Using Standard Operating Procedures 4/10/2012 7:00:00 AM
What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?
In the wood finishing industry, manufacturers have often relied on what we refer to as “tribal knowledge” for the information base used in the finishing room. In many situations, this tribal knowledge is the knowledge that one lead finisher or supervisor has acquired over the years; however, this knowledge may not be based on best practice standards or even on updated techniques.
Many manufacturers often experience serious financial and production problems when the finisher with the tribal knowledge moves on or is unable to work. This vacancy may bring production to a standstill or severely compromise the quality of the product. Even if the finishing department does not lose its lead finisher, the company may be losing money in the finishing department because of reliance on tribal knowledge and because they are not using a standardized and repeatable procedure.
For example, one manufacturer we performed an evaluation for was using four different grit sizes in the final sanding and preparation department prior to finishing. This resulted in rework expenses of over $1.5 million dollars annually. Had the manufacturer used written SOPs to control the process, it could have potentially realized a significant increase to the bottom line profits.
What is an SOP? An SOP – Standard Operating Procedure - is a written document that describes the step-by-step instructions for the process to be performed along with the required list of materials and equipment necessary for the procedure. Finishers often ask the question, “Do I really need a written Standard Operating Procedure?” The answer is yes! Every large and small shop needs an SOP for every process they perform, from sanding and surface preparation clear through to gun clean-up and equipment maintenance.
Who should write and use SOPs?
Every shop from large 100-man shops down to the small one-man shop should have written procedures for every process in the finishing room. It may appear to be an overwhelming task at first and a waste of time and effort to write a procedure; however, if you commit to writing one SOP per month, in a few short months, you will complete the procedures necessary to provide security to your business.
What are the basic SOPs?
Here is a sample list of the most common SOPs that will be necessary for you to write for the finishing department:
· White wood sanding
· Stain and color development
· Sealer application
· Sealer sanding
· Gun set-up
· Topcoat applications
· Spray equipment flush out procedures
· Gun maintenance
· Quality control procedures
In each category, an SOP will need to be written for each procedure and for each specific application.
How to write and what to include in a SOP
When writing an SOP, it is important to remember that you are not writing an essay. Each step of the process is described in the fewest words possible by condensing the information to the lowest common denominator in order to communicate the necessary information. It will be necessary to clearly think through the process first so as to include all the critical information about the procedure in order to make sure the SOP is complete. We recommend that several process experts work as a team to develop each SOP. This team should include the “doers” and the “decision makers” from the finishing team, plant management and the engineering department. It is important to take into consideration everyone’s input; however, the final SOP must be based on what is best practice standard for performing the process and on what is in the best interest of the company.
As you review the process for documentation, you will have an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate how well the process is working. If the process is not based on best practice standards or you want to integrate lean manufacturing methods or environmentally friendly processes, this may be the time to upgrade the process. If this requires assets that are not available at the current moment — for example: capital expenses — we recommend that you go ahead and write an SOP for the existing process. Keep in mind, however, the future changes that you have identified and make allowance for the updated process information to be inserted in the SOP at a later date.
Steps in writing the SOP:
- The first step in writing a procedure is to define and describe the purpose of the SOP.
- You will then need to identify the equipment and materials required for the process and list them in the procedure. It will also be necessary to identify and describe where the items are stored and located.
- Next you will need to write the steps to be performed before the process begins. This may include performing quality checks or preparing the equipment and environment before the process begins. All safety procedures should be clearly outlined in this pre-process procedure checklist.
- The Standard Operating Procedure should describe each step and be numbered accordingly. Remember, pictures are worth a thousand words. Use them along charts and graphics to illustrate complex steps. The SOP should include all instructions for product handling and storage.
- Other elements to include in the SOP are sections for approval signatures and a list of related SOP documents
- As a final step in the SOP development process, you will need to verify the accuracy of the document. We recommend that you designate someone unfamiliar to the process to read the SOP and follow the SOP per the instructions. The SOP writer should observe carefully to determine if the designated trial person is able to successfully perform the procedure. You will then be able to identify and make any necessary changes to the document. When you are confident of the accuracy of the document, you may take a deep breath and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Remember that an SOP is a living document. It will need to be updated when either the process or the procedures are changed or up-graded. Also, don’t forget to enforce the compliance of the procedure.
Comment on this story
Created by Douglas Kramer in 4/19/2012 2:07:38 PM
This is a very good story and is very good practice for any shop. I am Production Manager of a shop of 15 employees and I have been writting procedure steps for every phase of operation as needed. It is very helpful when a new employee starts because the learning curve is greatly increased and helps eliminate mistakes during training.