Thermal Spray Quality Auditor

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Years ago, I was in my second year of working at my first thermal spray coatings job. Being trained in engineering from an education standpoint, thermal spray engineering was of greater interest to me than other aspects of the business. Of course engineering and manufacturing are closely related and so I used to spend quite a bit of time in the thermal spray booth itself. And I always believed that to become a good thermal spray engineer, you must yourself spray parts. Only then can you engineer jobs well enough for the thermal spray operator to coat successfully without bitching at the engineering department. And I am sure most of you have heard this before.

But then this post is not about thermal spray engineering or production, rather about quality. Well that is where I was leading up to. I was told that we are going to have our monthly quality audit from a major aerospace company. And I figured that there will be a lot of pressure on the part of everyone to make sure that we passed this test. On the contrary, no one really seemed to be wound up about the event. Everyone went about their daily business as usual and I wanted to see how the thermal spray quality audit would be conducted. I had been in only one other quality audit in my thermal spray career at that point in time and that was a nightmare with the auditor pouring over piles and piles of paperwork in the quality manager’s office and people were being constantly paged to get this data and the other. And I thought to myself, oh boy this aint going to be fun and what about the fact that this auditor has been coming in once a month and I was not even aware of it up until then.

Well the auditor did show up a little after lunch time. I was asked to go with him and I was scared because I did not know the thermal spray quality jargon and so did not know what to expect. And what happened then completely blew my mind away and decades later I am still talking about it here and elsewhere. The auditor came in, I greeted him with a friendly smile. He reciprocated and said “ So it is your turn to watch me now. Are you ready?” I said “ I think I am. I don’t know.”

He said “ Okay, where are my parts running?”

I said “ Booths four and seven.”

“Lets go then.”

We went to thermal spray booth number four and thence to seven.

In both booths, the auditor took the traveler and the operation sheet and first checked to see if all prior operations were signed off, counted the parts in the booth and matched them against the traveler. Then checked the parameter sheet and verified that the operator was running the booth to the exact parameters that were specified in the process sheet, including amps, volts, stand off distance and so on. Next, he asked to go to the met lab and asked for the booth release samples for booths four and seven. Then proceeded to ask for the specification. The met lab person handed him the aerospace specification for the coating systems at hand, he verified the metallurgical characteristics of the booth release sample in regards to oxides, porosity, etc and then went to the powder crib and verified that the powder lot that the operator was using indeed had been formally released for spray, then looked at me and said “Good day, I am out of here. You are good to go ” And he was happy, signed the audit sheet as “Acceptable. Passed.” And he left. The whole thing took a little over an hour.

When he returned the next month, I had become a little bit more comfortable around him and so I asked him as to how come his audits were so simple and to the point whereas the other auditors usually caused so much commotion and noise. To which he replied – “ I am very much interested in making sure that the coatings you put on my parts are of the best quality. I am interested in hardware and so I want to witness that the operator is using approved powders and that his booth release microstructure is acceptable and that he is coating within specified parameters and so on. I am not interested in the paperwork bullshit and your quality ‘system’ nonsense. Make sure you give me good parts and make sure I get good hardware. I have peoples’ lives in my hand. These parts you are coating for me go into commercial aircraft engines. I cannot afford to have them fail. So I want to witness the actual quality in the booth. And that does not need to take up too much time.”

And I learnt a great lesson from this wise old sage and engineer.

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1 comment:

Eric Dolby said...

Curious about who you are and where you work. E-mail me at