A BASIC QUALITY PLAN FOR WELDED TUBE MANUFACTURERS
By Robert K. Nichols, P.E.
Thermatool Corp.

FORMALIZED QUALITY PROGRAM

Most tube manufacturers who don’t produce product for the automotive, petrochemical, aerospace, or nuclear industry will probably take issue with any blanket statement regarding the universal need for formal quality programs. However, the proliferation of ISO 9000 registrants should be a wake up call. But why would anyone VOLUNTEER to formalize a QA program???

The basic nature of business forces the manufacturer to at least meet his competitors quality if he intends to stay in business, and exceed his competition if he expects to be a leader. One look at government statistics show that the tube industry is operating at less than full capacity and the excess capacity is looking for markets. High quality producers looking for new markets to unload excess product can cut a wide swath though your future if you are not prepared to meet their quality standards. With the rising importance of the Pacific Rim countries, no market is immune to import penetration.

So what does a formal quality program do for you?First, it is a wonderful sales tool. New or potential customers want to minimize the risk of doing business with new suppliers and a formal QA program is a great advantage. A functioning QA program should reduce the cost to produce tube by reducing the amount of non-conforming or scrap product. With lower costs, you are simply more competitive.

Second, your liability and exposure to risk is reduced because producing fewer defective products means fewer defects are shipped to customers. Fewer defects going to customers means fewer claims and lower costs.

ORGANIZATIONAL PHILOSOPHY

Quality starts at the top. The executive management must take an active, high profile involvement in the QA program if proper emphasis is to be given to quality production. If you want a quality program to “whitewash” sloppy production practice, don’t bother. Most industrial users today are sophisticated enough to see through the window dressing. Your commitment must be real if any benefit is to be gained.
Most producers have someone already functioning as a QA leader. This may not need to be a full time job; the QA person may also be an engineer or a clerk. Whoever is should be independent of the manufacturing department if they are to employ objective decision making. Remember, Production controls Production Quality and Quality Assurance controls Methods. And everyone must be held accountable for the quality of
their work!

THE BASIC QUALITY PROGRAMWhat follows is admittedly an abbreviated program that many QA managers will find totally inadequate for some products. However, we are talking about the basic needs of a commercial tube producer who sells to service centers, other small manufacturers and the like. It is a first step in establishing a formal quality program and it is designed to be simple and easy to administer. It will not replace API Q1 or NQA-2-1983 for example.

The following outline can be used for a basic quality program and permission to use any
or all of it is hereby granted by the author.

A. Quality Policy Manual
۱) The quality program shall be described in a Policy Manual (Fig. 1)
۲) The exact methods, procedures, specifications, etc., shall be listed in the Procedures Manual (Fig 2)
۳) A method of control shall be established to ensure only approved documents are issued to each book.

Topics A through K are the quality program topics to be described in your policy manual. This policy manual is a description of what you do, not how you do it. The Policy Manual is what is usually issued to customers who require documentation of your quality program.

Keep policy statements simple and focused, describing the features of the program but excluding details of methods, procedures, test points, etc. The Procedures Manual will contain the actual details of how you do things. Procedures should be as simple as the process will allow. Keep words and sentences simple. Remember who is responsible for reading, understanding and implementing the procedures. Number each book and keep a log book of where each book is and who it is issued to.

B. Organization
۱) The quality and production structure and relationship shall be documented on an organization chart. Responsibility and authority shall be clearly defined for personnel. Everyone needs to know where their job fits into the manufacturing plan and who has the authority to make decisions. (Fig. 3)
C. Qualification of Personnel
۱) Production and Quality personnel shall be trained in the proper methods and techniques to produce and evaluate the product.
۲) Qualifications for each job shall be established and training records for each individual maintained. (Fig. 4)

Establishing job qualifications and training procedures will help prevent using untrained and unqualified individuals as temporary fill-ins during vacations, sick outs, etc. It will also insure that everyone uses the same methods to produce and inspect the product.

D. Procurement Control
۱) Written specifications shall be established for any purchased product or material which influences the quality of the final product. (Fig. 5)
۲) Qualified vendors shall be listed and audited for compliance to the specifications.Written specifications for steel strip, paints, pipe coatings, rust preventives, thread dope, couplings, etc., should be prepared and included with each purchase order. The purchasing department should buy only from qualified vendors and the vendors should be audited for their products inspected for conformance to the specifications.E. Material / Product Identification Control
۱) A process to control the identification of raw materials shall be established.
۲) A process to control the identification of prime product shall be established.
۳) A process to identify and segregate non-conforming product shall be established.It is critical that the heat numbers of the coils be maintained throughout the manufacturing process. This not only provides a basis for lot control but allows the manufacturer to locate and segregate any non-conforming material which is discovered after the product has been shipped.

F. Manufacturing Process Control
۱) A flow chart of the manufacturing process for each product shall be prepared. Each step of the process shall be identified on the flow chart along with all specified tests and inspections. (Fig. 6).
۲) A preventive maintenance program shall be established for all equipment which influences the quality of the product.
۳) Where appropriate, setup sheets shall be created to verify that the equipment has been setup and adjusted to produce a product to specific requirements. (Fig 7).

The flow chart lets everyone see how the product is to be manufactured and where tests must be performed. The setup sheet insures that the same product is produced time and time again without a lot of experimenting to get the mill adjusted. Preventive maintenance is essential to keeping the mill and other key pieces of equipment in condition which will maintain dimensional tolerances and minimize welding problems.

G. Inspection and Testing Control
۱) A list of all tests and inspections for the entire manufacturing process shall be created for each product size, grade and type.
۲) The check list will include the station name, test type, procedure number, test frequency, and accept/reject criteria. (Fig. 8).
۳) Each inspection and test procedure shall be documented and include methodology, equipment used, test location, personnel qualifications, and reject procedure. (Fig. 9).

This is a key document as it will summarize all of the tests to be performed, where the test is performed, by what procedure, at what frequency, and to what specifications and tolerances.

H. Measurement and Testing Equipment Control
۱) Every piece of equipment used to measure or test for purposes of final approval of the product shall be part of a documented calibration control system. (Fig. 10).

This simply involves keeping all gages, measuring devices, etc., in proper calibration and checking the calibration periodically against known standards. There are many
excellent computer based systems which can greatly simplify the task. The value of this process should be obvious: why bother to measure, test or inspect your product
with an instrument which is not capable to telling you the truth?

I. Handling and Storage
۱) Written procedures for minimizing damage from handling and storage must be created. (Fig. 11).

It does not make sense to produce a quality product and then ruin it by sloppy handling or unprotected storage. The procedures should include stacking heights, lumber spacing, strapping size and location, maximum lift weights, use of rust inhibitors, etc.

J. Corrective Action
۱) The quality program shall define a method to identify and correct recurring problems.

Keeping track of the type and number of various common problems and graphing them on a bar chart is called a Pareto Analysis and it’s a great way to focus on correcting your biggest problems first. (Fig. 12). Whether it is a procedural problem or material problem makes no difference: first you must establish the relative importance of the problem and then analyze it. The solution should go to the root of the problem, and not just put a Band-Aid on it. Remember that quality is a process of continuous improvement.

K. Quality Records
۱) All quality records must be tied to the product via a unique number.
۲) All quality records must be legible, recorded on paper or electronic media and stored in a manner which prevents deterioration and allows ready retrieval.

Product should be identified with a lot number, or heat number of job number. This number can be printed on the product or on a tag affixed to the product bundles. It is highly recommended that the manufacturer permanently mark the product with his unique identification and product number. Any customer claims must reference this number. Should the unthinkable happen and you end up in court, product traceability demonstrating documented production and inspection procedures may be your best witness. Quality records can be used to demonstrate that you took reasonable and prudent steps to prevent defective material from reaching the customer. Without the records, your motives are less clearly discerned.

Forms for recording the results of all specified tests should be created and a supply of them placed at the appropriate stations. The forms should include the date, shift, persons name, the product, size, grade, specification, and job number. Heat or coil numbers should be referenced with the specific test results. All forms should be turned in to the Quality Assurance person at the end of each shift for analysis and filing. All quality data should be filed together for each run. Neat and well organized quality records convey the degree of effort and the importance a company places on product quality.

CONCLUSION

The foregoing is intended to give a blueprint of a simple Quality Program which can be expanded upon and customized by the individual tube producer. It should be considered a starting point, not the end point. Producers who do not now employ a formal quality program would be wise to contact a quality consultant to assist in creating a program to meet the requirements of a recognized industry specification such as ISO 9000.

The benefits of a functioning quality program should be immediately realized by the reduction in scrap, claims, and costs. If you do not see any improvement in these areas after initiating a quality program, the program may be nothing but a paper mill in need of a more serious commitment. Remember, Quality is Free! It’s the Non- Conforming Product which will always cost you more money!

The following figures are examples of many of the documents referred to in the text. They are included to give you guidance on the form and substance of your own documentation. Actual procedures, specifications, tolerances, etc., for your own products must be established and documented. The information contained in these figures is for demonstration purposes only.

A BASIC QUALITY PLAN
FOR WELDED TUBE MANUFACTURERS

BY
ROBERT K. NICHOLS, PE
THERMATOOL CORP.

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