By Phillip Cutler, P.E.
As we begin a new year, have your customers been asking for a higher level of quality assurance for the same products purchased last year? Rest assured if it hasn’t happened yet, it probably will. Expectations trend upward year after year, no matter the customer.
With this in mind, a precast manufacturer must then ask themselves what can be done to meet a customer’s higher expectations. Is there a value-added process that will not only satisfy a customer’s needs, but increase a plant’s level of assurance that its processes are running at the highest possible level?
The answer is yes – by performing self-audits. A self-audit is conducted by your employees whereas an independent audit is conducted by a third-party agency not employed by the audited company.
Where do I start?
If the self-audit is driven or requested by your customer, they likely have a predetermined set of criteria they are seeking to discover in order to ensure compliance. If the audit is driven internally by plant management, they are seeking to determine if current processes are adequate for manufacturing a quality product efficiently and economically or they are looking for something new or innovative. Considerations for a self-audit might include validating the frequency of concrete tests, ensuring the physical properties of the concrete meet specifications, verifying that the product is reinforced as designed, or the plant is following current policies and procedures for pre-pour and post-pour checks. Lynn Grimm, quality control manager for Lindsay Precast’s plant in Canal Fulton, Ohio, said self-audits are one way a plant remains accountable for maintaining consistent product quality control.
“They want to ensure the components that go into their projects are being evaluated by the quality department, along with incoming inspections,” Grimm said. “It’s bridging the gap with ISO-certified customers that require a self-audit or an inspection.”
Whether the plant is NPCA certified or not, they can use the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants as a guide for conducting a self-audit. Self-audits on specific areas or small segments of your operation can help break the activity into manageable pieces. Or, you can perform a complete process audit of the entire manufacturing facility. The focus of the audit should reflect the specific customer request or self-identified critical areas of manufacturing.
NPCA Certified Plants can use the self-audit tool within the Producer Portal, which is designed specifically to mimic the annual unannounced NPCA audit. The tool is identical to the one used by our independent, third-party agency when they perform a plant inspection and can be used to organize all essential documents in one place.
“We do the audit on the portal, and it’s all documented,” Grimm said. “You have the ability to print the report out, which has a date stamp on it. So, if a customer asks if you are doing self-audits, you can say, ‘Yes, we are, and we did it back in January.’
“It’s a tool that helps our customers know we are governing our quality control systems.”
What’s in it for me?
If the request for self-audits comes from outside your business, management must be the first to adopt, implement and commit to performing them consistently. A self-audit can be another useful tool a company can use to identify areas of improvement.
Also, showing customers you are performing self-audits and looking at internal processes ensures they receive a consistently high-quality product that provides true value to them in the marketplace.
Phillip Cutler, P.E., is NPCA’s director of quality assurance programs.