2014: Advent Quality: Traceable Widgets

by on December 10, 2014

The question of proof is from some perspectives the entire point of a quality system. Yesterday we touched on one of the most important kinds of proof, besides the basic “we do actually know what “doing it right” would mean in these circumstances” of having procedures. I told you to start by finding out which batch of widgets the customer had actually had delivered, and work from there. What went into that batch? Who made that batch? Is there evidence of error in the manufacture of that batch?

That specificity – that series of questions all focused on the single batch in contention – is the domain of traceability.

Good traceability lets you track down every raw material that went into your widget, and identify what batch of raw material it was, and who you bought it from, and when, and what tests you did on it, and what documentation the supplier sent you as their proof of quality. Good traceability means you can just ignore every other batch of raw material. Sure, we had a problem with the iron oxide a couple of months ago, but it’s not relevant, because we know – we’ve got it written down and signed off and checked and signed again – that only one batch of iron oxide went into this paint, and it was this batch, and this batch passed every test and has shown no problems in use.

Good traceability also means you can work the other way. We find out three days too late that the latest batch of sugar is potentially contaminated and can’t be used in human foodstuffs. Well, damn. If we can’t identify which batches of cake that particular lot of sugar went into, we’ll have to trash everything we’ve made since it came on the premises. But lo! here are the production records to the rescue, and we know exactly where that sugar went and where the product is now.

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