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"But we've Always Done It That Way," Quality Management & Continuous Improvement

Mold shops everywhere contain some of the finest craftsman of any industry in the world. Years of experience shaping generic pieces of steel into world class tooling is an art. An art that few understand and even fewer are capable of. Starting with a customer’s part and building a mold capable of millions of cycles is amazing. I am still astounded every time I see the first parts sampled from a new tool.

This level of knowledge does not guarantee that everything always goes as planned. The high level of experience in a mold shop can create an environment susceptible to failure. The tribal mindset of, “but we’ve always done it that way,” poses a danger to growth and improvement. Just because things are easy after decades of repetition does not justify those practices. The need for continuous improvement to achieve sustained success is essential. The time to focus on project and quality management programs has never been more crucial. Yet still, many smaller shops rely on the processes of the past. Processes where you attempt to adapt to the situation as it changes. This reactionary approach does nothing for improvement and is in fact detrimental to success.

When you hear quality you may think of someone checking and recording specifications. But, what do you do when the acceptable failure rate is zero and your products are one-off customs? This is where customer focus, process controls, and project management take center stage. These programs are essential to building successful relationships. They also aid in improving the practices that have become second nature in many mold shops.

Each build needs a qualified project manager. Someone to oversee the progress throughout the project. Identifying hours needed to complete each step of the process early on is essential as well. These two things need to occur as early as possible in the process. This will aid in scheduling and risk assessment to preempt any issues before they happen. These processes will provide information imperative to overcoming future obstacles. You will also then have a single go-to person taking ownership. This will make for easier risk assessment and less stress on the organization as a whole.

As the project continues to carry on, persistent review of the processes are necessary. These reviews aim to identify where weaknesses exist. The reviews are then analyzed and used to put continuous improvement measures in place. When there is a breakdown of the process it is important to evaluate the incident. This is an attempt to uncover the issue's root cause. This method of investigating will lead to fewer incidents in the future. Understanding the factors of a breakdown of the process is essential to continuous improvement.

A central role of the project manager is to also act as a customer service representative. We are nothing without our customers. Thus, we must ensure that our relationships are always in the honeymoon phase. A single project manager handling each build can better focus on the specifics of a project. This will aid in less confusion, better communication, and a more satisfactory customer experience.

To have process controls you need to have an understanding of your processes. This is where the specifics of many quality management programs get taken for granted. “But we’ve always done it that way,” is much easier than outlining the steps of your processes. But, to review and improve processes we must first know what we are doing.

When outlining processes it is also important to understand your customers. Do you have any processes in place that conflict with a customer's preference? If so, you need to make sure to adjust the issue when dealing with that specific customer. Or, assess and improve your current procedure. Keeping separate customer standards that are accessible is important to help avoid confusion.

This is no way a comprehensive outline. It merely attempts to show a minuscule amount of the effort it takes to install these disciplines. There is no singular program that will work for any given mold shop. Or any manufacturer for that matter. These efforts are best when tailored to fit each individual organization. The practices listed above are a starting point into project and quality management. If your business has become stagnant it may be time to focus on these improvement measures.

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