Woodcraft Industries (St. Cloud, MN), a manufacturer of hardwood and laminated components for the woodworking industry, started as a cabinet and fixture shop in St. Cloud, MN, in 1945. By 2004, it had grown through acquisition and expansion to seven locations in five states.
One specific division, PrimeWood (Wahpeton, ND), has always had some sort of quality control in place throughout the manufacturing process. But within the past nine years, PrimeWood's customers have driven them to produce better quality products.
Alan Torrance, quality assurance manager, explains, "In industry it really comes down to the competitors having the same product and service and the only differentiation between them is who has the better quality."
PrimeWood's mission is, "Quality is no mistake." Torrance is convinced that the more quality parameters put into action on the shop floor, the less scrap a company is going to produce. He also realizes that product pricing is another differentiating factor between competitors and believes that as scrap is controlled through quality improvements, a company is in a much better profit position if price ever becomes an issue.
Originally, PrimeWood was using 24-inch and 40-inch calipers to measure product quality. But the calipers were being dropped and damaged by the employees and the company had to find a solution. Torrance turned to Accurate Technology (Ashville, NC) and its linear digital measurement device called ProScale. These units are high-precision electronic measuring devices that can measure from 10 inches to 20 feet. Measurements are displayed in decimals, fractions or millimeters and accurate up to 0.002 inch. They can be retrofitted to machinery or purchased as specialized products for use as shop measuring tools. "We retrofitted the ProScale units onto various machines and we even made our own calipers out of them in our own machine shop," says Torrance.
According to Tom Erhart, quality engineer at PrimeWood, they purchased several ProScale units for their plant and several ProTable units. The ProTables are made to measure products up to 96 inches, but are also
custom-made to measure up to 19.5 feet. "These products have worked so well for us that now our other seven divisions have added these quality measurement products to their production lines," Erhart says.
Through experience and teamwork PrimeWood has increased quality and reduced scrap throughout the manufacturing process, and Torrance and Erhart have stepped up their quality parameters on incoming inspection as well.
In the past, there was little to no incoming inspection. If a supplier's product did not conform, they had to scramble to find a replacement product. So they implemented a program whereby all suppliers had to produce their products well in advance, send a pre-shipment sample for testing at PrimeWood's facility and wait for a quality inspection clearance before releasing the order. The result was just-in-time deliveries, and a vendor history documenting all shipments-and their record on meeting PrimeWood's specifications. "From this historical recordkeeping we have been able to track our suppliers' quality consistency and hence perform less inspections with certain vendors," Torrance says. "But, we continue to perform our daily plant inspections and review products that we're producing on the floor that day."
Quality assurance and product control go side by side at PrimeWood. Quality work centers are positioned on the production floor in each of the four product groups. Each area has its own quality tasks and those requirements are posted at each work center. Staff members have the authority to stop the line and review quality. Everyone is quality assurance-from the start of the line to the end of the line.
Each center includes ProScales, ProTables, in-house gages and quality requirements and is networked to the plant's computer system for calling up CAD prints. "The centers are on-line so that whatever they need for production clarification can be pulled-up on the screen; no hard copies are on the shop floor," Erhart explains.
PrimeWood continues to invest in quality control measurement and so do the other divisions under Woodcraft Industries. They have all been able to provide documented proof on the cost savings they realize in scrap reduction alone. "Not only have we purchased more equipment, but we've purchased more of the same devices for the company's other divisions," Erhart says. "And each of those divisions have quality personnel in place to justify additional purchases in measurement control."
PrimeWood not only saved money, but it also saved time. Set-up time improved from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, and changeovers from 10 minutes to 7 minutes. Dimensional QA checks also improved from 3 minutes to 30 seconds.
Torrance says, "When you measure the cost of quality, in terms of nonconformance, scrap or rejects, taking the investment approach is the way to go." He believes that many companies have a problem investing into quality assurance equipment and personnel. Instead, companies tend to invest in additional machinery for the production floors to produce more products. "What we're saying is if you continue to invest in quality, you can produce more for less. By having less scrap or rework you're actually going to produce more."
-PrimeWood's set-up time improved from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, and changeovers from 10 minutes to 7 minutes. Dimensional QA checks also improved from 3 minutes to 30 seconds.
-From historical recordkeeping, PrimeWood has been able to track suppliers' quality consistency and hence perform less inspections with certain vendors.
-PrimeWood and other divisions under Woodcraft Industries have all been able to provide documented proof on the cost savings they realize in scrap reduction alone.
-Each quality work center includes ProScales, ProTables, in-house gages and quality requirements and is networked to the plant's computer system for calling up CAD prints.