floor
Regardless of the individual ability level of each of your employees, one of the biggest factors impacting human error is that of consistency and repeatability. When errors occur, it is essential to have the necessary documentation of what happened on every step of the job process, what equipment was used, and who was involved, to better determine how it happened. The easy thing to do is to directly call out individuals for the mistakes, but it could be something else. What’s important, however, is that you get to the root cause of the problem so that you can take corrective measures to prevent it from recurring. This process is also called CAPA (Corrective and Preventive Action).

The Right Practices
To do this, you need to focus on these items:

  • The right practices.
  • Accurate management systems.
  • Defined and documented procedures.
  • End-to-end tracking of each operating step within the job process.
  • Proper training.
  • Corrective action.

The Root Cause Corrective Action Process
When you need to take corrective action to address the root cause of a problem, follow these steps:

  1. Data gathering
    The process starts with gathering the right data. An easy way to approach this is the way that journalists do, which is to employ the five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why.

  2. Analysis
    While each “W” is important, the “why” (the root cause) is essential. After you gather the necessary data, try to isolate the root cause.

  3. Discussion
    After analysis, the discussion phase begins. This is where you look at each step of the process to determine if similar causes exist or whether other steps in the production chain contribute to the problems uncovered. Include key stakeholders in the discussion whenever possible. A collaborative approach is more likely to improve buy-in to the root cause correction action that will be initiated.

  4. Action Plan
    Once you determine the plan of attack, formalize the necessary root cause corrective action. Recognize that change can be difficult for some employees, so it’s crucial to explain not only what needs to be done but also why—and when—it needs to happen. When people understand the underlying reasons for a change, they tend to be much more accepting. The “when” lets them know the deadline for implementation.

  5. Verification of Root Cause Corrective Action
    It is also important to verify that the necessary changes have been made and to document the results. Set up a formal review afterward. This should include both a short-term and long-term timeline with written checkpoints. At each checkpoint, evaluate the result. If it is effective, celebrate! If it turns out to be less than suitable, the process should start over at the beginning to see what was overlooked.

The Right Software
To make root cause corrective action effective, you must have the proper tools to track your process. This includes software that allows you to:

  1. Track job routing for every part.

  2. Track personnel, equipment, and vendors throughout the product cycle.

  3. Track the shop floor in real time.

  4. Track quality management.

  5. Use effective Statistical Process Control (SPC).

If you are using an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, you may think that you already have a way to track the data you need. Be careful: there’s a marked difference between ERP software and a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). MES is more efficient in tracking, controlling, and documenting the steps involved, from work-order creation to the shipping of finished goods. An MES helps optimize throughput on the production floor and reduce bottlenecks. Most ERP systems, however, are not integrated with the floor. So, if you are using an ERP system, there needs to be bidirectional communication between both the ERP and MES systems.

The Cost of Quality
The production plant and the inherent equipment is the number one cost for service-based manufacturers like powder coaters, and while there is only so much that can be done to lower it, there are many things that can go wrong to drive it up. An inefficient production floor can leave hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on the table, or worse, require rework resulting in late delivery, additional material costs, and ultimately undermining the CLV (customer lifetime value). CLV is a gauge of the profit associated with a particular customer relationship, which should guide how much you are willing to invest to maintain that relationship.

Quality control can be done without effective MES/QMS software, but it will ultimately fail at some point due to human error, the ability to hide their mistakes, or a breakdown in the process due to short cuts, miscommunication, etc. A properly integrated (and cost effective) QMS provides an extra level of support to ensure flawless execution of orders, on time, and delivery of finished parts that adhere exactly to specifications.

We can break down quality costs into two broad categories; costs of conformance, and costs of non- conformance (see Figure 1).

Another way of looking at it is:

[Costs of Control + Costs of Failure of Control = Total Quality Cost]

When considering your customers’ requirements (which is usually a good thing to do), they typically only care about quality when they find problems with the coating job you completed for them. It triggers immediate concerns and can undermine the long-term CLV. Actually, they always expect high quality from you.

Todd Wenzel, president, CTO, and founder of Bluestreak once said, “Quality is free. Poor quality costs money.”

To summarize, quality is really free when every member of the workforce has a quality-first mindset in everything they do and the proper procedures are followed; but it’s the poor quality that really costs the organization in the short- and long-term (rework, unhappy customers, lost future business, industry reputation, etc.).

Dr. Armand Feigenbaum, leader of the total quality management (TQM) movement for many years, defined ten crucial benchmarks for total quality success. They are:

  • Quality is a company-wide process.
  • Quality is what the customer says it is.
  • Quality and cost are a sum, not a difference.
  • Quality requires both individual and team zealotry.
  • Quality is a way of managing.
  • Quality and innovation are mutually dependent.
  • Quality is an ethic.
  • Quality requires continuous improvement.
  • Quality is the most cost-effective, least capital-intensive route to productivity.
  • Quality is implemented with a total system connected with customers and suppliers.

With quality management built into the necessary key steps that you are performing as a component of a customer’s negotiated PPAP (production part approval process), you will have happier customers and gain the confidence of prospective customers considering your services. You need to show evidence to your customers and prospects that you understand their requirements and are able to consistently provide a reliable and repeatable process that adheres to the agreed-upon guidelines/standards. 

The only way to ensure this happens every time out on the production floor, no matter which of your employees is processing a customer’s work order, whether it’s one of your seasoned veterans or a rookie, or if a supervisor is looking over their shoulder, is with a MES/QMS system or process that makes sense for your powder coating business.

Consider a system that:

  • Holds people accountable and forces them to complete a task the right way or stops their ability to continue down a path of erroneous processing.
  • Ensures the most current revision of your quality manual and operating policies & procedures are centrally located and easily accessible out on the shop floor.
  • Allows you to easily set up control plans that are attached to a work order, that defines the specific quality/processing requirements (i.e., operator instructions, inspection and testing requirements, quality data collection requirements, equipment and/or personnel qualification checks, etc.).
  • Allows you to set up and enforce CAPAs that can be automatically connected to future orders to remedy a problem; and that CAPA instructions are viewed and acknowledged via electronic signatures.
  • Allows you to ‘freeze’ processes to prevent any changes to the approved process when used on a future work order.
  • Enforces regularly scheduled equipment calibration checks by preventing operators from selecting equipment for quality tests unless a calibration check has been performed recently.
  • Provides a view of complete revision history of a process; learn what changed, who made the changes, why the changes were made, and what customer orders are connected to a given revision.
  • Can issue non-conformances that automatically prevent loads from entering the next step in processing.
  • Includes the creation of certification statements driven by part, process, or specifications referenced on the customer order.
  • Allows you to attach quality-related media to individual work order processes, such as racking and loading instructions, diagrams, pictures, instructional videos, etc.
  • Supports management of industry specifications, such as AIAG, AMS, API, AS, ASME, ASTM, ISO, ITAR/EAR, NADCA, Nadcap, SAE, MedAccred, etc., plus any internal and prime’s specifications; ensuring that your staff conforms to the appropriate specification requirements every time.

We hope this article was useful in better understanding the root cause of corrective action and will help you in your quest for Total Quality Management and understanding that in the long run, highest quality is lowest cost.

Ron Beltz is Director Strategic Accounts at Bluestreak.