Quality Assurance is at the heart of everything we do here at Special Piping Materials. Quality of our products, quality of our service and quality in our people. It will come as no surprise to our clients that we take our quality assurance processes very seriously indeed.
According to the Dictionary, Quality Assurance can be defined as ‘the maintenance of a desired level of quality in a service or product, especially by means of attention to every stage of the process of delivery or production.’ This is very representative of how Special Piping Materials manages its own levels of quality.
All the offices around the world (with the exception of Dubai and Brazil) currently hold ISO9001 and our headquarters here in Manchester is working on our ISO 45001 status.
This month we spoke to Beryl Richmond, Special Piping Materials’ Quality Assurance Manager, about how we ensure best practice at all of our sites across the world and why quality assurance is so important.
How would you define quality assurance?
Quality Assurance is about trying to give the best possible service to our customers while ensuring our staff are safe and our processes are consistent. To ensure that, you have to be continually asking yourself ‘what is good service’ and ‘what is best practice. Only by working on the answers to these questions every day will you achieve true quality and reliability.
You have to ensure that quality assurance surrounds your business model and is part of every process that is implemented.
Why is it such a priority for Special Piping Materials?
Quality assurance is something that is important to every staff member here at Special Piping Materials and that is because everyone knows that it is the cornerstone of the service that we provide.
Everyone actively takes ownership and responsibility for the quality of the products and services that we provide I can honestly say that people genuinely care about it.
Here in the Head Office our HSE Committee is made up of managers from all departments in the business and we meet on a quarterly basis to discuss required changes and implement new policies and procedures.
How do you manage the Quality Assurance process?
There are several things that we do to measure the quality assurance processes currently.
We have a very rigid set of procedures and policies in place to ensure that mistakes aren’t made, and everything is done with the customer in mind. On a basic level we try to make sure that the product is right, it’s in good condition, is properly inspected, is packaged well and is delivered on time.
One of the most important things that we do is to measure ourselves through customer feedback. We try to gather feedback on every job that we complete so that we can keep an accurate measure of our customer satisfaction levels. If any challenges have arisen, then we ensure that we work through them systematically and we are always looking to improve.
The ISO Accreditations are not just badges on a wall – we take them very seriously and you have to work on it every day to ensure that standards don’t slip. All our staff are properly trained so they know what is expected of them and how their actions really do make a difference. I firmly believe that employee engagement plays a really important part of quality assurance.
I’ve been with Special Piping Materials for nearly 10 years and have spent that time thoroughly and meticulously examining every procedure and system. Every policy has been updated and all staff trained. It is not something that you can ever ‘stop doing’ though as it has to be a flexible system that you can update, improve and develop on a daily basis.
How do you ensure quality across all the global sites?
Having such a vast global network of offices is certainly a challenge. Every office has its own priorities and concerns, so I have to ensure that I understand all of these so that the policies and procedures are relevant and appropriate. At the end of the day though, we all have a common goal that is customer satisfaction.
Although some of the details are slightly different, all the companies essentially adhere to the same set of rules and regulations. My job has been to provide a well-designed, streamlined and robust framework that all of the companies work within.
I regularly liaise with all the regional General Managers and Managing Directors and each office has a dedicated quality assurance person. What helps is that all of the global senior management team take quality assurance very seriously and therefore ensure that their teams feel the same way.
All procedures are carefully documented and are accessible through some online software to ensure that everyone can access them no matter where they are in the world.
How do you maintain the standard?
Obviously, it’s not just about reaching a certain standard, but maintaining it as well.
These days, our clients are requesting an increasing amount of detail in regard to our policies and procedure which means it is even more important to ensure that our systems are up to scratch. They don’t just want to see our certificates but they, quite rightly, want to know in-depth information about our policies.
We are audited three times a year by the British Standards Institution (BSI) to ensure our compliance and our customers themselves can audit us at any time they wish. We often get audited by clients prior to being placed on their approved supplier lists. This is obviously extremely important to develop trust and confidence in our service.
An important factor in maintaining a standard is to be flexible with your policies. What’s right one week may need to be updated the week after if a new factor comes to light, which means we are always looking to update and improve our processes.
We habitually conduct risk assessments, internal audits and train all staff on a regular basis – all of which are important assignments if we are to improve and grow.
How do you ensure quality throughout the Special Piping Materials supply chain?
We ask all our suppliers to have ISO9001 certification and we ensure that they have robust systems in place to protect themselves and us from any potential challenges that may arise.
All our highly specialised materials carry their own documentation and have to undergo certain inspections and even tests to ensure compliance.
Have you always worked in Quality Assurance?
I have worked in Quality Assurance since 1990 – I can believe it’s been nearly 30 years! I’ve always enjoyed the industry as I like how specific it is and how proud you feel when you know you are meeting best practise standards.
I have worked with SPM for nearly a decade and have spent countless hours working on all our systems and policies to ensure they are organised, well thought-out and synced across our global network of offices.
Over the nearly 30 years I have work in quality assurance, I have found that the most important factor is that it has to cascade down through every part of the business otherwise it simply doesn’t stand the test of time. It’s safe to say that it really does meet that criteria here at Special Piping Materials and everyone, from shop-floor to top-tier management, is invested and committed to getting it right.
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