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How Heat Treaters Can Guarantee Faster and Less Stressful Quality Audits

Updated: Aug 11, 2023


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Bluestreak™

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Let’s face it. Audits are never fun, especially if you’re using mostly manual or paper processes. They involve:

· Tracking down every scrap of paper that you need to prove that you’ve done everything right;

· Proving that heat-treated parts meet the conformance standards that your customer demanded, or that regulations mandate;

· Documenting the QA, QC, and testing process.

It can be time-consuming and painful for heat treaters that just want to check off a job as done and move on to the next one…and that’s if everything goes right. Requests for correcting nonconformities, getting concessions granted on the affected parts, documenting customer comments and/or complaints, documenting and dispositioning nonconformances, or findings from an external quality audit are common pain points. These lead to corrective and preventative actions (CAPA) and may require rework. That adds a delay to processing invoices and can push payments further downstream. Even when you’ve wrapped things up and provided a written Cert, customers may require further external audits to confirm that the corrective actions worked as required.

What if there was a way to cut audit times in half?

There is an easier way to accomplish an external quality audit: digital transformation. By moving your production process and tracking to an integrated quality management system and manufacturing execution system (QMS + MES), you can reduce audit time by as much as 50%, thus Faster and Less Stressful Quality Audits. That’s less downtime for your facility, fewer worker hours tied up in tracking down paperwork, and more productive hours for your production line. Other benefits include:

· A robust QMS + MES platform tracks everything in real time.

· It captures every data point at every stop in the production pathway.

· Statistical process control helps uncover root causes more easily for faster correction.

· It tracks maintenance, repair, and equipment qualifications.

· It tracks staff training and operator qualifications on critically important job steps.

Balance the Disruption

A quality audit (whether done by an internal or external auditor) provides valuable information for moving production forward with less rework, but it can also be highly disruptive. You must balance the time required to conduct quality audits that are informative, thorough, and insightful with production’s need to get back to business as usual.

Thanks to new technologies and better production control systems with integrated quality management, that dream is now a reality. Quality audits don’t have to shut down production or take forever. With the right tools and methods for streamlining your preparations and gathering data, you will definitely have faster quality audits guaranteed—with no more prep stress.

Here are our top three ways for you to shorten your quality audit time without sacrificing accuracy or insights. You’ll have a streamlined system designed to deliver the value that you need to ensure compliance in a production workflow process that your team won’t dread.

1. Centralize Your Data

When each department has its own system and method for reporting, gathering the proper documentation to make good business decisions can be tedious and is usually missing key information, which can add days or even weeks to your audit preparations and make it impossible to pull accurate reports at the last minute.

Instead of siloing your data, you should implement a strategy to bring a cohesive view of your data to the forefront, allowing you to gather reports quickly, whether you have weeks or mere hours to prepare. It’s your single source of truth. Another key component in your strategy is to collect the right information (what you know the auditors are going to be looking for) at the time the work is being done.

I’m not talking about writing information down on a paper form that is hard for someone else to read, might get lost or destroyed in the plant, and is very difficult to find within reams of file cabinet paper when you need it. Production and quality data need to be collected in real-time as the work is being done, with all data, system-generated forms, signoffs, quality checks, etc. automatically connected to each job/work order, so your staff and auditors will be able to easily see everything associated with heat treating a customer’s Parts. Here are some other key points:

· Use a standard communications hub across your entire operations. Funnel all communications into a real-time streamlined hub so each piece of the production pipeline, and any departments with the proper permissions, can see the full context of information with immediate updates, receive confirmation that important messages or instructions were received, and leave a digital paper trail for the chain of responsibility.

· Manage work order processing through automation. Details from work orders are part of a trove of vital data. Centralizing your work orders and production Processes into one system ensures automation for recordkeeping, from quoting all the way through to shipping and invoicing.

· Move reporting to a single system. When you pull reports from across multiple departments, information stored in one database system eliminates the need to spend time chasing down department leads to get relevant, updated, or corrected reports, gives you the confidence that you can act on the data you have in front of you because it is continually updated in real-time across the organization.

· Manage every part of your business and production from the initial quote to the invoice from one dashboard. Specifications management and adherence, nonconformances, CAPA’s, reporting, updates, pivots—everything a plant and/or production manager needs to verify and validate proper production is right there.

You’ll be able to pull the reports you need without massive wait times and provide documentation on the fly if necessary. Segmenting different production departments obscures the data you need and creates issues when different departments can’t access the needed data. Instead, centralize your data, which makes everyone a data stakeholder and provides transparency when it counts—i.e., your quality and compliance audit reporting.

2. Automate Your Reporting

If you’ve centralized your data but it is consistently incorrect or missing, your data hub is useless. Human error accounts for most missing, duplicate, or inaccurate information, and part of your audit is to review that information. Automation removes the human element and creates consistent and systemic reporting. You should automate:

· Specifications management and version control. Understand what specifications go into a quality product and how those specifications are consistently reached. Updated Specs and any changes move automatically through the pipeline.

· Job Scheduling. With centralized data, you can automate scheduling to reduce overlap and bottleneck areas, overbooking, and under-planning.

· Process control. Automating process monitoring allows production systems to pivot continuously and bring those reports alongside.

· Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Suppose you’ve had bad memories of past findings in quality audits, which can be related to struggling with making sure jobs get done right the first time. In that case, an integrated quality management system that is tied directly to operators on the production floor, can bring clarity and focus to both, while holding people accountable for what they do, and collecting the necessary information and signoffs at the time the work is being done.

Automation makes processes happen faster and funnels all your relevant information into a single point of truth, ready to access for your next audit—even if it’s a last-minute auditor request. There is no stress because all the relevant data is there, digitally connected to each heat treat job, as permanent records that can be printed out if needed but do not need to be stored in file cabinets wasting space.

These reports help streamline the entire business management process by eliminating missing information and reducing human error, as well as incompatibilities between different departmental reporting systems relying on disjointed data that is not current. 3. Improve Overall Communications

In general, improving communications reduces quality audit times and builds better production system processes overall. With solid communication structures in place, there are fewer surprises and blind spots that could easily delay a quality audit, drag it on for another day, or cost you a positive outcome.

To improve communication quality across the board:

· Use an integrated document management system to build an active repository of all previous audits, your quality manual, compliance documentation, etc.

· Establish a clear chain of command with a centralized dashboard, that includes KPI’s (key performance indicators) that are updated automatically throughout the day in real-time.

· Use automatic updating for specifications and process control. Be able to look at a job that was done a year ago and see what specification was active at that time, and what heat treat process was used, including who did what, on each operating step within the process, which piece of equipment was used, how long did each step take, etc.

Automate your data collection—reduce paper and human errors with no more written forms. As you improve your communications, future audits can happen more quickly because you’ve made clear steps for addressing past audit issues and you have documented the chain of responsibility.

You’ve reduced or eliminated missing information and data gaps and removed more chances of human error, causing a production—and therefore, an audit—issue. The data from each past job and audit history is present and accessible at any time, and you have a digital paper trail (rather than a physical paper trail) for your production line. Communicating within this centralized hub of real-time data is the final piece.

You can streamline your decision-making with comprehensive and customizable business performance Dashboards, whether they are for sales, plant performance, safety, and compliance, or on-time delivery of completed Parts.

Summary

With the right QMS + MES software, your audit trail will be automated. It keeps track of everything that you need to keep business flowing and improve productivity on the shop floor. There’s no more lost paperwork or conflicting results. It automates systems to provide real-time and accurate information at every phase of the production process and keeps information together to make the audit process go faster. Some of the advantages include:

Enhanced Documentation

A detailed, time-stamped, and user-identified audit trail for each document or process step can verify compliance with accreditations, certifications, and compliance standards, including ISO 9001, AS9100, Nadcap, TS, MedAccred, ITAR, EAR, etc.

There’s no more wondering who has access to critical files, who changed operating procedures, what changes were made, or who signed off. It’s all there in the digital documentation.

Paperless reporting follows the tracking, approvals, notification, and policy administration of quality documentation. It creates gatekeepers for approval and electronically tracks every interaction at every step. The right QMS + MES stores all test result data, so there is full transparency. This includes both the rest unit values themselves, rounding algorithms, and the converted units used for customer reporting.

End-to-end control—from quoting to invoicing, maintenance, production tracking, and real-time customer portal access—creates a structured audit trail to track jobs throughout the entire lifecycle of heat treat production processing. This eliminates information silos by using a fully extensible and audit-compliant QMS.

Enhanced Qualifications

Using the right software also prevents potential errors that could lead to quality problems, unhappy customers, or audit issues, such as:

· Work order specifications that are replaced with recent revisions;

· Operators who attempt to process furnace loads, or use unauthorized pieces of equipment without documented proper training or currently active certifications;

· Equipment being used that isn’t qualified (or qualifications have lapsed), which would cause the heat treat job to be done in a non-compliant way;

· Vendors that aren’t qualified for specific jobs, or have lapsed qualifications, to complete some type of outside vendor processing;

· Failing to note changes to qualifications, certifications, instrument calibration, pyrometry, personnel, or survey requirements.

The Benefits of Better Audits

Continuous monitoring and effective control and management of heat treat processes lead to better audits. Everyone from the top floor to the shop floor will appreciate a timely and efficient external quality audit, including your customers.

By speeding up your audit process and conducting a more thorough external quality audit using the information and tools available from the right QMS + MES, your business will lower your total cost of production, and send more dollars to your bottom line, above and beyond paying for the software itself.

A 50% reduction in time spent on audits results in worker hours that can be put to use in other ways that will make you money. It saves time and frustration, catches errors faster, and makes your operation more efficient.

When an external quality audit is completed quickly with every necessary piece of information, it improves overall customer confidence and satisfaction. They will rest assured that the heat treating they’re paying for has been done right, according to their specifications. It will also enhance your image and reputation in the heat treat marketplace. When you consistently clear audits without problems, it’s a clear indication to customers and prospective customers that you take quality seriously and do what it takes to get things right, the first time.

Save Time, Save Money

Audits can be time-consuming and expensive propositions. With the proper controls, authorizations, and documentation readily available, audits can be completed much more quickly. After touring your facility, an auditor can just sit down at a computer terminal and see a fully documented audit trail of what happened on every step of a heat treat job. Any time that you save when dealing with an audit will also save you money.

In Conclusion

Audits give clear and actionable insights into your production strategy and are a pivotal part of remaining on top of heat treating’s razor-thin margins. The flip side is allowing audits to derail those margins and negatively impact production times. Streamlining your process by focusing on these common obstacles to a fast yet accurate quality audit gives you the insights that you need while minimizing disruption. Your audits can happen faster without sacrificing insights. Automating as many processes as possible and managing your data from a single point of truth ensures that you always have the required documentation, approvals, compliance assurance information, and signoffs that you need.

If your existing system cannot provide your business with what is required, it’s time to upgrade to a system made specifically for the unique needs of heat treating and move toward a streamlined production and audit process.

Takeaway: It is no longer acceptable for business to be halted or unnecessarily disrupted for lengthy audit processes.

Written by Ron Beltz, Director of Success at Bluestreak | Bright AM™. About Bluestreak

Bluestreak™ is a fully integrated Quality Management System (QMS) and a powerful Manufacturing Execution System (MES), designed for the manufacturing environment and service-based manufacturing companies ( metal-treating/powder-coating, plating, heat-treating, forging, and metal-finishing), businesses that receive customers’ parts, perform a process (service) on them, and send those parts back to the customer). Companies need MES software tailored to specific functionality and workflow needs such as industry-specific specifications management, intuitive scheduling control for both staff and machinery maintenance, and the ability to manage work orders and track real-time data. If different work centers on the production floor aren’t “speaking” to each other via the MES, the data loses value and becomes disjointed or lost in disparate silos.


Bluestreak | Bright AM™ is a QMS + MES software solution specifically designed to manage and optimize the unique requirements of Additive Manufacturing’s production of parts and powder inventory usage.





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