July 1, 2010
Operations, sales, and quality control should work together to achieve the consistent quality customers want.
By Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
When it comes to ensuring not only the production, but delivery of a quality product, it’s important to have strong communication across the board. “Especially in the current economic climate, I think having a team environment between your quality control and operations is absolutely critical,” says Rebecca Guardino, quality control manager of Tilcon New Jersey. “It’s a competitive environment, and it’s important that customers have confidence in the quality of your products.”
Over the last decade, quality control has evolved into a team effort at Tilcon. Guardino says that — after safety — quality control is considered the most important element of daily operations. “There are so many people in the production process that everyone needs to be quality minded,” Guardino says, explaining that while the quality control technician is responsible for testing and evaluating materials and comparing it to the specifications, everyone from the plant manager to the loader operator should understand how they impact product quality.
“You can produce a product in spec and under the belt ready for your customer. Through handling it or loading it out, you can easily segregate a pile or create material that is not representative of that product,” Guardino says. “Everyone needs to be educated on how they can affect the end result.”
Getting a new perspective
At Tilcon New Jersey, the company has invested in training the whole team. The production team is educated about the quality side of the process and, conversely, the quality control department is taught about crushing and operational issues. “We have consultants come in and provide training for the whole group so that everybody hears the same message at the same time,” Guardino explains. “Then we can begin to understand how we impact the whole process, not only from a gradation standpoint, but even things like moisture content.”
The sales department is also brought into the team atmosphere. That way, Guardino says they are better able to understand what the operation’s capabilities are and what products can be produced. “We’re able to work in conjunction with them and, often times, create specialty products that are tailored for a specific customer or a specific job,” Guardino says. “If we don’t have something coming off the belt that meets the customer’s needs, we can make a specialty blend. That way, we’re able to accommodate customers, whatever their needs are.”
Tilcon New Jersey also leveraged technology to help assess, track, and communicate product quality. “We have an aggregate management database,” Guardino says. “Since we’ve implemented this program, it has really enhanced our ability to identify trends, monitor them, and take proactive measures.” Along with typical database features, the program includes statistical and reporting tools. Guardino says she can compare test data to customer specs, generate reports, and track customer incidents.
“We can also rate each operation on their first-time pass rate, so each location has a rating,” she adds. “We like to use run charts that will chart a critical sieve on a particular product. It really measures the consistency, so we can tell if we’re running the same way from day to day. It tells us if there is variability in the data.”
Through the database program, the quality control department also can set up automated reporting that sends e-mails to a selected distribution list. Guardino says that each quarry team can specify what reports it wants and who should receive them. Typically, most locations receive a daily, weekly, and monthly report via e-mail.
“We’re looking at a snapshot of that day, but then the whole week, and then the whole month,” she says. For example, trending reports allow Guardino to see when a site begins to run too coarse or too fine and allows the site to make the necessary changes before product quality is affected.
“That really allows us to not only look at the day to day, but also at the long term and identify any trends such as screen wear or crusher wear,” she says. “We’re able to pick out that information based on looking at these run charts.”
The database’s communication feature provides a regular reminder about quality to both the quality control and plant staff. Automated e-mails sent to the team’s computers or mobile telephones replace the huge stacks of paperwork generated on daily test data that were given to plant managers at the end of the day. Instead of having a report filed in a binder never to see the light of day, the e-mail reports provide regular, active communication on quality issues.
Learning from each other
Once a quarter, each site holds a quarry/quality production team meeting where all parties sit down as a group, review the data from the previous quarter, discuss any products that may be of a potential concern, and ensure that production is on track from a sales/demand standpoint. “It’s also an opportunity to review issues from other operations, explain how they were resolved, and be more proactive,” Guardino notes. If a plant has a problem, it is an isolated one because the quarterly meetings allow all sites to learn from the challenge and prevent it.
The team environment is a welcome change, Guardino says. “In the past, you used to have production on one side and quality control on the other. We’ve really gone completely away from that and are on the same side,” she adds. “Having a good working relationship with communication and a team environment is what, for us, was the key to our success. We realized that we’re all on the same team and we have the same goal: sending out a product that makes the customer happy the first time and every time.” AM