Quality Control for CAD Managers, Part 2

12 Jun, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: If you’re ready to begin the journey toward a more efficient and error-free CAD work environment, equip yourself with these four tools for quality improvement.

In the previous issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I shared concepts CAD managers can use to increase the quality of their CAD work products. Shortly thereafter, I received several responses asking for more specific information on how to implement these quality control measures.

In this edition, I’ll present some practical action items you can use right away to move your quality control implementation going forward. And the best news is, none of these techniques will cost you anything. All you need is the commitment to quality you’re already trying to foster. Here goes.

What Were Those Concepts Again?

To recap the last newsletter, there are four main tools you can use to create a higher-quality work environment. These concepts can be implemented in a chronological order to achieve better work processes, from the initial detection of errors to proactive work analysis:

  1. Make everyone a quality auditor. Formalize the expectation that everyone in your production environment must be on the lookout for errors and quality problems.
  2. The Andon System. Encourage workers to halt the production of work, should a quality problem be discovered that can’t be resolved on the spot — and provide a means for them to do so.
  3. Kaizen reviews. Analyze errors to determine the cause, and put a corrective action plan in place so the errors don’t recur.
  4. The Deming Cycle. Continually strive to make production processes work better with this proactive thought process. (The Deming Cycle differs from Kaizen in that it is proactive, rather than reactive.)

Now that we’ve refamiliarized ourselves with the four tools of quality improvement, let’s see how each can be implemented in the context of a CAD work group.

Auditor Orientation

If everyone is to become a quality auditor, then it stands to reason you’ll have some communicating and training to do as people take on that new role in their production jobs. Here’s a very simple script you can use to convey key quality concepts via a brief training session:

  • Quality is everyone’s responsibility. If you see a problem with the content of our CAD work, it’s your job to make sure the problem gets resolved. While the solution may or may not be simple, we need to be sure that the problem is addressed. The only thing that is not acceptable is ignoring a problem “just to get the job done quicker.”
  • Double-check yourself. Always ask yourself, “Have I found a problem, or is it possible I may have made an error myself?” While we absolutely do want to find errors and get them resolved, we do not want to create false alarms, so be sure to double-check before reporting an error.
  • Fix the easy stuff informally. If an error was simply the result of improper data entry, such as a “fat-finger” keyboard error, simply fix the problem. If you know where the problem came from, go ahead and point out the error informally. No need to turn simple fixes into bigger problems than they are.
  • Gather all pertinent information. If an error is to be reported, it isn’t enough to say, “this is wrong” or “this doesn’t work.” An error report needs to include a decent degree of specific detail, so anyone else investigating the problem knows what to look for.
  • Keep everything professional, not personal. Improving quality isn’t about blaming or embarrassing others. Instead, it is about fixing our errors before the customer sees them, then coming to an understanding about why the error happened. This requires all of us to learn from our collective mistakes to better understand our entire work process. So strive to be positive and polite in all your dealings with others.

Feel free to adapt this script to fit your unique environment, but be sure to preserve the tone. The goal of this training is for everyone to come away with a positive attitude about reducing errors to improve quality.

Andon Implementation

When errors can’t be fixed quickly and easily, it may be necessary to “push the panic button” and stop the project. The Andon System can be used to achieve a pause in production by using a logical set of rules (rather than panic). If the auditor needs to escalate a problem to a project manager or other department head for resolution, he or she instigates the following process:

  1. Take the problem to the auditor’s supervisor. This allows for one more level of error checking to be sure the problem really does warrant stopping production.
  2.  Let all affected project members know. An example might be, “If you’re working on the XYZ project, please be aware that an error in coordinate alignment has been found. Once the underlying models are fixed, you’ll be notified so that all designs can be updated and checked.” You can spread word via e-mail, yelling over cubicle walls, or both, as your work environment dictates.
  3. Have a quick, informal meeting with needed parties. This could be done in the lunchroom, around a desk, at a conference table, etc. The meeting need not be formal — in fact, a rapid, informal approach works better — with the goal being to figure out a solution and assign corrective action immediately.
  4. Fix things ASAP and check thoroughly. Action should be swift, and the results checked again and again to be sure the error has been fixed.
  5. Restart production. Let all affected project members know the error has been fixed, and they may now take any corrective actions (which you should summarize as needed) to get the project back on track. Again, this could all be done verbally, via e-mail, or both.

Apply Kaizen Afterward

If an Andon stop event is triggered, it means that something in your CAD processes didn’t work the right way. The purpose of Kaizen is to ask, “Why did that happen, and how can we prevent it in the future?” Once the fire is out, try this template for Kaizen action:

  1. Write down everything that the auditor and the supervisor observed when the original Andon stop happened. A record of the type of error, when it was noticed, and which department it came from will help you to detect the problem if it ever arises again — and hopefully, to prevent it altogether.
  2. Use the informal meeting results to review fixes with all needed parties. This step captures everything that was done to fix the error, and should give you all the information you need to precisely identify the points where errors crept into your work processes.
  3. Modify your standards to reflect the fixes. If your processes need to be more tightly standardized or checked, now is the time to amend your standards.
  4. Review all steps and train staff. Write down the new steps/standards, and convey the information to all affected project team members via informal training briefings. It is important to let everyone know that the problem caused an Andon stop and that the new procedures are critical to preventing quality problems in the future.

Establish a Deming Team

If Andon stops errors in their tracks, and Kaizen prevents the same error from happening again, then why not go all the way and establish a Deming Cycle team to make everything better, all the time? The Deming Cycle, sometimes referred to as continuous improvement, is a great way to take quality to the next level in your CAD workplace.

The Deming Cycle calls for ongoing repetition of the Plan–Do–Check–Act process. Diagram by Karn G. Bulsuk.

Here are a few suggestions for establishing a Deming team:

  • Take the lead. As the CAD manager, you’re the one talking about updating and improving CAD standards and processes, so that makes you the best person to lead the effort.
  • Recruit power users who will help identify and test better processes. You’ll need their help to do all this work, and they’ll help you implement and train users in these new processes later, so it makes sense to involve them now.
  • Evangelize for ongoing improvement. Say “We can do this better!” everywhere you go, and make sure you use every Andon stop or Kaizen action as a learning opportunity that’ll give you more ideas for doing things better.
  • Show management your plans. As you spread the word and improve processes to achieve ever-better quality standards, be sure your senior management team knows what you’re up to!

Summing Up

Now that you better understand quality management tools and how to implement them, it’s time to get to work! Once you get the quality ball rolling, it’ll take on a newfound importance in your CAD environment, but it is up to you to start the process! I’ve found very few tasks in CAD management that give me more satisfaction than increasing the quality of project work.

Why not work up a plan for how you can implement quality management tools at your company? Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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