The Secret Behind Controlling Quality
Mistake-proofing helps business owners perfect their manufacturing processes
By Bob Yenkner
Phillip Crosby, noted business management consultant and author on quality control mangement practices once said, “Doing the job right the first time is always cheaper.” Crosby’s statement is referring to creating streamlined processes that minimize or eliminate errors in products and services. For laboratory owners and managers, quality control management practices that enhance the consistency of manufactured products and services are always paramount. Whether engineering a new crown, executing a removable prosthetic, or even providing a valuable service for clients, doing it right without error is critical. The focus should be on defect prevention and employee error rather than discovering quaility issues at the end of the production process and fixing them. All processes have the potential for defects. Hence, all processes offer an opportunity for defect elimination through human error and therefore drive quality improvement.
One of the most pressing reasons to perfect production processes is that rework is expensive. Whether the case is returned by the dentist or must be redone internally as a result of a sloppy job that does not meet the client expectations, the outcome is always costly, and studies have shown that rework/remakes can add up to 100% to the cost of the case. It is important to note that these costs include the time, materials, and sales of products that could have been made while the mistakes were being corrected (opportunity costs). Mark Jackson, president of Precision Ceramic Dental Lab, has calculated that if a laboratory is at the 5% profit level, each remake requires nineteen additional units to pay for that one remake. However the laboratory wants to calculate remake cost, business owners cannot accept the conventional wisdom that remakes cost the laboratory little or nothing, and are a part of doing business.
One of the keys to reducing process errors is Mistake-Proofing. Mistake-Proofing is the systematic process of identifying and preventing defects from occurring in an organization’s manufacturing or business processes. The concept is to design both products and processes so that mistakes are impossible to make, or, at the least, so that they are easier to detect and correct. Mistake-Proofing also involves a change in the mindset of the laboratory to one that promotes the belief that even a small number of product or service defects are unacceptable. The following are guiding principles to embrace:
Errors Can Be Eliminated
Defects as a result of inadvertent mistakes and errors can be eliminated.
Build Quality Into Processes
Design “robust” processes to achieve “zero defect.”
Stop Doing it Wrong, Start Doing it Right
Don’t accept the status quo as the only way to perform tasks
Don’t Think Up Excuses, Think About How To Do It Right
Identify and prioritize your opportunities.
Reduce Mistakes/Defects with Teamwork
Leverage the company’s knowledge, expertise, and creativity.
Seek Out the Root Causes
Use Root Cause Analysis tools to really understand your process.
When devising solutions to minimize mistakes, think “Creativity Before Capital.” The best solutions are usually simple and do not require much money to build or implement. There are too many stories of buying capital equipment or systems that are left in the corner or box because they were not feasible, not understood, or too sophisticated to be used to solve a simple problem. And don’t wait until you have found the “perfect” solution. It is better to create some type of solution with 60% chance of success that can be implemented now and minimize your exposure to defects, rather than waste time trying to devise the “perfect” solution. Also, don’t be afraid to simulate, modify, and retry your proposed solutions. More often than not, trial and error is faster than pencil and paper, since problems and potential solutions both happen in real time. Creativity often occurs under pressure, and a solution that otherwise would not have been apparent will present itself.
Error proofing tools and methods prevent and/or reduce defects from occurring (or reoccurring) in a process. Many companies do a great job at correcting errors, but successful businesses do an even better job at preventing errors. This entails putting systems in place to prevent the error from happening in the first place so that resources spent on correcting the error can be used for producing more products in a timely basis.
Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvement (PPI) in Higganum, CT.