No matter how hard you work to maintain your quality standards, you are bound to encounter non-conformances at some point. A non-conformance in quality management is defined as any type of deviation from a specification, a standard, or a production expectation that indicates something went wrong along an assembly process. To help you better prepare for these instances, this article will discuss four tips to prevent and address non-conformances, including proper supplier management, customer feedback, and internal inspections and audits. Read on to learn more.
1. Establish a system for supplier management
Although they may be a third-party organization, suppliers are a direct extension of your company. They provide you with the necessary parts, pieces, materials, and/or software to create your product. So, how well you manage your supplier processes plays a large role in the quality of your production line. If the supplies they offer are sub-par, delivery is consistently late, or you regularly receive the wrong materials, you’ll be facing non-conformances and customer complaints that are completely avoidable.
The first step in a well-managed supplier process is evaluating the vendors you choose to make sure they’re qualified. This evaluation begins before you start receiving materials and may include a survey of various questions to help you judge initial suitability.
Once you’ve chosen a supplier and are receiving goods from them, it’s crucial to properly monitor and oversee them. Utilize documentation and software that allows you to track both orders and non-conformances per supplier. This way, if there are deviations from your standards that stem from supplier mistakes, you can handle them more efficiently and keep them from occurring again. A specification management system can make this process simple by allowing you to set up automatic notifications that let your suppliers know when specifications become effective or are updated. These spec systems create a transparency throughout your supply chain to ensure all stakeholders are working from the most up-to-date version of a spec.
Moreover, it is important to keep an open stream of communication with your suppliers. This means keeping them regularly informed and up to date on your strategy, procedures and specification changes. This helps them know where they fit in your process and how they can help make your production line as efficient as possible. Prioritize making them your business partner; let them know which strategies are working and which aren’t. A stronger, deeper relationship with clear and frequent communication allows this interaction to become more organic and benefit both parties. This will mitigate non-conformance instances that stem from a lack of clear communication and understanding.
2. Document and analyze customer feedback
While all serious customer complaints are recorded and handled, customer feedback can also be a powerful tool in minimizing non-conformances. Taking notice of what customers are saying about your product helps you notice small issues that could turn into major non-conformances down the line and opens up an opportunity for process improvement.
To take advantage of feedback, spend the time to fully analyze the statements your company receives. Studying what your customers say can help you spot trends and determine the root cause of performance issues, which is vital in preventing non-conformances. Understanding the root differentiates a singular lapse in quality from a process flaw that needs to be mitigated. Based on what your customers are saying, your company can determine which issues are worth looking into so that they don’t morph into serious issues. No system is perfect, problems along your production line are bound to occur. But by using customer feedback to your advantage, you can successfully prevent non-conformances before they happen.
3. Perform inspections during every part of your production process
Oftentimes preventing non-conformances starts with simple inspections throughout the production process. This means that before a product can even go through your manufacturing process, you need to outline inspection criteria for each stage of its journey; inbound, in-process, packaging, and shipping. If you don’t segment your inspection standards into each of these sections, you could be ready to ship a product and discover there is a quality process issue that occurred three steps earlier. Non-conformances of these types can wreak havoc on not only your outbound schedule but also your bottom-line.
An important step in performing product inspections is to define the critical dimensions of your inspection criteria. For example, you might have specifications that outline the dimensions your product is supposed to be. A quick check of a product during in-process will determine if your manufacturing is aligned with the proper dimensions and is thus meeting your quality standards. There are usually two or three critical dimensions like these that your inspector can check very quickly to determine if the part is good.
It is also important to understand that there might be different steps of the quality management process that require different levels of inspection, depending on the product you’re evaluating. If you have inspection standards in place, they need to be rigorous and complete. If your evaluations aren’t thorough, it will be easy to overlook possible quality issues that lead to more serious non-conformances down the line.
4. Conduct internal audits
Internal audits are a great way to prevent non-conformances by ensuring your company’s processes are meeting your quality standards. The overarching goal of an internal audit is to ensure that your company’s policies and procedures are followed and to alert you of any holes in your standard compliance so that they can be resolved before they cause more serious problems.
Internal Audits need to be scheduled at regular intervals to check whether your manufacturing processes conform to the quality requirements your company has outlined. Any previous quality findings and past audit conclusions become valuable data moving forward in your quality process. Observations raised during internal audits could be classified as preventive actions as they can suggest improvements within the system to prevent non-conformances from occurring in the future. These audits will also help ensure your company is complying with regulatory standards, such as ISO 9001, further bolstering your overall quality process.
The biggest key to conducting an internal audit is to take it seriously and ensure the quality process is demanding. When looking for a third-party audit service provider, or when putting together your own internal auditing program, make sure that the audit will look through every aspect of your quality process. This will ensure that there are no holes in your findings, and you can feel relaxed knowing all of your business procedures are solid and you are preventing production mistakes wherever possible.
Effectively preventing and managing non-conformances is an essential part of an organization’s quality improvement plan. Less non-conformance instances results in fewer defective products and processes, resulting in more satisfied customers.
A Quality Management System (QMS) such as ENSUR can help your company optimize your non-conformance processes. If you are looking to effectively manage and decrease your non-conformance instances, contact DocXellent today.