Textile Plant Quality System Assessment

The client is one of the largest textile manufacturing organiza­tions in the United States. Their division outside Charlotte, North Carolina is one of the four largest thread manufacturing facilities in the United States. For a number of years, the textile industry in the United States has faced increasing pressure from foreign competition. The basis of this competition lies not just in price but in perceived quality. The division president, new to the position, requested a review and recommendations in the following areas: 

  • the general culture of the organization:  as a group, what are their goals and what do they feel will be the major improvement areas; and
  • the state of the total quality system of the division.

In order to obtain an accurate view of the organizational culture and climate, we prepared two surveys:  one for management and supervision, the other for the hourly work force. The hourly survey consisted of sixty questions in a multiple choice format. The questions were arranged to deduce measures of the reliability and internal consistency of the answers. It was administered plant-wide but completion of it was voluntary and anonymous. The survey for management and supervision was neither voluntary nor anonymous; however, the results were reported to upper management on a composite basis only. Each individual was given an interpre­tation of the results, in private. 

The management and supervision survey addressed two major issues through the exclusive use of open-ended questions. The first issue was their perception of the areas in which the organization could and should improve, and with which priority. The second issue dealt with their perception of their own management styles and career-growth needs. The expressed organizational concerns included the following: 

  • cooperation and teamwork
  • quality
  • recognition
  • systems and procedures
  • employee (skills) training
  • authority
  • organization structure
  • turnover
  • working environment
  • management and supervision

Only at the upper levels of management was there any indication that cooperation and teamwork were not a problem. At all other levels across every department, there was the feeling that not only was everybody looking after their own interests but that the organizational goals and game plans had been poorly communicated. Most people in fact thought that the direction that they were heading as individuals was the proper way to go. This naturally indicated a need to develop organizational goals and to attempt to get everybody to buy into them. It also presented a challenge to upper management to actively promote teamwork and cooperation.

Systems and procedures were felt to be generally inadequate to provide timely, accurate information. In most cases, there was little feedback to the lower levels of the organization. Supervi­sors would report on a per shift, daily and weekly basis but in order for them to know how trends, the interested supervisor was forced to create his or her own set of reports and summary sheets. These individual systems often were created so that they wouldn’t be surprised during their quarterly reviews with their superiors.

There was very little enthusiasm for the employee (skills) training “program.” It was found to consist of two films. The first film described what the facility did. The second film essentially told them that they would be fired if they were found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol on company grounds. Neither film accomplished its task adequately. The second film usually left the new hire with a negative feeling about the company. Training in the operation of equipment was attempted by pairing the new hire with a “respected” veteran for one or two weeks. However, since many of the hourly workers were on a combination of hourly wage plus piecework, the training of new hires was often seen as a costly proposition for the “trainer.” The added compensation provided to the trainer was frequently not enough to make up for their lost piecework income.

This lack of enthusiasm for employee skills training was echoed in the survey of hourly personnel was no surprise. The combined findings indicated that the division needed to undertake a serious restructuring of their skills training program, or lack thereof. This was especially made critical by the increasing emphasis on producing a quality product and on reducing rework. It was seen as inconsistent to stress these two goals without providing proper training to the work force.

The only criticism of the organization structure came from upper management. In addition to the new division president, most of his immediate team had also been in place less than one year. Their general feeling, which we agreed with, was that there were too many layers of management. There were several instances of one-to-one reporting within departments (a perfectly vertical structure) and other examples of sub-optimal alignment of management and supervi­sion. That this was not seen as a problem by most of the other individuals in management and supervision was felt to be symptomat­ic of their average of twenty years experience within that operating environment. Upper management participated in developing a new organization chart and an implementation plan.

Turnover and the working environment were seen as related and as problems by everyone. Some departments, especially on the third shift, experienced in excess of one hundred percent turnover annually. While part of this turnover could be attributed to the high level of competition for employees within the textile industry, the lack of skills training provided to the employees and their relatively low wage were also perceived as major contribu­tors. Also, the facilities had been allowed to fall into cosmetic disrepair. In addition, the hourly workers indicated that they felt no opportunity for advancement within the organization. This was not a surprise because there was a nearly continuous rumor on the factory floor that the division would be closed soon.

This problem could be best addressed adequately over time. Management and supervision sought assurance from the parent corporation that they would remain open. Corporate representatives were brought in to talk to the work force. Whenever possible, things were done to create the sense of improvement and publicized. While initially these things were somewhat cosmetic, a plan was developed to more substantially demonstrate the commitment to the future. This included publicity surrounding their plans to bring in some new, state-of-the-art equipment. Many of the other elements to this plan were recommendations for the improvement of their overall quality system.

Management and supervisory training were universally viewed as weak. Most training was on the job. Most of it was done by people who themselves had received improper training. The system was self-perpetuating. Training sessions were prepared and given to all levels of management and supervision on an introductory basis. In addition, individualized programs were outlined for each supervisor and manager based on his or her input during the survey process.

Recognition and authority were generally not seen as problems. The supervisors and managers felt like they had enough of each although there was little evidence of either. Their feelings seemed to be based more on priority than on need.

Incoming material control, quality training, statistical process control, product planning, and other were the five areas reviewed in the division’s quality program. Several requirements, as follows, were identified with each area and were reviewed as to presence, adequacy, and extent of its use:

        Incoming materials

  • Purchasing requirement defined
  • Certified vendor program
  • Certificates of compliance
  • Visits to vendors
  • Visits from vendors
  • Vendor response to non-compliance
  • SPC implemented at vendor facilities

        Quality Training

  • Quality-minded corporate culture
  • Knowledge of SPC principles
  • Application of SPC principles

        Statistical Process Control

  • Measurable process variables selected
  • Necessary gauges and monitoring devices installed
  • Machine capability studies performed
  • Control charts constructed
  • Control charts installed
  • Control charts used to control and analyze process­es
  • Corrective action system developed
  • Corrective action system installed and in use
  • Control charts used to improve process
  • Automation of control charting

        Product Planning

  • New product introduction process
  • Specification sheets accurate
  • System to revise and expand specification sheets

        Other (General)

  • Gauge control
  • Gauge R & R program
  • Quality manual – policies and procedures
  • Machine operator’s manual
  • Sampling plans
  • Scrap measurement and reporting system
  • Out-going inspection of finished goods
  • Customer complaint analysis and resolution system

By area and individual requirement, the study findings and recommendations were as follows:

Incoming Materials

 Purchasing Requirements Defined

Most of the raw materials coming into the facility were from “sister companies.” Regrettably, the corporate attitude was that the client had to accept essentially anything and everything that was supplied to it from the corporate family. Although problems had been documented, little recognizable action had been taken on the part of these suppliers to provide quality product. Client personnel had the feeling that they were being victimized.

Part of the difficulty was political. However, the situation was exacerbated by the incomplete nature of the client’s specifica­tions. They would complain that supplied yarn “did not run well” with no useful, quantifiable data for proposed action. They did not tell suppliers what they needed to “run well” on a consistent basis.

As a result, although the purchasing requirements were only partially defined, they were also only partially used.

Certified Vendor Program

The only “certification” of vendors was tied to chemical suppliers whose products were to be used in threads destined for the automobile and police markets. This certification was not so much due to the client’s efforts but to that of the suppliers. The suppliers were providing the same information to all of their related customers. The client was not certifying their suppliers but rather the suppliers were doing what would have been necessary on their parts to become certified anywhere else.

While this requirement was not technically in place, it was in use.

Certificate of Compliance

Certificates of Compliance were found to be not present and not in use.

Visits to Vendors

Visits to vendors were limited to weekly meetings with one of their sister companies which was within walking distance of the client facility. These meetings generally consisted of a brief presenta­tion to the vendor’s production management by thee client’s Quality Assurance Manager. As mentioned before, the presentation was only marginally relevant to the vendor’s information needs. The general tone at the meeting tended to be more social than business.

These visits to vendors were marginally present but essentially not used. Once data was available, it was expected that these meetings could start to be useful and could be extended to other vendors.

Visits from Vendors

Visits from vendors, except for the sister company down the street, were more along the lines of sales calls than visits to discuss quality-related technical issues.

These visits, from a practical standpoint, did not exist and were not used. However, as with visits to vendors, it was felt that once data became available (and in a useful format) there would be little difficulty in expanding the scope of the visits from vendors.

Vendor Response to Non-compliance

Because of the lack of hard data to present with claims of non-compliance, the responses to claims of non-compliance were based more on perception of effort than on quantifiable results. The “certified vendors” were judged as the most responsible but this was felt to be because they had their own data that they could analyze and they were, due to their own culture, interested and willing to dig into the perceived problem.

SPC Implemented at Vendor Facilities

Statistical Process Control was only implemented at the facilities of their chemical vendors. The vendors which were within the corporate family had done little to investigate the benefits of implementing statistical methods for the control of their processes and their quality.

Quality Training

Quality-minded Corporate Culture – There was a strong level of awareness that quality is important and an acknowledged emphasis by management. However, it was quickly obvious that the “How-to’s” had not yet permeated the culture. Everybody talked about it but nobody really knew what it meant.

Knowledge of SPC Principles – As alluded to above, knowledge of the fundamentals of Statistical Process Control was sketchy at best. Unfortunately, this was true at all levels and all departments in the organization, even within every person assigned to the Quality Control/Quality Assurance Department (including the Department Manager). As with basic skills training, effectively no training in the principles of SPC had been done nor was any scheduled for the near term.

Application of SPC Principles – Given the lack of knowledge of and training in SPC Principles, it came as no surprise that none of the principles had been applied. Nobody within the organization had sufficient knowledge or experience to apply SPC.

In response to each of the above requirements, it was recommended that at least one individual with sufficient knowledge and experience be recruited and hired to pursue the implementation of statistical methods for the control of quality and of their manufacturing processes.

Statistical Process Control

 Measurable Process Variables Selected – Few process variables had been identified or selected and none were used.

 Necessary Gauges/Monitoring Devices Installed – Incredibly, there were very few process-related gauges. None of those that were process-related were used for anything approaching SPC. Even the calibration of the gauges in the two laboratories (quality and dyehouse) was questionable as to when and to how effective.

Machine Capability Studies Performed – No machine capability studies had been performed. The definition of “machine capability” in use seemed to be “did the machine perform its basic function or not.”

Control Charts Constructed – One control chart had been constructed. It was in the unit of the plant which made Kevlar thread and threads which were destined for the automotive industry.

Control Charts Installed – Only one control chart in the facility was not used properly. Unfortunately, it was the only control chart which had been constructed and put into use. It was on a type of machine which ran twenty-four hours per day, five days per week. The chart was based on one measurement per day. The “control limits” which were indicated on the chart were, in fact, the product specification limits.

“No” or “None Found” was the appropriate response to the following:

  • Control charts used to control and analyze processes
  • Corrective action system developed
  • Corrective action system installed and in use
  • Control charts used to improve processes
  • Automation of control charting

Product Planning

New Product Introduction Process – Because new products had not been introduced recently, there was no opportunity to directly observe this process. However, the description of the “standard” process varied so widely from individual to individual that classifying the process as not only not standardized or in use but simply inadequate seemed justified.

Specification Sheets Accurate – The major problem with the specification sheets was that they were not in a format that was useful to the floor personnel.

System to Revise and Expand Specification Sheets – No true system could be found. The basic orientation was not directed toward SPC, process capability, or the systematic identification and resolution of problems. Because of the lack of general awareness of machine capabilities, the development of new products, and of product specifications was essentially hit-and-miss.

Other (General)

 Gauge Control – There was a general lack of use of gauges. The few process-related gauges that were found were clearly not used for controlling the process. The majority of gauges were utility related.

 Gauge Repair and Replacement Program – No such program was evident. There were some gauges for which calibration tags could not be found. The rule rather than the exception was for calibration tags to indicate that the gauges had been calibrated five or ten years earlier.

Quality Manual – Policies and Procedures – Despite assurances that such a manual existed and that it was being revised, during the ten-week study nobody could produce a copy. It seemed likely that, even if one existed, it was not currently in use.

Machine Operator’s Manual – With over forty types of production equipment on site, several manuals were expected that could either support or refute the hypothesis that the machine operators were operating their equipment correctly. Not one manual could be located. This was somewhat expected for the older pieces of equipment. The lack of manuals provided further support for the lack of effectiveness of their basic skills training.

Sampling Plans – No sampling plans with any statistical basis could be found. Most sampling was tradition based. Several operations “required” the operator to physically and visually inspect one sample per dye lot or per batch. In most cases the “sample data” was not recorded anywhere or reported to anyone.

Scrap Measurement and Reporting System – The only “scrap measurement and reporting system” that could be found was in the Quality Control Lab. It was not directly used within Manufacturing at all. The Quality Manager was the only one who had historical data on scrap and he didn’t tell Manufacturing; he had started collecting the data for his own interests.

Out-going Inspection of Finished Goods – The only observed inspection of finished goods was related to the color and type of thread being packaged; more detailed inspection had been ceased six months earlier due to staffing considerations.

A random sampling plan was needed until they could implement Statistical Process Control on a plant-wide basis. While existing staff might not initially be able to provide a high degree of confidence in the results, they would at least begin to establish a base from which they could build.

Customer Complaint and Resolution System

 A reasonably good start had been made in the development and implementation of a system for analyzing and resolving customer complaints. The only weak points were in the areas of follow-up and resolution. The follow-up was somewhat tied to the resolution. The resolution, regrettably, was tied to the lack of data within a total quality system.

Project Results

 The study concluded that the client needed extensive work and, due to a lack of trained and available staff, extensive assistance in creating the necessary culture and systems to be competitive in their markets within the foreseeable future. An implementation schedule was prepared and presented for the cultural change and for the development and implementation of a total quality system. Without outside help, these processes were projected to require four to twenty hours each week for over three years of each individual on the payroll who possessed the appropriate training and experience. With three full-time consultants, this could be accomplished in nine to ten months.


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