Even with the high-tech nature of modern manufacturing set-ups, many businesses suffer from products rolling off the production line with identifiable issues and quality defects. Examining these products shows that they don’t meet the specifications, and therefore, can not be shipped to customers.

Additionally, sometimes employees on the shop floor utilize production methods that don’t adhere to what industry standards suggest. These non-standard methods can also result in the defective products mentioned above.

What are manufacturing nonconformances?

Simply, nonconformances are products that don’t meet the specifications established by manufacturers or regulators. Nonconformances are more than just defective physical products. The term also refers to when processes used in production do not align with standard operating procedures (SOPs) and approved work instructions.

In this post, we’ll explore what drives nonconformances across products and processes, and how manufacturers can avoid falling foul of necessary standards and regulatory bodies.

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The impact of nonconformances in a manufacturing environment

Nonconformances constitute a significant issue for manufacturing businesses across every industry. When workers utilize non-standard practices, they’re bound to create finished products that don’t meet the specifications laid out in the device master record.

As a result, manufacturing companies face significant setbacks in their operations. For instance, the brand can damage its public reputation for making and distributing defective products to its customers.

In addition, the cost of nonconformance due to the fines levied by regulatory bodies can significantly set a manufacturing business back. Not only that, but recalls and rectification measures increase production costs and take up valuable production time.

Nonconformances in a manufacturing environment can fall into one of two buckets – major and minor. Manufacturers differentiate between these two nonconformance categories depending on the impact the issue has on production and the organization.

Furthermore, these two groups are identified upon examining the ease of detection and rate of recurrence. Differentiation also involves exploring the scope and difficulty of the recommended rectification measures.

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Difference between nonconformances and corrective actions

Understanding the differences between nonconformances and corrective actions is critical to ensuring consistent understanding and use of your quality management system. As discussed, a nonconformance occurs when a production process or the product itself fails to meet a specific requirement (ie. regulatory standards, customer requirements, or defined organizational processes).

A corrective action, on the other hand, are the actions taken by a business to identify the root cause of problems that may lead to nonconformities. Corrective actions are often used in the context of Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPA), the methodology used to identify the source of quality issues and take steps to ensure the problem does not happen again.

Major nonconformances

Manufacturing nonconformances that fall into the “major” nonconformances category are often particularly challenging to identify and isolate. They occur frequently, making them a nuisance and a significant productivity inhibitor. As a result, they can easily make their way to clients, creating an environment ripe for customer dissatisfaction.

Indeed, this group of nonconformities can negatively impact the entire manufacturing process and business. Falling foul of critical standards set by ISO or FDA can result in hefty fines, detrimental public relations, and increased costs and waste.

Allowed to fester, major nonconformances will adversely affect a manufacturer's operations.

Minor nonconformances

This type of manufacturing nonconformance doesn’t occur regularly. And when it does show up, manufacturing personnel can detect it easily and quickly address it.

These isolated cases are easier to solve, allowing the production process to remain on track. As such, these kinds of nonconformances rarely ever make their way to the customer.

Although seemingly inconsequential, these nonconformities can affect a manufacturer’s ability to adhere to necessary standards.

Examples of manufacturing nonconformances

Understanding what types of issues to look out for makes it significantly easier to identify and reduce nonconformances from happening across your operations. Some of the most common nonconformances that we come across include:

Issues that significantly affect the production process - These types of issues can include human errors or malfunctions in machines and equipment that negatively impact product quality.

Unauthorized changes to critical documents - Documents like work instructions and SOPs are critical to defining the processes that need to take place during a production process. It is imperative that manufacturers are able to track and manage the changes to these documents to demonstrate that the end product meets the specifications and requirements of industry standards and regulatory bodies.

Misplaced or lost documents - Similarly, it is critical for manufacturers to be able to access and distribute key documents in order to prove compliance as necessary.

Significant deviation from requirements and specifications - Particularly in industries where compliance with regulatory standards must take place, deviations from necessary specifications can be costly and detrimental to a business. Manufacturers must ensure that products meet the defined regulatory requirements as deviations could cause health and safety issues for end consumers.

Failure to implement recommended corrective action - When a CAPA is conducted, it is crucial for the corrective action to be implemented so that the source of quality issues is not replicated in the future. Failure to implement the recommended corrective action is likely to lead to additional nonconformances.

How to deal with manufacturing nonconformance

The remedy for nonconformances consists of identifying the problem, fixing it, and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.

Here’s how to go about this process:

1. Identification of the root cause: Sourcing the root cause of the non-adherence to standards and specifications is the premier step in getting back on track. Root cause analysis allows manufacturers to get to the bottom of the issue.

2. Documentation: Quality managers should craft and avail documentation furnishing information about the nonconformance. This includes documents on the issue, materials, segregation and disposition.

Additionally, documentation should include signatures of the relevant employee or manager and standard operating procedures and work instructions.

3. Nonconformity evaluation: This stage entails determining the need for investigation. If a similar problem occurred earlier, the investigation might not be necessary. However, corrective and preventive action should be taken to prevent a recurrence.

Furthermore, the responsible individuals should be notified. Details unearthed from this stage should also be added to the paperwork in the previous step.

4. Segregation: The defective product should be cordoned off in a separate area to ensure that it doesn’t slip into regular distribution.

5. Disposition of nonconforming product: The product can be used as-is with minor cosmetic nonconformance. On the other hand, manufacturers can scrap unusable defective products. Alternatively, they can be repurposed for different functions.

Furthermore, manufacturers can revert to earlier versions of the product as they search for a solution.

Prevention of nonconformance in manufacturing

To prevent manufacturing businesses from incurring the cost of nonconformance, manufacturers should:

  • Follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) when running production processes.

  • Train employees to ensure that they’re conversant with compliant practices.

  • Regularly test products off the production line before sending them out.

  • Crosscheck product and process standards against the ISO 9001 audit checklist.

Managing nonconformance with digital solutions

Traditional paper-intensive conformance practices aren't effective in a fast-paced and smart manufacturing environment. Instead, digital tools are the norm in new-age manufacturing plants.

These tools make the documentation process more manageable and efficient. For instance, digital solutions provide customizable nonconformance forms, allowing manufacturers to tailor the documents to align with their unique operations.

Additionally, digital tools allow detailed quality event descriptions, going as far as providing rich media uploads for more detail. Further, they make for better traceability and accountability by requiring names and signatures of individuals filing nonconformance reports.

Finally, advanced digital solutions are equipped with analytic capabilities, providing more insight into the overarching quality management operation.

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