Over the years, we have tried many approaches to improve quality in Chinese factories and we've found that we are starting using the same quality improvement tools over and over with good success.
What are the tools we're using repeatedly to improve quality?
Last week, again, a buyer of electronics confirmed they have also been using these same tools, which are quite common in the automotive industry and getting more traction in other verticals.
Is it acceptance sampling (AQL inspections)? No. They don't improve the process itself.
Is it 5S? Preventive maintenance? Mistake proofing? No. These can be called for as counter-measures to address issues, but in themselves they are not fundamental tools.
Let's look at them one by one, in simple terms.
1. The process flow chart
Outline the process steps in one document. Show the sequence of actions in a simple, visual manner.
This allows easier comprehension of the process, and allows all staff to know what your 'standard operating procedure' is so processes are carried out in the way that you want them to be.
2. The process FMEA (Failure Modes & Effects Analysis)
Follow the process steps (by looking at the process flow chart) one by one. Undertake FMEA analysis by asking yourself, 'what can go wrong?'
You probably also remember some past issues. Add them, too, if there is a risk they might come back.
The FMEA form guides you to quantify risks, and shows the highest risks. Focus on them first.
3. The process control plan
You have the list of process steps, and you know the main risks for each step. Now is time to put controls in place.
The control plan starts with incoming QC, follows in-house processes, and ends with outgoing QC. If you can also cover what your suppliers and customers need to control, that's a nice addition.
Over time, refine the control plan. It will often be driven by the risks identified in the FMEA analysis and the to-dos it calls for. As risks are addressed, re-quantify them and update the FMEA form.
You should also run some audits on the effectiveness of the control plan. It is not just a nice document to hang on a wall!
(I wrote about these 3 process improvement tools before -- click on the link to know more.)
4. The 8D problem solving tool
With the FMEA, you identified potential risks and implemented counter-measures to prevent them from happening.
Now, when some issues are detected, you don't want people to react instantly without thinking, do you? Forcing them to follow a structured approach hones their problem solving skills, which will be extremely important in the quest to improve continuously. That's where then 8D form comes in.