Apr 12 2017

Reflections From Passing a Tough Quality Audit


ETM Manufacturing Capacity

Last week one of our laser equipment customers came in to audit our quality system and we passed with flying colors. Every audit, and this one was one of the more rigorous we’ve had in many years, it a great external test for ETM Manufacturing.  We actually look forward to quality audits because it is a rare chance to learn from auditors – they see so many different shops than we do.  In this case, the auditor was doing a 4 shop tour in 2 days.  Their first stop was a disaster, so we really wanted to impress them.  And we did!

As a custom sheet metal fabricator, it is awfully hard to compete with contract manufacturers on quality assessments. Our process makes metal dust that gets everywhere so we never show as well, despite cleaning daily.  We have also set up our custom sheet metal shop with flexible lines so we can accommodate prototypes and production on the same line.  Contract manufacturers separate their lines (and their quality processes) which makes them a lot easier to audit.  Given all this, getting such a great score from our customer was a big win!

There are also some areas we saw that could be improved for our next audit. First, we want to talk more about our customer service and support functions.  While the auditor did not spend much time here, we have made tremendous progress both on job tracking and status reporting for our customers.  Twice a week we are updated our sheet metal customers on the progress of their jobs – more frequently if there is an issue we are working to resolve.  We have also put a lot of effort into tracking information issues (incorrect material call-outs, wrong PEM quantities, etc.) and resolving them before they hit the floor so there are less interruptions on the floor.

If there was one thing I wish we had more time to work on, it would be helping to improve the quality of our suppliers. Most OEMs move to other suppliers if there are one or two quality issues, but that is more difficult for a custom sheet metal supplier.  We have only 2 suppliers that can do deep image anodizing for our custom surgical trays.  We have only 2 suppliers that can do small lot size wire forming for our Aerospace customers.  And believe it or not, there is only one eCoater left in the area that can do the high volume we need for our industrial lighting customer.

Fast turn-around, high mix, low volume custom sheet metal fabrication is tricky and we have found that we are only as good as our suppliers. Over time we have invested countless hours and spent lots of money to help them be more successful for us.  As a result, we now can provide that as a competitive advantage to our New England based sheet metal customers.  We just want faster, better, cheaper just like our customers and the key is more time.

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