Soon after Thermionics took on the private-label business for a major pharmacy retail chain, the drugstore chain began upgrading its quality requirements for suppliers to meet FDA standards for medical devices. The pharmacy retail chain sent a third-party auditor to Thermionics to review its plans and processes, and the results were discouraging-the company scored a zero out of 100 on the initial quality audit.
Recognizing the need to make significant changes in checking and assessing quality, Thermionics turned to IMEC for help implementing a quality management system. Together, the two organizations created standard operating procedures and work instructions, defined tolerances, established design controls, analyzed flow rates and production goals, tightened up maintenance procedures and implemented a customer contact database, just to name a few of the 200-plus activities in the project plan. When the major pharmacy retailer’s third-party auditor returned to assess the improvements, he was impressed-giving Thermionics a quality score of 88 out of 100.
- Maintained major pharmacy retailer business
- Reduced scrap by 50+%
- Increased productivity by 10-15%
- Cut hours spent on equipment maintenance by 16%
- Maintained on-time shipments at 99.8%
- Improved employee understanding of quality
From Zero To 88: Springfield Company Turns Up The Heat On Quality
Scoring a zero out of 100 on a major customer’s quality audit might have discouraged some companies-but not Springfield-based Thermionics Corporation. Instead, this consumer goods company joined forces with IMEC to implement a quality management system that’s led to significant improvements in productivity, efficiency and employee understanding of quality.
A manufacturer of all-natural therapeutic hot and cold clay packs for people with chronic pain, Thermionics took on the private-label business for a major pharmacy retailer two years ago. Soon after, the drugstore chain began upgrading its quality requirements for suppliers to meet FDA standards for medical devices and sent a third-party auditor to Thermionics to review its plans and processes-and the results weren’t pretty.
“Our company has run very well for more than 20 years, but we haven’t necessarily tracked our quality systems or processes,” said Thermionics Quality Assurance Manager Rob Newbold. “We quickly realized we needed to make significant changes in how we check and assess quality on a daily basis.”
So Newbold and the team at Thermionics brought in IMEC to help, and the two organizations plotted out a project plan that included creating standard operating procedures and work instructions, defining tolerances, establishing design controls, analyzing flow rates and daily production goals, tightening up maintenance procedures and implementing a customer contact database, just to name a few. According to Newbold, there were more than 200 items on the company’s quality “to-do” list.
“IMEC basically told us, ‘These are the things you need to do if you want to keep the pharmacy retailer business,’” he said. “They explained what they’d seen in other companies like ours and provided the credibility we needed internally that we were on the right path.”
Midway through the project, the pharmacy retailer’s quality manager visited Thermionics to check on progress and left reassured the company was on the right course. Several months later, when the drugstore’s third-party auditor returned, he agreed-giving Thermionics a quality score of 88 out of 100. It was a dramatic turnaround, and Newbold credits IMEC with helping the company maintain its focus throughout the process.
“IMEC knows what good manufacturing looks like, and they held us to those standards,” he said. “They walked us through the steps logically and showed us we could do this in a progressive way. It didn’t happen overnight, but IMEC held our feet to the fire and kept us moving forward.”
In addition to helping the company maintain its major pharmacy retail business, the quality improvements are making a big difference on the factory floor. Newbold reports that Thermionics has reduced scrap by more than 50 percent, increased productivity by 10-15 percent and cut the number of hours spent on equipment maintenance and repair by about 16 percent. On-time shipments-a metric that wasn’t tracked previously-are holding steady at 99.8 percent. And perhaps most important, the company’s 18 employees now have a clearer understanding of what quality means and how to achieve it in their work.
“Our work instructions used to be entirely word of mouth, but now we have documented processes that give us a common way of doing things,” Newbold said. “It shows in our employee survey results. We’re seeing an increase in the number of employees who say they understand their job expectations and their role in producing quality products.”
IMEC’s role, according to Newbold, turned out to be much different than that of a typical consultant. “IMEC is our partner-they’re like an extension of our company now,” he said. “They stepped in and guided us through something that seemed overwhelming, and their influence will make our products, our processes and our business better for a long time.”
“IMEC is our partner-they’re like an extension of our company now. They stepped in and guided us through something that seemed overwhelming, and their influence will make our products, our processes and our business better for a long time.”
– Rob Newbold, Quality Assurance Manager