May 2010

It is my great pleasure to address the professionals through our website on various aspects on cement, concrete materials and on concrete as a finished product.  Before I delve into the various features, I thought it would be best to cover my favorite subject of Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) of concrete works.

It is very important for material suppliers and concrete producers to produce the best quality materials and or concrete as the ultimate product so that the customer has the assurance of obtaining the best “end product” available both in terms of strength and performance.  It is important for suppliers to achieve the best properties for the product to perform in the application which the customer desires. It is also equally important that the customer gets consistent quality product throughout the execution of the project. 

It is easier said than done. Often the producer ventures to deliver the best quality but is unable to give consistent quality product to the customer.

Having reasonably long experience in QA/QC of Civil works of large Thermal Power Projects and Hydro Power Projects of Tata Power Co. Ltd., and later for past couple of years on the Product Quality Management with Ambuja Cements Ltd., I have come to some definite observations on QA/QC. It is a well known fact that concrete as a construction material is very durable and can be used to construct structures in very aggressive environments in any strength, durability, shape and size the Engineer or the Architect desires. It is equally a well known fact that if adequate care is not taken in the design and construction of a concrete structure, concrete displays undesirable behaviour such as leakages, corrosion of reinforcement steel, cracks and various other defects.  Unlike factory made product, concrete, except for precast, is made on site by mostly using untrained and unskilled works and inadequate equipment with extremely poor supervision. This results in poor durability and strength of concrete.

All reputed manufacturers of materials as well as reputed construction agencies desire to have the best quality control and quality assurance plans in possession before they venture into large scale production. However, if the entire quality process is not monitored properly by trained and experienced persons, then it only remains on paper and does not reflect in the actual product the company produces.

I do not desire to delve into the complete aspects of QA/QC in this thought.  However, I would like to cover 10 Golden Rules to help organize and implement better QA/QC system which ultimately reflects on better quality of the product produced by the organization.

Rule No.1
The success of QA/QC depends solely on the top most person in the organization or the client who is the owner of the project or the structure.  I firmly believe that the top most person in the organization must be convinced that quality must be had, that it should be had and having been convinced has sent out the word that it must be had. Quality can only be achieved in the organization top downwards.

Rule No.2
Quality Assurance Head must directly report to the top most person and not through the person or persons in any manner connected with the business, production or the project.

Rule No.3
Quality control is a process which everyone must be aware of in the organization. Every worker or supervisor in the plant or project team plays a vital role in the quality control and hence, it is important that everyone is aware of the system and inspection procedures.  It is therefore, very important that responsibilities are fixed on the individuals by the management. Being vague on fixing responsibilities never helps in achieving quality of the end product. 
Rule No.4
Quality must never be sacrificed for speed or economy.
I strongly believe that, many times, in an attempt to speed up the work and carrying it out economically, often quality is sacrificed. This ultimately leads to delay and additional expenses to attend to the defective work. Cost benefit ratio of quality process is not possible to determine as there are many tangible and intangible benefits. However, quality is never an additional cost to the producer; in fact, it benefits the organization in the long run. 

Rule No.5
It is important to build-up a team dedicated to quality.
The quality chain should never have a weak link. It is a team effort. Only team work helps to achieve quality.

Rule No.6
Timely inspection and corrective action is the key to successful implementation of quality control system. Delays in inspection or delays in corrective action are the main causes of the failure of the quality system.
It is extremely important that the non-compliances should be resolved proactively or immediately rather than delaying them indefinitely. Delays turn the system into paper work and does not reflect improvement in quality.

Rule No.7
Good quality construction cannot be carried out by using poor quality materials but it is also important to note that poor construction is often done using good quality materials.
Generally quality of construction suffers due to poor engineering design, planning and poor construction practices. These must be carefully planned and controlled.  

Rule No.8
Quality control and quality assurance inspectors must have skills to anticipate non-compliances and must be capable enough to give suggestions to prevent them as well.
As an inspector, it is very simple to point out the non-compliances after they have occurred. However, it is important that a good QC Inspector should be able to prevent non-compliances before they occur.

Rule No.9
The QA/QC Inspector should be observant, watchful and analytical.
He must only believe in what he has seen, inspected and analyzed personally. He cannot go by hearsay or be influenced by peer pressures. Ideally, all persons in the organization should look upon themselves as QC Inspectors for the activities conducted by them and should take responsibility for the quality of their own work. Quality should become culture and amount spent on training on Quality Management should be considered as an investment.

Rule No.10
It is important to overcome the essential causes that lead to non-compliances.
They are as follows:
(a)    Ignorance
(b)    Negligence
(c)    Carelessness
(d)    Greed

Needless to say, training plays a very important role if one has to improve quality and at the same time integrity of the person is extremely important if most of the above referred causes are to be overcome. 

I would like to quote our founder Managing Director and present Chairman, Mr. Narottam Sekhsaria in an article published on Win-Win Solutions Sustain Business  “Many people carry a misconception about the quality and price – that good quality only comes at high price. I strongly disagree. Superior quality at a fair price is eminently possible”. He further stated “After all, the only way customer could associate a bag of cement with quality was through the assurance lent by branding. We realize that we had to create a strong image for the Gujarat Ambuja brand but that it would be a long term process, requiring a pervasive philosophy based on fair and sustainable business practices, only the latter would ensure that quality of the product lived up to the brand promise”.

The above words of wisdom led to the success of Ambuja Cement Ltd. It was founded on strong pillars of strength.

To conclude, quality is a never ending journey. What will happen during this journey depends on the answers we have to continuously give to the following 6 questions on quality:

Q 1    Are we satisfying customer’s need?
Q 2    Are we innovative?
Q 3    Does it provide superior value?
Q 4    Are we delivering what we commit?
Q 5    Can we do it better?
Q 6    Do we want to be the BEST?

It is left to all individuals in the organization to answer these questions. Correct approach of the Top Most Person and dedication to quality by all individuals in the organization will undoubtedly improve the quality of the end product your company produces.

Quality will sustain business. Quality will make your customer your close friend. Quality will prevent wasteful expenses and in turn also help sustainable development of our country.