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Quality & Constant Improvement

Posted on October 26, 2018 - Ewen Dobbie

In the steel detailing profession, detailers face many obstacles in producing a perfect product; material that is difficult to work with; poor design drawings; slow and confusing communications; technical issues that slow production, and other obstacles that are often beyond their control. At Dowco, we view each obstacle as an opportunity to learn and grow our collective capabilities so that we can positively influence future projects, leading to customer satisfaction and repeat business. Win, win.

Educated fabricators understand the positive effect a quality detailer can have on their bottom line. When a quality detailer is found, long-term relationships are likely cultivated. To the experienced fabricator, price has no meaning without a healthy measure of quality; they don’t leave the quality of their product and reputation to the forces of price alone.

Dowco has served the steel construction industry for nearly 50 years, yet we are still committed to consistent improvement in our detailing and preconstruction services. Inherent in our cultural DNA is the belief that change is inevitable and innovation constant, but quality can never be compromised.

Experienced fabricators understand that the cost to correct defective work can be significant. Far too often we hear stories of customers electing to go with the lowest cost offshore based steel detailing provider, only to end up with rework costs greatly exceeding the original detailing contract value. Not to mention the schedule impacts that affect their shop and field production costs.

The challenge today is understanding the relationship between ‘Price for Services’ and ‘costs of delivering those services at a quality high enough for successful fabrication and project execution’.

“Quality can’t be inspected into a product or service; it must be built into it.” - H. F. Dodge

Inspecting (or checking) work to catch mistakes before the product reaches our customer is a small part of the solution. At the inspection stage – it is too late. This is why every stage of the Dowco Production Process is focused on creating high quality drawings the first time. We understand that minimizing rework is vital to the success of every project. Re-work within our operation impacts productivity and jeopardizes schedule for the customer. Our employees understand the impact low quality can have on all project stakeholders.

At Dowco, the goal of inspection is to gather data on areas of weakness, and make them strengths, thus improving productivity through continuous improvement, on all our projects. Those responsible for quality tag and categorize errors, and then develop focused training sessions to eliminate recurrence. For any given project, Dowco typically has one checker and one QC for every five detailers. On average, Dowco invests 25% of the project budget to inspection, yet still recognize there must be training and education beyond that, closing the feedback loop to minimize future errors.

So what can be achieved when we increase quality before inspection?

We increase productivity, which increases capacity. This in turn, lowers the cost of production as we do more with less (lower cost of inspection ratio). Time typically spent on re-work will shift to more work, so profit increases. Customers are satisfied as they receive error free product, which reduces their re-work, maintains schedule, and expected ideal levels of fabrication. The real cost to achieve this is little, but the pay back is significant. Win, win.

Our collective objective must be to do things right the first time, this is achieved through self-study and best-in-business processes and technologies. Quality comes not from inspection, but from improvement in the production process and the commitment and culture of the team.

The proliferation of foreign detailing companies into the North American market has driven rates for steel detailing services to half the rate it was five years ago. The price threshold for detailing services has naturally been declining as offshore detailing companies race to compete on price.

For some resident North American detailers, increasing costs to keep service deliverables within customer’s quality expectations has the potential to put them out of business. At Dowco, we believe we have made the operational and technological changes to address the ever-changing market dynamics.

Lately it seems the market has been flooded with providers offering a service focused on two out of three things: Good, Fast, or Cheap. Perhaps there is another way ...

Dowco Group - Ewen Dobbie

President, CEO of Dowco Group of Companies