Cheryl: Today, I’m happy to be speaking with my colleague Ahraz. His technical training began as a designer, which led him to graduating with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering. Currently, he is working towards his MBA at the Beedie School of Business. Ahraz has worked with Sepro Mixing & Pumping for close to three years, where he closely works with the engineering and operations team overseeing projects from the design phase to assembly and testing phases. Amongst his long list of responsibilities is the area of Quality Control Processes. Thanks for speaking with me today Ahraz.

Ahraz: Thanks for having me.

Cheryl: And congratulations on doing your MBA. That’s a bit of a sought-after treasure in our industry – having the technical know-how of an engineer and then the business acumen of an MBA business degree. So congrats, and I hear that’s really easy to do while you’re working full-time as well ???? !

Ahraz: Yeah, it’s not bad.

Cheryl: Well, thank you for talking with me today to learn about your role at Sepro Mixing & Pumping, with a special focus on their Quality Control Processes. And as a member – we have two teams here at Sepro, you’re a part of the Sepro Lean Manufacturing Team and also the Quality Control Committee. So I’m certain you’ll have lots to share, so thank you for joining me today! I thought maybe you could just run through the Sepro Mixing & Pumping Quality Control process starting off from the beginning where a typical customer will give us a sale, and then we take the sales order – initial sales order – to the final manufactured item and that process.

Ahraz: Okay, well when we get a sales order in, our salespeople finalize the details of either the pump or the agitator that we’re going to be supplying for the customer. Once that’s finalized, I get the information from them and we generate a build sheet and an ITP together. An ITP is an inspection test plan. From there, the build sheet and ITP is passed off to different departments, such as engineering, so we can produce the manufacturing drawings, and to the shop for production, so we can start coordinating how we can inspect the parts that come in, how we can start assembling them, how to test them, and then how to package them and get them ready for our customer. 

The ITPs are pretty much like a step-by-step process that we all follow that helps us make sure everything’s ticked off and we don’t miss any boxes. It helps to optimize our workflow. So that’s from the start to the end. And then when it gets here, we test and assemble and ship out to our customers.

Cheryl: Okay, excellent. And then as a member of both the Sepro Lean Manufacturing team and the Sepro Quality Control Committee, how do these two groups function within our organization and how do they benefit the final product for your customers?

Ahraz: It’s been great having these two teams work together hand-in-hand. We’ve been able to optimize the steps in our workflow, starting on how drawings are produced in our engineering department to our manufacturing processes, which has helped us eliminate any waste, which also helps us keep our costs down and keep our lead times low to keep the quality up for our customers. Being able to optimize some of our products has been key and it really shows in our final products.

Cheryl: Okay. So, our industry is very time-obsessed. There’s so much importance put on deadlines and time commitments and delivery. If one ordered item is late on a project for a customer, things stop, halt, or there are irritating workarounds that customers have to deal with. And that’s not something that we want to ever inflict on our customers. Having this pressure on you, of making sure that items are ready for deadline, how does Sepro Mixing & Pumping walk that fine line of getting products out the door on time while also ensuring our quality standards are met, and ideally, even exceeded.

Ahraz: Okay, well, I’ll split my answer up into pumps and agitators. On the pumps side, we’ve come up with PHAC’s, which are ‘Pump Housings And Accessories’. These are pretty much all our pumps minus the hose and the gear motor in one package and when the order comes in we pull the package off the shelf with the gear motor that we ordered and put the pumps together for our customer. Having these pre-packaged has helped us to inspect all the parts in there, test-fit them, and make sure we have everything before an order even comes in so we know we can meet these deadlines. 

It’s helped us lower our delivery times so instead of 5 to 6 weeks, we can do 2 to 3 weeks. Because we have all the parts on our shelf, we know there’s no quality issues and everything fits together. Yeah, so that’s on the pump side that’s helped us out significantly lately, and the PHAC’s are in an inventory that we keep a healthy amount of on our shelves here and in Montreal, so we’re able to service East coast and West coast easily.

Cheryl: Actually, that’s a great point.

Ahraz: As for the agitators, I credit the relationships that we built with our vendors locally to keep our quality up and keep the lead times low. I’ve been able to jump in and inspect at the different phases. Whether it’s manufacturing locally or rubber lining here, we can go inspect, test-fit, all before it shows up to Sepro so we can eliminate any possible problems that might arise at the end of the process. We catch them in the middle or beginning phases which helps us not only with the timeline, but also brings the cost down and any headaches that we deal with here in the shop. 

We’ve also implemented a lean mentality to our agitators. On the smaller sizes, we’ve standardized our impeller sizes and we’ve been able to keep a healthy amount of inventory on our shelves. So when an order does come in for a small agitator, that’s only a 2-3 week lead time because we have everything on the shelf already. We just go pick it and wait for the gear motor to come in from our gear motor vendor and assembly it in the shop.

Cheryl: Okay, excellent. Then, moving on, can you explain to me some of the concepts behind Sepro’s Lean Manufacturing program, and specific training that you have done as an individual member of that team?

Ahraz: Yeah, first off I’d like to say that we’ve been pretty lucky to have a lean team here, especially a lean team that consists of individuals from the different departments in Sepro. It’s really helped us pinpoint any areas of improvement and continuous improvement within the company. The thinking-out-of-the-box mentality that we all have on the team has helped us become more efficient overall. Just to give you an example, in the past week we’ve initiated a kaizen to improve the quality inspections of our couplings – removable couplings for agitators as well as our pedestals. 

We’ve just got the ball rolling on this one so we’re not too deep into it yet. It’s about 2 to 3 weeks’ time to jump into the kaizen and come up with solutions. But stuff like that is what’s really helped us keep our quality up and the morale of everyone up and it just makes being at Sepro a fun environment to be in with great products that are being pushed out the door.

Cheryl: Great, and that’s the beauty of that whole lean manufacturing philosophy which, Sepro has one of its key characteristics is like continuous improvement. There’s always room for continuous improvement and it never stops and it never ends. And so that’s why we have basically two committees, one’s specifically dedicated to lean manufacturing and then the undergirding of quality control processes that are making sure each are basically accountable to each other. Just one quick thing I just wanted you to explain for people that are viewing that might not be familiar with lean manufacturing and some of the terms. You used the word ‘kaizen’: can you just give us a quick definition of that?

Ahraz: Yeah, so kaizen is, in simple terms, a study of a process, so we look from the beginning to the end of a process, break it down into steps, and try to come up with any possible areas that have room for improvement. We kind of ask our, what we call our Five Why’s, so why five times to get to the root cause of the problem. And then we come up with the possible solutions that we can implement to it to fix these issues that we have, or, not even issues, [but] steps that can be done a little bit better just to give us that better product at the end of the day, or that better process at the end of the day.

Cheryl: So, thank you so much for meeting with me today Ahraz, I really appreciate you taking some time to explain Sepro Mixing & Pumping’s quality control processes, and hopefully, we’ll be able to talk to you again soon.

Ahraz: Thanks for having me, it was a pleasure chatting.

Cheryl: Okay, take care. Thank you!

Ahraz: Thanks!

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