By Phillip Cutler, P.E.
We have all heard the old sports adage: “The best defense is a good offense.” Many precast concrete manufacturers today apply this adage to their businesses by performing an annual or semiannual internal audit to guard against any quality control issues. In fact, any business model today can benefit from measuring itself against its own internal policies and procedures.
For many precast plants, whether NPCA certified or not, the internal audit serves as a check to see if all things are as they should be. Some companies perform a detailed mock inspection with formal documentation, while others do a much more informal walk-through audit. If you are not performing some type of internal audit, you may be passing up internal plant improvement opportunities – or worse yet, you may be wasting valuable resources that can have a dramatic effect on your bottom line. In today’s challenging market, who can afford that?
Where do I begin?
Have you heard the saying, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time”? An approach to the internal audit can be as complicated (or not) as you want to make it. Simply said, your internal audit should be geared toward the things in your facility that you believe are important and meaningful to your business.
You might choose to form small groups of plant personnel that periodically investigate key areas of your business and report their findings at your plant-wide QC meeting. These small groups would be empowered to choose when they perform their tasks but held accountable for meaningful results.
From my experience, the most effective and efficient small groups are multifaceted. In other words, they consist of plant experts from the areas of interest as well as others who don’t work specifically in that area. If you plan to form a complete internal audit team, this model works well.
NPCA certified plants have a perfect opportunity and a great place to start. Each plant is required to maintain a plant-specific quality control manual that outlines all of the procedures and processes for manufacturing quality precast concrete products. The manual is required to be reviewed and updated periodically, so start with a small section or make an entire checklist and divide it among the different work groups. A great place to start is following the process of how your products are manufactured from the time the raw materials hit your yard until the pre-pour inspection is completed and documented.
What and how do I audit?
Let’s use the manufacturing process just described as our example. Start by making a list (or checklist) of where the material begins in the process, then document the who, what, when, where, why and how it is processed in the plant – up to and including the point just before the concrete is deposited in the form.
Using the Certified Plant model, start with an order of reinforcing steel, for example, then a receipt of that material. What is received? Did you get a certificate? Does it include carbon equivalence data? Is the new reinforcing steel entered in your inventory software? Where is it stored and how? What happens to the identification tag? How is it picked for fabrication? Are there design and detailed fabrication documents? These and many other questions will help to complete the checklist and put the process in order so that everyone understands it.
Once the list (or checklist) is complete and the process has been defined, identify the critical elements and go to the plant floor to see that the steps are being carried out as your experts have defined. The results can be very eye-opening and create opportunities to eliminate holes in the process. Better yet, they can make improvements that save time and money for the plant. Employees get really charged up when they identify money-saving ideas or ways of improving the way a product is manufactured – especially when plant management publically acknowledges their efforts in a plant-wide Quality Control meeting.
For a sample detailed NPCA preassessment checklist, please visit precast.org/certify.
Next Issue: The contents of the semi-annual plant-wide quality meeting.
Phillip Cutler is NPCA’s director of Technical Services.
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