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Amy Williams


The Power of C.P.R.

Battling—and redefining—nonconformities

Published: Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 08:51

My first exposure to manufacturing was nearly 21 years ago. My on-the-job training was brief and mainly consisted of general safety, machine operating, and maintenance instructions with little focus on problematics or quality requirements. After all, I wasn’t forming sheet metal for an airplane; I was sewing a feed sack. Nearly a decade later I realized sewing feed sacks on a production line was the beginning of my career path and commitment to quality.

Quality isn’t subjective, and neither is its relevance measured by the product. Quality is the foundation of an organization.

Regardless of your industry, nonconformity is a reality, and we must all remain committed to managing the contributing factors.

When an organization neglects to properly analyze the root cause of nonconformity—becoming too accepting of responses indicating an uncontrollable factor—we have not only misused the process, but also potentially crippled our ability to effectively problem solve.

You can transform your industry’s habitual response to nonconformities with a systematic approach I refer to as C.P.R.: Identify and address specific cultural challenges facing your organization, outline the advantages of predictability, and how you can use innovation to redefine a nonconforming product.

Cultural challenge

Manufacturing can no longer afford to use “lack of experience” as an acceptable cause of nonconformity. Poor communication, whether it’s during training or in the way we relay work instructions or communicate requirements, not only creates a higher probability of nonconformity but also hinders our ability to learn from others.

Currently, a leading concern within manufacturing is the loss of tacit knowledge among our skilled employees. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 20 percent of our workforce that possesses this tacit knowledge is eligible for retirement within the next five years, and another 70 percent within 10 years. These are the employees who are assigned to projects where industry knowledge is imperative.

Providing opportunities for sharing tacit knowledge is imperative as employees collaborate to resolve issues and address concerns. We need to create a cohesive environment by establishing a continuous cycle of learning through successful communication.

A culture of poor communication is not only a threat to the loss of our industries’ knowledge but also creates silos that directly impact our ability to successfully perform. A leading cause of nonconforming product is specific customer requirements not being clearly understood or communicated throughout the organization.

When entering into a commitment for a new product where unique requirements may apply, use your internal resources to help guide you. Assigning skilled employees who are able to identify potential risks creates opportunities for success. Consider going a step further by integrating shared learning into process development throughout your organization. When employees understand how what they do is vital to the process in its entirety, it will create a sense of pride in their performance.


As individuals we have some level of appreciation for spontaneity, but within manufacturing, unscheduled interruptions or outcomes can be detrimental.

Each day there are endless possibilities for failures to occur. The more variables we add to a process, the more we increase the risk for nonconformity, decrease in output, and added increase in costs. But when an organization continuously demonstrates a consistent effort to establish predictability, the probability for nonconformity will be less.

The variables will change depending on the industry, but most variables commonly occur with the accumulation of raw materials, process performance and inspection, the availability of tools, and material handling.

Many organizations have taken advantage of knowledge learned from process predictability to implement improvements, including a kanban system. This reduces the amount of variables in a given process, which in turn reduces internal costs, lessens the amount of nonconformity, and provides an opportunity to gain competitive advantage. As an example of how kanban can reduce the number of variables, consider this example from my company, Alliance Rubber, the nation’s largest rubber band manufacturer.

When Alliance first introduced a kanban system, the goal was to decrease the amount of inventory accrued internally as well as externally. Using a visualization board, the team was able to identify the work within each of the processes. A bottleneck became clearly visible: Packaging wasn’t able to consistently support customer demand or delivery times. In short, we had excess work in process (WIP).

Excess WIP can be expensive and increases the probability for nonconformance. Using the kanban system, Alliance was able to limit WIP by only issuing WIP for current demand. This created an improvement in setup time, cycle time, and a reduction in excess inventory. We were able to use a kanban system with our suppliers because of consistent predictability and usage, and this lessened the amount of external excess inventory.

In kanban terms, you can think of this as controlled inventory of WIP.

Redefine nonconforming product

In order to minimize the impact of costs and loss of production, manufacturing is challenged to be skillfully innovative.

When products are nonconforming and unable to be used, manufacturers incur the loss of raw materials as well as the costs associated with direct and indirect labor. Finding ways to redefine the nonconforming pieces is vital, whether they are repurposed into an existing product line or become the basis for a new product line.

Appealing to a new target market can minimize the impact and at times even result in profit. 

Recently, our team was able to take waste products—rubber bands that didn’t meet specific requirements—and package them together. This new product—a collection of rubber bands of all different sizes and shapes—has become a great seller for us, and it all came from redefining our nonconforming products.

In your organization, identify processes or products where most losses occur, and use internal resources to consider a nontraditional approach to profit from them. Think beyond how your organization performs today, and consider the challenges of quality we might face tomorrow. Plan for the unexpected!

When the organization proactively addresses the issue of nonconformity, it is better prepared to succeed. Using this C.P.R method can transform problems into possibilities.


About The Author

Amy Williams’s picture

Amy Williams

Amy Williams is the quality management systems manager at Alliance Rubber Co. Williams studied at Collin College with an emphasis in communications and Western Governors University, pursuing a bachelor of science in marketing management. She has more than 15 years of quality experience within various organizations ranging from corporate auditor within the appraisal industry to project manager. Throughout her career in quality management, Williams has conducted internal and external program reviews, as well as managed contracts awarded within the aerospace industry. Most recently, she has established and implemented quality management systems throughout Alliance Rubber Co., which is now ISO 9001-certified.