Sometimes when companies introduce quality methods that don’t seem to catch on immediately, they simply give up, believing that these continuous improvement methods just don’t work. It’s easy to blame the program, complain about complexity, or look for cheaper ways to do things. Looking for reasons not to change the way they’ve always done things, these companies drop their quality programs and move on, saying that SPC is “too complex,” “doesn’t apply,” or is “too difficult to teach to employees.”
K&G Manufacturing is not one of these companies. The organization’s quality professionals persisted through nearly 20 years of SPC implementation, until they found the right software and training system that worked for them, to guarantee the high quality they sought. K&G produces high precision, close tolerance parts on a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) running 6 days a week, but more important, the company produces “world class” quality parts in this complex environment. By implementing statistical process control in their processes and using TQT training with Basic SPC Training as a resource, the company has improved its quality and saved countless resources formerly expended on external training.
Quality analyst Jill Anderson and FMS Manager Tim Westlund say that they are “set up with what we think is the latest and greatest system to upload and download programs.” They collect and analyze data as parts are being machined, using SQCpack from PQ Systems, which they selected “based on how it handled charts and data entry.”
K&G has four horizontal Makino mills on a rail system, according to Westlund. The rail system transports pallets to a work set station. Here the operators can change parts while machining another, sometimes completely different part. What is called a flexible machining system, or FMS, includes one A77 and three A66’s, plus stand-alone A55 and A77 machines. Just to convey the complexity of this system, the A66’s have tool magazines that hold up to 208 tools, so many jobs can be set up simultaneously in the same machine. With four of these capable machines on the same rail system, “we can—and do—a high production of a series of parts.”
This relatively small, family-oriented company serves the aerospace industry as well as other customers. It has been in business since 1937. “Our major objective is quality,” says Anderson, who is a quality analyst for the company. Eric Gustafson is quality manager, overseeing the SPC analysis that Anderson and Westlund, along with other department supervisors, pursue, supporting their efforts to find “user friendly” software and training.
In addition to using SQCpack for data analysis, K&G has utilized the training system outlined in Total Quality Transformation materials. Anderson discovered TQT when she was looking for an easy-to-use training program, and found a tools manual included with her software order. “I’ve gone through five different SPC training courses, and had never seen one that presented the material in such an easy-to understand format before.” Now K&G uses TQT as a primary training tool in preparing employees for the latest SPC implementation and as an independent study training tool for new employees, as well as a reference as operators continue to use and learn about SPC.
The SPC Techs. are machine operators who have had additional training both in SPC concepts and software use. These operators are the support resources on each shift, and are the go-to people for any SPC-related issue. Each shift has at least one tech, while some shifts have as many as three. This way, there is always a technical support person available.
K&G has spent quite a bit of money on training in the past, utilizing a local vo-tech college to offer a 4-week class. This often meant waiting until there were enough new people to make up a decent class size—a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Now, SPC training begins shortly after a person is hired. Within a few weeks, new employees are using SPC and understanding basic concepts.
Another way in which data-driven decision making with SQCpack has paid off for K&G is in customer confidence. One of K&G’s customers, for example, decided that it would be in their best interests to change the design of their part rather than ask K&G to modify one of their processes--all based on SPC charts.
The search for quality is not necessarily an easy one, as K&G knows through its relentless search for the best approaches to SPC and quality management. Those who think that there’s a one-size-fits-all, quick-fix approach to data analysis and training have a great deal to learn from K&G, a never-say-quit company willing to keep exploring the options until they found what they were looking for.