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November/December  2004

Machinations

Reducing Manufacturing Defects 
Take Time to Determine the Level that is Right for You
by Mike Biffl

Reducing costs in a manner that has a direct impact on the bottom line is a constant battle we all face. One area that has been addressed by many in the fenestration industry is reducing defects in manufacturing. Most of us are set in our ways and are not comfortable with changing what we do on a daily basis. Companies that take advantage of opportunities to reduce their defect rate are lowering per unit costs, increasing plant efficiency and creating an expectation of quality the first time in their employees.

Sweat the Small Stuff
The simplest and least expensive way to do reduce defects is to create an environment where the production workers pay attention to the details of their jobs. I know one plant manager who likes to tell his employees to “celebrate the small victories.” This attitude filters down through the workforce. The production workers in his plant are always looking for things they can do a little bit better. If they can make one more good window today than they did yesterday they consider it a victory. 

This organization is satisfied in taking small steps toward a goal of eliminating manufacturing defects. With the level of performance and quality they show in their operations, this is enough to keep them on the right track. Other companies want or need more immediate results.

Many companies in the fenestration industry have implemented continuous improvement programs in recent years. For a lot of these companies, continuous improvement is a catchphrase. They throw it around in meetings and make the occasional adjustment to their processes and claim this to be a formal program. I have been fortunate enough to work with some customers who are very serious about continuous improvement. The gains they have made in reducing defects and providing a more consistent product are substantial.

Reducing Defects
The most effective way to reduce defects for the long term is through continuous process improvement. This type of program focuses not only on the employees but also on the tasks they perform every day. This type of program is an ongoing and team oriented approach to minimizing defects in quality.

The best example of this I have seen is with a customer who has focused on making its processes as foolproof as possible. One member of upper management carries the title of manager of continuous improvement. He is responsible for reviewing internal processes, looking for areas that can be improved upon and finding a way to implement changes. He works closely with the production department to achieve these objectives.

Teams are formed to review how their products are manufactured. Suppliers are brought in to observe their processes and make recommendations. Suggestions from employees are encouraged and taken seriously. They have machines on their production floor that are the direct result of employee suggestions and have been named for the employees. The ultimate goal is to take potential for mistakes out of the hands of the operators. They have fostered an environment where every employee is dedicated to making a better product. One of the real benefits of this program for them has been streamlining of processes. What used to be accomplished in multiple steps on a variety of manual machines can now be accomplished by one employee on one machine.

Why it Works
While not perfect, this continuous improvement program has proven to be effective in creating a positive work environment for the employees as well as reducing their overall defect rate in their manufacturing operations. They know the program is and will remain a work in progress. They have the support of the top management of the company, the buy in of the production employees and the supplier partnerships in place to make this effort successful. 

Mike Biffl serves as national sales manager for Sturtz Machinery Inc. in Solon, Ohio.

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