Circuit Chronicles: Effective Spokes in the Wheel of QMS

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What is a quality management system? Over the years I’ve had it explained to me and exposed to many different definitions and forms of what a QMS is. By the way it wasn’t always called a quality management system, and not many of those seemed to stick. Different titles for different “quality” books for us to all read. To me, it just seemed like the industry was always looking for a different way to define it.

I’ve heard it define a certain way, but I didn’t buy into that definition until 10 years ago or so. At my company, our QMS is defined as, “The way we run the business.” Plain and simple. The QMS is woven into every part of our business, engineering, production, quality, purchasing and delivery system that we have. In my opinion, it’s the only way a small PCB shop can stay in business. Please note that “quality” is only a part of the QMS. The wheel of QMS requires many spokes to be truly effective.

So, let’s dig into this. The decision to implement a QMS is a top-down decision. Upper management, in our case and most small shops, the owner/president decides that this is the course of action that is going to be taken. They also need to understand and have buy-in as to why the company should do this. It shouldn’t be used as a sales tool or a merit badge exercise. It should be used because that’s the way I want to run my business. Communicate that decision effectively to the entire company. Get the GM, operations manager and QA manager together to form an implementation team. Then, become the advisor. Be a participant, but in my opinion, not a direct part of the team. Too much influence or too little will have the same effect: failure. But that’s okay, because failure is already written into the equation of any successful anything, right? If you don’t fail from time to time, you’re not trying hard enough to change.

Our initial team was put together during our first attempt at qualification to MIL-PRF-31032. During the research, we came across the functioning team called the technical review board (TRB). Even though we didn’t finish the qualification at that time, the name stuck and became our monthly management review meetings. We added several people from different areas in the shop to the team as we progressed. They included CAM, process engineering, supervisors, and our quality management system administrator. Heck, we even have our sales manager sit in with us. Like our president, sales is a participant in the meeting, not an actual member of the TRB. So, we have the team together and since it is a management review, what are we to review?

Several years ago, we had a TRB, but it just wasn’t as effective as we thought it should be. We realized we needed to change, so we did. We followed the Aerospace Standard AS9100 RevD as a straw man. Each section of the Standard Quality Objectives was established. To set the specific section’s quality objective, we utilized the process of plan-do-check-act cycle along with risk-based thinking to establish the objective and how to measure it. We had input from individuals outside the company, but only suggestions.

Early on, we made the decision to build this organically from inside the shop. In my opinion, if you do the work, there’s more of a shot that you’ll have ownership. Keeping the TRB meeting as a management review is key, but it’s not always easy to do. Obviously, things come up that need discussion as they are causing an issue. But try not going down the rabbit hole. One suggestion is to have a TRB member establish a team to work the issue outside the TRB. That team and TRB member are accountable to the TRB.

We have 12 quality objectives that the business is run by, plus our quality policy. For instance, one of our objectives is to have 12 TRB meetings a year. This sounds like an easy one; maybe or maybe not. However, we are accountable and have the entire TRB team together for a management review at least 12 times a year. Along with the quality objectives, we are also MIL-PRF-31032 qualified; there must be a military component that is also established and reviewed.

In our own shop we are passionate about are quality management system. It has literally changed and improved the way we do business. I am sold on the idea that a good QMS systems is the way to go, and I sincerely believe it, having lived through the entire process. Remembering where we once were, and where we are today, the QMS is what has made the difference. Today in these very challenging times, companies who have and adhere to good quality management systems will be more successful today, and in the days to come.

Always remember, like any system, “It works if you work it, it won’t if you don’t; it’s up to you."

Kim O’Neil is general manager at Prototron Circuits. 



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