If you are the owner, MD, or CEO of a factory that is engaged in the manufacture of a product, the chances are you will have encountered many sub-standard practices. I recently visited a factory that manufactures ceramic tiles in one of the largest industrial areas of Pakistan. This factory had a total of 400 employees and manufactured sanitary products as well as tiles, and had been in business since 1970. The factory had a plan to embark on export business as well.

As a consultant in *ISO 9000 and **ISO 17025, I was invited to deliver a lecture on quality to the management and largely illiterate workers of the factory. My task was to carry out a gap analysis of their manufacturing facilities to establish the factual position on the ground.

While I was carrying out the gap analysis, I noticed that during the manufacturing process of the tiles, every third tile was dropping down from the belt that was carrying them to an oven to be baked at a certain temperature. The factory was thus incurring a loss of around 33 per cent. When I brought this to the notice of the production manager who was also an engineer, he said: Not to worry – we will put this wasted raw material to work again and re-manufacture the tiles out of it.‚

Manufacturing: step by step
I couldn’t understand the logic behind re-manufacturing the tiles. I asked the engineer whether he knew how many steps were involved in reaching the final stage of the manufacturing process of the tiles, i.e. baking the tiles in the oven. I informed him that to arrive at that stage the factory would have to go through around 14 steps (see Table 1 below). When 90 per cent of the job is over and the tiles are about to be ready, every third tile starts dropping from the conveyer belt and is wasted.

Table 1. The tile manufacturing process:

  • Identification of the raw material used in the manufacture of the tiles
  • Estimating the quantity of raw material required
  • Identification of the supply sources (local and abroad)
  • Approaching those sources
  • Selecting suppliers
  • Opening of letter of credit
  • Following complete tender procedure
  • Procurement of raw material in ships to Karachi portTransportation of the raw material to the factory by road, 1700 KM away
  • Checking the quality and quantity of the received raw material and storing the same
  • Going through the manufacturing process
  • Manufacture of tiles
  • Drying process
  • Placing the tiles on a belt, to be passed through an oven for baking purposes

After outlining all of the steps to the engineer he agreed to find out the root cause of the problem. By this time he was convinced that not even a single tile should have dropped from the belt as it involved wasting a huge amount of resources, not to mention effort, time and money.

He took less than half an hour, along with his staff, to come up with a solution – the belt had been loose. When it was tightened, the problem disappeared. The factory wasn’t ISO 9000 certified and its management and workforce was not aware of the basic requirements of this quality management standard. The pervasive practice was to keep sitting on a problem as and when it occurred no effort was made to find its root cause, which was a must for the rectification of the problem on a permanent basis. It was, therefore, essential that a corrective and preventive action be in place with proper documentation.

Getting down to processes
It was soon evident that there were no proper storage facilities in the factory. This meant that the manufactured tiles were lying in open enclosures, fully exposed to the effects of the weather. Also, the said enclosures were not labeled to indicate which material was required to be stored in which enclosure.

In addition to this, the procedures of the factory were not available in writing so the employees relied more on their memories rather than following the written procedures. This resulted in a lot of mistakes by the workers. This would be easily corrected by an internal audit system in place to pick up on when processes go awry.

Unfortunately, no internal quality audit had been undertaken by the factory for a long time which meant that, crucially, the management and the employees were unaware of their shortcomings. An internal audit programme is the lubricant that makes the whole quality system work in any organization.

A matter of safety
Besides procedural shortcomings, the factory was also suffering from a lack of health and safety awareness. Problems included:

  • fire-fighting equipment – although it was available, it was useless because the essential chemical ingredient had long since expired. Plus, no fire training had been imparted to the staff
  • there was no telephone available in the factory which was essential in case of any unforeseen circumstances
  • a small store containing inflammable material like POL, paints, etc was located just adjacent to the main factory building – it should have been at least 100 yards from the factory building

The whole production process was running on the whims of the production manager. He was not being allocated targets by the factory headquarters. Nothing was in writing, nobody knew as to how much was required to be produced, who was authorized to issue production orders for the day, what was actually required, had the required quantity been produced, etc. The factory desperately needed preparation according to the requirements of ISO 9001:2000.

Mind the gap
Once the gap analysis of the factory had been made, management was informed of all its shortcomings. In response to this, the company requested preparation for the requirements of ISO 9001, which occurred over a period of six months. The employees of the factory were motivated through a series of lectures on the ISO and its benefits. Through regular internal audits, the weak points of the factory were highlighted and corrective action taken. The factory was finally offered for final audit and was successful in the very first attempt.