Nadcap: a fantastic blueprint on how to be a successful special processor

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Nadcap: a fantastic blueprint on how to be a successful special processor

10 April 2013

Name: Eric Jacklin
Company: F. M. Callahan & Son Inc.
Number of sites: One – we are a family business
Location: Malden, Massachusetts, USA
Number of staff: Approximately 75
Processes: Electroplating, chemical processing are the main activities
Industries served: We are 80-85% aerospace, with the rest being mostly medical and automotive


What is your current Nadcap status?

Well, that’s actually an interesting question. We are Nadcap accredited for chemical processing and could be on merit – we meet all the criteria – but I took the strategic decision not to accept merit status.

As you may know, having merit means that instead of being audited annually, the Nadcap auditor visits every 18 or even 24 months. I prefer to be audited every year for a couple of reasons: firstly, because it helps with planning – I know that the audit will happen around the same time every year; and secondly, because I believe that it’s better for the discipline of the company and the quality system to stay in an auditable condition.

Yes, that means that we are paying for an audit every year, but I believe that the audit cost is balanced by getting fewer NCR’s in the audits. The audit cost itself is small – it’s the hidden costs of identifying and fixing issues that can mount up, and those are, by definition, unforeseen (if you had foreseen them, you would have fixed them before the auditor arrived!) so this is another way in which I feel that keeping an annual Nadcap audit schedule helps with planning.

Plus, although we have a relatively stable workforce, people do come and go sometimes. The discipline established for Nadcap helps us to train new staff and keeps experienced staff on their toes so that no one gets complacent.

Why did your company decide to attain Nadcap accreditation in the first place?

We first decided to go for Nadcap in the early 90’s, maybe 1995. I was fairly new at the company – I had worked here while I was at college and joined permanently when I graduated in 1993.

There were a couple of drivers. One was that GE mandated us to get accredited but also, when we looked into Nadcap, we saw that it was a great opportunity to learn how to develop a better quality system. Nadcap provides a great blueprint for a successful quality system – it digs deeper into your specialty and focuses on what you do. It’s a much more intimate process than other systems, which don’t go into job audits.

What challenges have you faced in gaining and keeping Nadcap accreditation?

There are lots of challenges! To start with, you have to document what your people are doing, which means you need to have a good understanding of what they’re doing. Many people in the industry have been there for 30 years or more and have all the information they need in their heads. You need to be able to extract that information, which is not easy. Some people don’t know why they are doing it that way, some people do know, but struggle to explain the reason why they are doing what they are doing, some people just don’t want to share the information. There may also be language barriers, cultural barriers, educational barriers… You need to find a way to coax the information out of them.

Another early challenge was changing the culture of the company to be documentation oriented. It took a lot of meetings, staff training and explaining that if we don’t do this, we won’t be able to keep servicing the industries that we currently service.

Even now, having been in Nadcap for nearly twenty years, there are still challenges. Specifications change regularly and you have to be able to keep up. These are very detailed documents and you have to have a system to alert you that they have changed, and then be able to digest and extract the information that is relevant to your operators and implement that in your documentation and practices. Keeping up with testing is the same.

Like I said before, we have a fairly stable workforce but personnel changes can also present a challenge.  However, Nadcap has meant that we already have the documentation and training in place so it isn’t such a problem. It is easier to train new people as we already have the culture of documentation. Of course new people make mistakes but the rigour of Nadcap means that they make fewer mistakes and that the mistakes they do make are easier to identify and quicker to fix.

What benefits have you seen from being Nadcap accredited?

Besides being a fully engaged aerospace company with an improved profile in the industry? I think a better question would be: would I still do Nadcap now if I didn’t have to?

From my perspective, Nadcap provides a fantastic blueprint on how to be a successful special processor. I don’t really know how to say it except that, if I have a potential customer visit my facility who doesn’t require Nadcap, they look at the shop floor, the documentation, the process plans, our attention to detail in all those areas and tell us that they want to work with us. I don’t think that Nadcap has generated business for us – I know it has.

Before getting Nadcap accredited, our business was about 65% automotive. But as we all know, the market started to really struggle. By having Nadcap accreditation, we were able to shift our business plan into aerospace. We couldn’t have done that without the discipline and rigor that Nadcap gave us. In fact, it’s been so positive for us that we have made every line follow the Nadcap standard whether our customer requires it or not because we’ve seen it improve our quality and secure us business.

Why did you want to get involved with the Nadcap Supplier Support Committee?

Originally, I was approached by PRI staff to join an SSC sub-team working on the biennial supplier survey. I saw it as a great opportunity to have my input heard by my peers. Further, the SSC brings the supplier voice to PRI and the Nadcap Management Council. This is very important, more than I realised at the time. Then I joined the SSC Leadership Team, of which I am now the Chairperson, and started to attend more Nadcap meetings. I learned so much from attending the meetings and I was able to bring this knowledge back to my company – changes to the Nadcap program, Task Group discusions on technical issues and so on. But more than that, during the meetings, I had a voice as a supplier attendee. And that’s what I want to highlight: every supplier should attend the Nadcap meetings – not only do you gain insight, contacts and understanding that you just can’t get any other way, but you get to have your say too. As SSC Chair, I hear complaints about Nadcap and my answer is: then get involved! Don’t just complain – do something about it.

What SSC achievement are you most proud of?

Hmm that’s a tough one! Recently, I’m very proud of getting the SSC a slot at the PRI Board of Directors meeting. That’s a very powerful opportunity and it’s a real accomplishment for the SSC to get that kind of exposure and be able to talk about our issues in that forum. The Board members asked about the areas where the suppliers need more support and I was able to share that flow down remains a concern. Before, no suppliers had a presence at that level.

On the subject of flow down, it’s a bit like solving world hunger. It’s slow going, but just because a task is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! I’m also proud that the SSC was the driving force in bringing together Task Group Chairs, Staff Engineers, Nadcap Management Council members to discuss flow down with suppliers in an open and constructive discussion with the common goal of improving flow down. Bringing all these people together was a real achievement and I hope that it’s opened the door for greater collaboration in the future.

Focusing on the Nadcap meetings, at each meeting now, the SSC has a Supplier Support Center manned by supplier volunteers to help new attendees navigate the meeting and ask questions. It can be a bit intimidating the first time you come to a Nadcap meeting – there are hundreds of attendees and maybe 20 meetings going on at the same time: Where do you go? What should you do? Having a fellow supplier there to advise you is a big help.

We have also started to offer sessions where seasoned suppliers share their experience of Nadcap in a “lessons learned” kind of way so that new suppliers can benefit from their insights; we are also holding sessions where Primes can give updates and talk to their suppliers about the specifics of their requirements. These also represent a great opportunity for suppliers to ask questions and network.

What’s next for the SSC?

Well, the SSC serves the supplier community in Nadcap so their input will give us guidance. But from a personal standpoint, I’d like to see greater implementation of the STSTG’s (supplier technical sub-task groups). I have only attended the chemical processing one, as that’s my area, and it seems like a well-organised group of suppliers discussing technical issues and brainstorming ideas before raising them to the Primes. I know that the SSC isn’t a technical group, but I would like to encourage this activity as I think it’s beneficial to the suppliers.

Continuing that thought, I’d like to integrate the SSC better with the Task Group Reps. These are supplier volunteers who act as a liaison between the SSC and the Task Groups. We need to improve our two-way communication so that we all get the benefit of their position. The SSC has made great strides in improving upwards communication with the Board of Directors and the Nadcap Management Council. Now I’d like to focus on the Task Group level. What do the Task Groups want the SSC to work on? What are the Task Groups working on that the SSC could support? etc

What would you say to suppliers trying to decide whether to get Nadcap accredited?

There’s no two ways about it: you have to be dedicated. Nadcap is a lot of work. You need financial commitment, management commitment and you need to be passionate about succeeding.

You should look at your overall business plan: What special process work do you have? What companies do you work for? But whatever your individual situation, if you are looking to improve quality, Nadcap will get you there. Your quality will improve and your customers will be impressed.

What advice would you give suppliers who are thinking about coming to a Nadcap meeting?

What I would say is: you cannot realise all the benefits of Nadcap unless you participate in the meetings. I have learned so much from Nadcap meetings – they’re not just about Nadcap: even during the breaks, you are getting to know people from your field and can ask questions and share best practices. If you learn one thing or make one good contact and take that back to your company, it could pay for your whole trip.

In terms of the meeting content, the first thing I would do as a new delegate is register for a free eQuaLearn class. As a first time attendee, these may be more engaging than the Task Group meetings. But if you aren’t a natural student, some of the other activities may be more suitable for you. I would also suggest that you look at the Task Group meeting agendas to see what’s relevant for your business (they are posted on the PRI website before the meeting).

The best approach as a first-timer is probably to get a good cross-section of activities: go to a Task Group meeting, take a class, attend the SSC meeting – get used to Nadcap culture. Next time you attend a meeting, focus on getting engaged in one thing, whether it’s the Task Group technical discussion or the SSC.

Any final thoughts?

I remember being a new supplier, and not doing that great with my audits. Then I saw someone talking about best practice. He explained to me that, when he’s finished his audit preparation, he has a file maybe 12 – 15 inches thick of documents he’s prepared. It made me realise that it’s that kind of dedication that helps you succeed. I went back to my company and said, this is what we need to do. And now, many years later, for every audit, we have prepare that file which includes the checklists and cross-references those with our quality manual, procedures, work instructions etc so that, whatever question the auditor asks, I know where to find the information and I have it easily accessible.