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TechTalk with Mel

Think FATT

At a time when the emphasis is on being thin, why would I want you to Think FATT?  Well, it has to do with making quality concrete products.  I recently coined this expression while assisting concrete pipe and precast plants to obtain plant certifications.

As you may know, the NPCA, ACPA and PCI have all developed plant certification programs in an effort to improve product quality in their respective industries.  With any of the programs, two key aspects are documentation/record keeping - in other words, a good filing system (the F in FATT) - and a “buy-in” attitude (the ATT in FATT) on the part of all employees.

Documentation requires maintaining clear, up-to-date records of raw materials, concrete mix designs, compressive strengths, steel designs, testing procedures, repairs, final inspection, etc.  Also required is documentation of written instructions to ensure that your people have been properly instructed, and that they understand what is required of them.  Someone needs to be designated as a QC coordinator to implement procedures, follow up to make sure that all of the files are current, and that the procedures are being adhered to.

To some this may seem like a lot of useless effort, but it is the first, significant step to consistent production of uniform quality products.

But no QC program can be effective without the support of all of your employees – attitude is a key factor in the program’s success.  My experience is that the employee’s first reaction to the introduction of such a program is one of fear.  They are afraid someone will determine that they have been doing things incorrectly.  In many plants, the employee has been trained by the person who he/she is replacing, who was trained by the guy/lady he/she replaced – you get the picture.

All too frequently, something gets lost in all of that transferring of knowledge and the current individual doesn’t perform his/her function properly.  The improper use of pencil vibrators is a common example of this problem.

I initiate the attitude process by bringing the employees together to explain the importance of improving product quality to ensure the company’s position in the market, which protects their jobs.  It is important to let them know that there is no “witch hunt” going on.  All you want to do is help them to perform their tasks in a manner that enables them to make a better product.  In many cases, their jobs will become easier.  Most employees want to do their job well, and you’ll find that they welcome your assistance in helping them to do it better.

In even the best of plants, things tend to “slip off the rails”, on occasion.  In my opinion, going through the exercise of preparing for plant certification is very worthwhile, even if you never apply to become certified.  I know that you will be surprised by what you discover.  Some of the things I have found, even in a “hands on” operation, are:

* the mixer operator has altered mix designs, because of strength problems he/she has encountered, but hasn’t notified the person responsible for preparing the mix designs.
* the steel isn’t positioned properly, because incorrect spacers/chairs are being used.
* storage and handling procedures damage finished product.

This is just a small sampling of problems I have uncovered, even though the “hands on” supervisor assured me they were ready to pass a certification inspection.  Streamlined documentation, including useful production records, can be a good assist in keeping you “on track”.  When your employees realize that you are serious about this quality thing, their attitudes will improve, and you may be surprised at how supportive they will become.

I am absolutely convinced that, if you Think FATT, you will fatten your profits!

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