Modern manufacturing companies must strike a difficult balance. While customer expectations for product performance and quality are on the rise, so too is cost pressure. To reconcile this conflict, a company needs robust internal processes – processes that deliver long-term, dependable results regardless of external pressures. The Ulm-based Steinbeis enterprise TQU Business developed and rolled out a “risk-based fault prevention” program for a German automotive manufacturer. The client wanted a practical and effective system that allowed production line managers to prevent faults in the long run and to boost quality awareness in all departments and at all levels of the company.
^The starting point was an employee survey in Quality Management (QM) which asked respondents to share their experiences with quality and costs in recent years with the aim of identifying the challenges faced. The client was familiar with several quality methods, but none were being applied systematically or across the board – instead, different methods and tools were being used in isolation. Knowledge and experience were not being preserved and passed on, and the benefits of QM measures that had already been tried were not being documented. Employees placed more value on costs and deadlines than on quality and reliability. And in the end, eradicating faults took precedence over fault prevention.
Furthermore, an analysis of faults showed that the company was delivering high quality, but this could no longer be significantly improved. That meant that time had to be invested in fault correction during live production – which significantly worsened productivity. Analysis also showed that corrective measures carried out within a cycle or at a workstation were not systematically documented and therefore could not be identified as time dedicated to fault correction. Based on observations and projections, the Steinbeis experts believed that the actual time spent correcting faults was five times higher than the recorded time. Workers, foremen and supervisors were highly effective in correcting faults. The low frequency of faults meant that no patterns could be detected that would immediately lead to sustainable measures to prevent their reoccurrence.
As the project moved on, it quickly became clear that the classic approach of corrective measures would not really bring about a genuine change in thinking or in the way things were done. With this in mind, the project team worked with those responsible for quality and training to develop a training program for proactive fault prevention. It combines the existing strengths in reactive fault correction with risk-based fault prevention methods. Five training modules were developed to bridge these gaps, from documenting the risk of cycle- or workstation-based faults to the inclusion of a “fault risk per cycle” (FRC) indicator in the management toolbox of supervisors.
To use these modules, wide-ranging internal changes were necessary. Time for determining FRCs had to be incorporated in work schedules. The company also needed the right systems for management to use the FRC indicators. And the work methods and processes of the supervisors, foremen and quality experts had to be modified and anchored in the organization.
As usual at TQU Business, theoretical instruction took a backseat, with workers receiving hands-on training on the methods – directly on the production line. Participants and managers were so pleased with this approach that it has been adopted as standard practice in the company’s continuing professional development programs. And the results to date are highly promising. The amount of time spent on corrections has decreased significantly and fault frequencies have been cut even further through the use of preventive measures.