Thermal Spray Operator Acceptance

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The thermal spray coatings industry is getting more and more competitive every day. To maintain and potentially increase profit margins, one needs to cut costs everywhere possible and cut down times every where possible in the thermal spray coatings operations in order to reduce delivery lead times. One area that can be addressed is the thermal spray inspection function. While this is important regardless of which industry your thermal spray coatings service, it is especially important for those companies that provide thermal spray coatings services to the aerospace industry. The quality requirements for aerospace thermal spray coatings is very stringent and any changes to be made to the quality control function must be reviewed very carefully so as not to jeopardize thermal spray product quality. In this post we will address thermal spray operator acceptance program as a means of cost savings.

There are some thermal spray companies that have several coating stations coating parts at a fairly good production rate; these plasma coating companies will have for example one in-process inspector that does in-process inspection covering four thermal spray booths. So if there are sixteen spray booths ( imagine them all in a row ) thermal spraying parts all day long ( music to the ears of the investor ), you end up with four in-process quality control inspectors each covering four booths. Prior to this step, there is usually an in-process inspector ( or several of them ) assigned to the masking department, that inspects proper masking per the coating process sheet requirements; because after all if the masking cut-off lines and such are not accurate then all of the subsequent operations will be incorrect. Then there is de-maksing and de-burring and you may have an in-process inspection function there. Subsequently, there might be grinding operations in-house ( for those companies that do thermal spray coat and grind all under one roof – that’s the way to increase revenues – see a previous post ), where there might be another in-process inspector. When all is said and done the parts finally go through final inspection and hopefully are acceptable to ship. All this is done with proper intentions, namely, stop putting more work into a part that has been rejected at some point and quarantine it from the normal work flow; additionally, flag the operator at the proper station, so more bad parts are not produced. However, you find an army of in-process inspectors that are really checking somebody else’s work. What if we transfer the burden of inspection and testing to the operator performing the actual work, so the complete responsibility falls on his ( or her ) shoulders — this is what is termed “Operator Acceptance”. Imagine the cost savings – no more armies of inspectors patrolling the thermal spray shop accepting and rejecting parts; imagine the time savings – sometimes an operator in one station will be waiting for release from an in-process inspector before he can proceed to the next part – and the inspector may be rightfully tied up addressing a part at a different station – this leads to lost time and therefore lost money.

While “Operator Acceptance” seems so logical and so practical a method to increase profits and speed up processing, certain key elements MUST be in place to prevent deterioration in the quality function; after all, if the quality function deteriorates, then all of the benefits obtained by implementing the program would be of no use since customers would go away elsewhere because your quality reputation would have gotten tarnished. In a subsequent post, we would go into further details in implementing an “Operator Acceptance” program for a thermal spray coatings company.

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