Paul Harding SAQI MD
I am often asked how I became involved in the Quality profession and my immediate answer is that it was by accident. Of course quality should be all about planning and to quote John Ruskin’s famous words: “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort”. So should people coming into the Quality profession follow some form of career path and study Quality as an academic subject?
The definition of quality
To help us decide on what attributes a Quality professional should have, let us consider what the definition of quality should be. My favourite definition of quality is still something that could be found some years ago in the ISO Standard 8402. This definition described quality in the following way. “The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs”
The attributes of a toolmaker
I started my working career as a toolmaker. Now before you get the impression that I made hammers, screwdrivers and pliers let me explain a little more about tool making. Toolmakers are a special breed of craftsmen without whom none of today’s hardware such as motor vehicles, i pads, vacuum cleaners, laptops, smart phones, or airplanes would be available. The profile of a toolmaker needs to contain all the quality attributes found in the ISO 8402 definition of quality. The toolmaker has to be trained in the use of a variety of precision hand tools and machines to enable him / her to accurately perform work. Even if these machines are now computer controlled someone has to create the program and indeed build the machine. The toolmaker has to work to rigid tolerances in order that the end product, the tool or die, can consistently deliver the component part that is required by the customer. Now how accurate must the work of the toolmakers be in order to perform to the requirements necessary in the application of their trade? Now here lies the crux of the matter. Most people accept that there is no such thing as perfection, so there must be a tolerance band. But people often overlook the fact that the tolerance should be there to cover the wear and tear on the tool itself during its life span. So the tool has to start its life with an accuracy way inside the limit of the tolerance of the component part that the tool will produce. If we are talking about a press tool that produces automotive sheet metal parts or cookers or fridges, other factors like chemical or mechanical variation of raw materials also affect the accuracy of the final part. If a tool is made up of a number of stations then the toolmaker has to take account of the tolerance “creep” which is an accumulation of variation from one die section to the next. In some instances of multi stage progression tools more than five hundred individual sections could make up the final tool. So if each section had an error of just a few microns, the final tool could not be assembled to produce the intended component. So the tool cannot be the result of an accident. It must be the result of intelligent effort put in by the toolmaker to plan each stage of the process using the correct materials to the right specification. Then each stage must be checked and verified that each part will interact with other parts in order to deliver the final product to the satisfaction of the customer.
The attributes of a Quality Management System (QMS)
Let us now look at the attributes of a QMS. If we start off with a basic system comprising of standalone documented information that is only focusing on the individual requirements of ISO 9001:2015, will it be capable of delivering an accurate product or service that is within the tolerance required by the customer? Then what if parts of the system are not clearly thought out or the system as described is poorly applied and maybe even abused? If that is the case the QMS may not be an integrated approach to satisfy the customer but purely a set of individual activities that may lead to an even more inferior product or service. So the QMS needs to be set up with attention to detail of all its component parts that interact with each other in order that the “creep” from each part of the system does not affect the viability of the system as a whole. Like any tool the QMS also needs to receive regular maintenance in order that the original intended purpose lasts the life of the product. This maintenance aspect of the QMS should be addressed by ongoing audits as well as the Management Review as stated in the Requirement Standard.
The role of the auditor
Can you audit the work of the toolmaker? The answer is to a degree yes you can. Some of the “building blocks” or individual die sections of a tool can be checked for accuracy during each stage of manufacture but at the end of the tool build, the tool either produces an accurate acceptable part or it doesn’t. Toolmakers generally would feel insulted if a third party checked each stage of their work. Yet this practice is readily accepted in production areas. This is what makes the role of the toolmaker different; they audit their own work as each stage is developed. There is no place to hide or no one else to blame if the tool doesn’t work. Only lengthy planning, working to tight limits, applying project management skills and not accepting inferior workmanship from others will produce the final result. So the role of the auditor, in this case the component inspector, is not to check the planning and application of the trade but rather the end result, the component part. But what do we expect in a quality management system audit? At best an auditor can only take a very small sample of a QMS and make a judgement on its effectiveness. Sometimes this is not even one percent of the overall system. So this is like checking five parts of a five hundred-part tool and making a judgement that the tool will work. Of course the auditor can check whether the organization’s stakeholders are truly satisfied and then make a decision on the real effectiveness of the QMS. We can then apply the same criteria to a QMS as a tool; it either works or it doesn’t.
Studying quality principles from a book is fine but to be a successful Quality Professional we need to link the theory to practice.