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It’s Just a Matter of Basics

Manufacturing, in many respects, is not all that much different than an athletic team. It requires the coordination of many different elements to keep it running correctly and to keep it winning.


For manufacturing, it is the coordination of suppliers, engineering, maintenance, production labor, documentation, quality systems, and the list goes on. Any breakdown in any of this can, and most likely will, disrupt manufacturing.


So, what do we mean by “basics.” This is the act of maintaining fundamental operational disciplines. This can be as simple as data based decision making, strict adherence to specifications, to organizational design. The problem comes in when the organization becomes complacent in enforcing these disciplines.   It often starts with a very subtle breakdown in discipline, such as overriding pass / fail criteria, by relaxing specifications or by relaxing accountability. This can, and often does, have unintended consequences such as reliability and yield issues. Also think about what messages you might be sending to the organization? Do specifications really matter?


Consider this; manufacturing moves product through a series of processes to create a final product. Every morning when process engineering comes to work, one of the first things they might do is check on the production activity from the previous 24 hour period. They find out of specification material left from the night before. The engineer then starts to disposition the material to decide what must be done with it. Since both production and engineering want to keep their yields as high as possible the engineer will most likely make every attempt to rework the product so that it meets specification. This sets in motion a whole series of activities.


Let’s look at what happens:

  1. The engineer will review the out of specification material and determine if it is suitable for rework. This can be complicated and influenced by how much material is involved.
  2. The engineer spends valuable time writing creative rework procedures to correct the out of specification product.
  3. Manufacturing must commit valuable production resources to reworking this product.
  4. The engineer must continue to monitor the product through manufacturing to verify if the rework procedures actually worked.
  5. Quality assurance and product engineering must be flagged to watch for the material.
  6. Special testing might have to be performed, maybe even reliability testing might be required.
  7. Quality assurance, product engineering and process engineering must meet and decide if the product is suitable to ship to the customer.

So, you must ask yourself, is it worth it, and is it the right thing to be doing?


Now Consider this:

  1. The out of specification material is rejected.
  2. The engineer is directed to fix the process.
    1. The engineer only has to determine :
      1. Is this a production execution issue?
      2. Is this a process variability issue?
      3. Is there a process capability issue, or…
      4. Is this an equipment / maintenance issue?
      5. Is there a contamination issue?

The engineer is allowed to focus on correcting the root cause of the problem.


This all sounds good, but…

The problem comes in when it involves a lot of material, valued perhaps at thousands of dollars. The pressure from management to “fix” the material is often greater as the value increases. This is a very slippery slope and usually gets out of control very quickly.   Violating basic quality disciplines will, more often than not, create more problems, not to mention reliability issues.


The longer and more complex the manufacturing process, the more risk you run to allowing creative reworking into your processes. Although some “standard” reworking might be allowed, this is very dangerous and very difficult to control. There should be very good documentation for this.

So, when we talk about “basics” what we are really talking about is fundamental disciplines and decision making. This should all be focused on limiting risk in the manufacturing operations.


So, like a football team, you have to pay attention to detail, set realistic expectations, and always be thinking about the decisions you make and the unintended consequences that can result. You must set strong guidelines for…

  1. Realistic goals for the operation and drive accountability.
  2. Establish performance indicators for quality, cost, and delivery for the operation.
  3. Maintain operational disciplines for the operation. Don’t compromise these basic disciplines.
  4. Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals. Keep it simple.

It’s important to remember that “you get what you measure,” so if you measure the right things, you get the right data, and you then can make data based decisions.

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