Contamination, Perception and The Story of the Dirty Rug

Posted by on Dec 3, 2015 in Continuous Improvement, Customer Satisfaction, Process Improvement, Product Quality | 1 comment

Slide1Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a relay manufacturer in China.  They wanted help implementing lean in their stamping operation, reducing changeover times and help resolving some long standing quality issues.  During my initial visit, they told me that one of their biggest problems was product contamination due to dirt, dust, human skin, fibers, etc.  As they took me on a tour of the facility, I was impressed with some of their practices to prevent contamination.  Everyone wore smocks, hats, and booties on their shoes and had to go through a “clean chamber” to enter the relay assembly area.

The plant was a multi-floor building with metal stamping on the first floor, coil winding on the second and assembly on the third.  As we stepped off the elevator on the third floor, to my surprise I noticed a terribly filthy rug on the floor.  I asked them what was the purpose of the rug and if contamination is one of their biggest quality concerns, how could they allow such a thing to exist!  I told them that if I were a customer, my perception would be “It’s no wonder you have a contamination problem” and promptly start looking for another supplier.

Without trying to sound like a broken record, this sort of thing happens all the time.  People for the most part fail to connect the dots and don’t realize that the dirty rug could potentially be causing part of the problem.  It certainly doesn’t help change the customer’s perception that there’s a problem and and that they, the supplier, fail to pay attention to detail.  Additionally, you can imagine what employees think every day when they came to work and wonder “Does cleanliness really matter?”

As I observed the process I noticed several other things.  Before each break, employees were given five minutes to wipe down their tables and equipment using alcohol and a rag.  Wondering how effective this process was, I gave it a simple white glove test using a clean rag.  My escorts were amazed at how dirty the rag was after wiping only a small portion of an assembly table top.  After break was over, I noticed certain employees putting on rubber finger gloves.  The problem was they were taking the gloves out of the box and putting them on using their hands, which was another source of contamination.

The question becomes how do you prevent these kinds of things from happening?  What system can you implement that will alert you to these issues.  The best way I know of is to conduct a process audit on at least a weekly, if not daily, basis.  The information you gain from the audits can guide you in your continuous improvement efforts.  It’s the constant monitoring of processes and making sure employees are following their written work instructions and procedures that will prevent these kinds of problems from occurring in the future.


One Response to “Contamination, Perception and The Story of the Dirty Rug”

  1. Jess Cotten says:

    Nice call outs. I would like to know if you have some time to talk. I am a fellow lean journey consultant.

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