By Mimi Rainero Coles | Chairman, National Precast Concrete Association
When visitors walk through your plant, what do they see? Is it an orderly, well-planned environment where everybody knows their jobs, safety procedures are embedded into the culture and production ticks along like clockwork? Or is it something less?
The National Precast Concrete Association administers a plant certification program with a primary focus of providing quality assurance to specifiers and contractors that the product received from a certified plant meets or exceeds every criteria described in the plans. The step-by-step procedures are described in the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast and Prestressed Plants. But maintaining certified status is dependent upon the annual inspection by an independent auditor.
NPCA recently completed its annual training session for 25 plant certification auditors from HPS Consulting Inc., the third-party engineering firm that has been conducting the certification inspections since 2008. One way to ensure the credibility of the certification program is by using independent auditors. Additionally, we provide credibility through the annual inspection process. While the plant’s first inspection is planned, every succeeding annual inspection is unannounced. In addition, a percentage of plants are randomly selected to receive a second unannounced inspection every year. The result is that after a plant is initially certified, management knows that the plant must always be prepared for an inspection that could happen at any time. This ensures that quality control is an ongoing process.
The training of certification inspectors is critical, because the credibility of the plant certification program hinges on the way those audits are conducted. The concept behind plant certification is that it creates a level playing field for all certified plants, because we are all playing by the same set of rules and subject to the same quality standards. The inspection is quantifiable – there’s no room for opinion on the part of the auditor. The auditor follows the same script at each plant and assembles a report that is based on the specific procedures described in the QC Manual and how closely each plant is following each step.
The plant audit concludes with an exit interview that is meant to be both professional and educational, where the inspector – a trained engineer who has performed the same audit at many plants – sits down with the management team, reviews the audit and offers suggestions for ways to create efficiencies, reduce defects and ultimately improve customer satisfaction. For plants that have been through the process many times, it is a form of continuing quality improvement that over time distinguishes them in the industry as high-quality producers.
Quality assurance is so essential to the advancement of the precast concrete industry that NPCA wanted to see how its certification program held up to international manufacturing standards. So it applied for accreditation from the American National Standards Institute. Much like a plant opens up its entire operation to the certification inspector, NPCA opened up its entire procedures to the ANSI team. And after an exceedingly thorough auditing process, ANSI awarded accreditation to the NPCA certification program, essentially providing a stamp of approval that provides additional credibility to the program.
The goal of all this attention to detail is to assure anybody who specifies precast concrete in a project that the products coming from an NPCA certified plant will be of uniformly high quality. At the plant level, the result is that whenever visitors walk through your plant, they will see an orderly, well-planned environment where everybody knows their jobs, safety procedures are embedded into the culture and production ticks along like clockwork. Your plant doesn’t have to be certified to operate at top efficiency, but the certification process provides a great roadmap for getting there and staying there.
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