Thursday, October 10, 2013


Those of us involved in US manufacturing know the implications of being registered to a quality system like ISO or TS16949. You establish a system, monitor it for effectiveness then prepare to defend it when a third party registrar comes around to conduct a surveillance audit.

Preparation usually involves making sure you are meeting your metric goals, issuing corrective actions when necessary and a number of other housekeeping items the auditor may choose to check.

One of the more mundane items that usually finds its way to the bottom of the preparation list is keeping work instructions current. These tend to get written once, then put aside, rarely looked at again. After all, the employee (machine operator, inspector, shipping clerk, etc.) knows how to perform a task and does not need to refer to an instruction to complete it.

But the day usually comes when that same employee is asked to deviate from the instruction. For example, a new finish may be substituted for a certain product. Or, a process may have to be changed slightly to accommodate a unique customer requirement. The employee can keep it all straight in his or her head. No need to take valuable production time to revise a piece of paper.  

But what happens if that employee is sick, on vacation or away from the plant responding to an emergency? A substitute steps in and follows the outdated instruction.

In the past this might have amounted to a “So what?” The person leaves out a step causing the product to be made slightly different than ordered. It’s a little mistake.

But the fact is these mistakes can mushroom into costly errors. What if it affects thousands of pounds of raw material ordered incorrectly? Or, the production of 100,000 assemblies that now have to be returned and reworked? The costs can be astronomical eating into profits and tarnishing your relationship with a customer.

So do yourself a favor: after reading this, have all of your employees (production and office) read their work instructions. Are they still doing things as written? Or, have subtle changes crept in over time? If so, now is the time to change them to reflect what actually takes place.

It’s time to take work instructions seriously before an error starts burning into your profits.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. 

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