Quality Control for CAD Managers

22 May, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Your workplace may have nothing to do with cars, but processes used in automotive manufacturing plants can help your team produce higher-quality CAD work.

I recently gave a presentation to a large group of CAD managers on the topic of quality control concepts in CAD production environments. Over the years, I’ve become fascinated with the types of quality control methods used in manufacturing plants, and I figure that there’s no reason those methods can’t work for CAD. After all, shouldn’t we all be striving to produce higher-quality work with fewer errors? Well, it turns out that very few engineers, architects, designers, and CAD managers have a background in quality control theory, so the presentation was quite an eye-opener for both the students and myself.

In this installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'd like to share with you a condensed version of my presentation — along with suggestions for independent reading — in hopes you might find some inspiration for making your CAD environment a higher-quality, more productive operation. Here goes.

What Is CAD Quality?

This is a fair question, and one that’s open to interpretation. For purposes of discussion, I’ll define CAD quality as the following: Making sure all CAD models and documentation are accurately produced, stored, transmitted, and plotted with the least amount of error/rework humanly possible.

And if that is our definition of quality, it becomes apparent that we’ll need a few tools to make sure we can deliver. At minimum, it’s essential to have:

  • CAD standards and processes
  • Training so users can follow the standards
  • Checking and auditing to discover and correct errors as early as possible
  • An environment that reinforces the concept of quality for everyone.

Of course, CAD managers are typically very familiar with the idea of CAD standards and training of users, so I won’t go into those here. (If you'd like more information on standards and training, please see my Spring Into Standards series.) Instead, most CAD managers need to learn about the tools required to audit and discover errors while fostering an environment of high quality — so we’ll focus on those.

Methods for Flagging and Fixing Errors

For an illustrative example, let’s think about a car manufacturing facility, and explore how workers there discover problems and fix them. After all, a car manufacturing plant is a high-volume production environment, like an engineering or architectural firm, so it stands to reason that some of the same methods could be used. The common components of automotive quality control can be summarized like this:

Everyone is an auditor. Every person working within the ecosystem is encouraged to look for errors and problems as they do their job. When everyone understands that checking for quality isn’t the “other guy’s problem,” the culture of quality becomes part of everyone’s thinking.

Anyone can stop production when errors are spotted. In manufacturing environments, the Andon System enables workers to halt production when an error arises that can’t be easily fixed. The andon cord is a pull rope that runs along the production line (in some cases, push buttons are used instead); any employee can use the system to alert a supervisor that the car they’re working on has a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Encouraging workers to halt production whenever they spot a problem fosters a quality-focused environment. ©

In a CAD context, a simple error such as incorrect text can be fixed immediately without stopping production, but a bigger problem — an error in a base model or coordinate misalignment, for example — may mean it’s time to stop the project and get key players involved to fix the underlying error before things get even worse.

The Kaizen method makes it possible to learn while fixing. Of course, it isn’t enough to simply fix errors; you need to understand why the error was made in the first place. Many manufacturing firms use the Kaizen method of analysis to learn from errors, assign corrective actions, and make permanent changes to their processes so that the errors don’t recur over time.

Make Everyone Quality-Minded

We can draw a few conclusions from the “Flagging and Fixing” section above that illustrate the true basis of quality control: making everyone quality-minded. Here are the key points that I’ve observed:

  • When everyone looks for errors, everyone pays more attention to their own work. After all, you don’t want the embarrassment of others finding your mistakes, so you’re more likely to follow the standards, check your work, and do whatever you can to make sure you aren’t a source of errors! When everyone starts to think that way, that’s when the magic happens.
  • The Andon cord makes errors public. It isn’t just that one person might find an error you made, but rather that everyone will know about it. That brings the motivation to do things right to an even higher level, since nobody wants to be the one who necessitated a break in production.
  • Kaizen makes quality a responsibility — and a creed. By dissecting how errors happen and assigning personnel to make sure it doesn’t happen again, there is no doubt that quality is a priority within the organization.

Over time, the motivation to eliminate errors as much as possible while dealing aggressively with any problems that do arise establishes a culture of quality. Rather than being driven by a “fear of messing up” mindset, workers are motivated by an attitude of “I want to be sure what I do is top quality.” As everyone on the team adopts this attitude, you’ll see a true culture of quality emerge.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Quality Control for CAD Managers
by: Hugh_T
May 29, 2018 - 5:26pm
The reality is we all make mistakes and we should not encourage the concept of "fear of messing up" or indeed embarrassment that someone has made a mistake. This type of cultural thinking in some measure isolates individuals and may lead to attempted cover up of mistakes instead of promoting positive resolution. Regarding your comment that very few engineers may not have a background of quality control theory many; in my experience in the AEC industry; they do have knowledge of quality control standards. Particularly those related to established standards like ISO 9001.
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