The basic building blocks that give UWC’s products a competitive edge are their consistently high quality and operational reliability. Behind these factors lie the huge efforts of the company’s entire workforce. Quality control requires a seamlessly functioning system with a constantly improving set of tools. To find out how this system runs, we spoke to Elena Belyanina, Quality Director at UWC.
Over the past year the quality control system in UWC holding has been developed extensively and integrated with the standards of the leading global manufacturers in railway engineering
Quality Director at UWC
Quality from A to Z
Elena, could you tell us a bit about what the quality control system looks like?
What makes our quality control system at UWC railway holding different is that it integrates processes that are being implemented by different structural divisions. The identity of the end product takes shape sequentially through each process. It’s a sort of quality roadmap.
It all begins with quality planning at the project design stage. The design documentation lays out the optimal technical specifications of the railcar, which will define its end-user performance and market competitiveness. Next is the pre-production process. This is one of the key stages in quality control, in which the manufacturing technology is developed in tandem with the production control process. When these elements – production and control – are in harmony with each other and are both realised effectively, we end up with a product that strictly adheres to the design and regulatory documentation. After passing a number of tests and quality control checks, our cars are delivered to the customer with a performance and safety guarantee.
Our commitments do not end there. After handing over the railcar to the client, we must ensure its quality during the life cycle, that is to say over the course of its entire service life, which is substantial – up to 40 years.
We are paying special attention to issues of quality in the manufacturing of new railcar models and the implementation of new engineering solutions. The railway is necessarily a conservative system and can be demanding when it comes to emerging innovations and their performance. Our newly developed railcars undergo field tests, during which their technical characteristics and improved performance – which the developer and manufacturer are liable for – are studied and evaluated.
Continuous monitoring is also carried out once the railcars have been entered into commercial service: the functional reliability, quality of components installed, and the resistance to natural elements, operational features and damage, as well as the maintainability and serviceability of the cars is assessed. We receive systematic feedback from the infrastructure operator, as well as directly from clients. By purchasing UWC railcars, our customer receives prompt and high-quality support.
This is, in brief, our business route for the creation of products from a standpoint of quality control. Other equally important processes are built into this model: planning, acquisitions, resource management, HR, equipment, engineering support, sales etc. Taken together, all of this constitutes a process-based model for quality control.
Which quality standards do the products meet?
There is an international standard, ISO/TS 22163:2017 on “Railway Applications. Quality Management System. Business Management Systems Requirements for Railway Organizations” (its early version is the IRIS – International Railway Industry Standard – Editor’s note). This standard outlines the mandatory requirements associated with evaluating the effectiveness of quality control processes. The current standard reflects to a greater extent the interests of the end user, especially with regard to product safety and reliability. By the way, UWC enterprises were among the first in Russia to be certified for compliance with the requirements of this document.
How flexible are the processes you have described?
UWC’s quality control system is continuously improving in a rapidly growing business space. There are no processes in place that were developed 3–5 years ago which have not undergone any changes since. Our product line is being updated, as are our manufacturing processes, requirements, regulatory documentation, control procedures and equipment. We are paying close attention to issues surrounding the involvement and incentivisation of staff in the production of high-quality products.
How can the cost of quality be calculated?
Calculating the cost of quality is not so difficult. It is important to understand what to do with the data. If we are talking about quality control, then we should assume that quality is an objective property of a product or service and can be measured. If it couldn’t be easured, how would we be able to control it?
In Japan for example, conceptions of quality traditionally take into account the notion of some kind of ‘public good’. It means that the lowest possible costs are incurred by the consumer, supplier and society as a whole in overcoming failures and other negative consequences of low quality. Quality, therefore, is measured by the losses resulting from its lack or unwarranted excess, which is to say the degree to which the situation deviates from the optimal one. This is an entirely pragmatic approach, that provides guidance on which direction to take, i.e. where to invest resources first and how to find the best balance that benefits everyone.
As part of this model, costs should be divided into two categories. The first category includes the manufacturer’s expenditure on quality assurance, and can be called ‘proactive costs’. These are the costs of developing supply chains, monitoring in-house production processes and the products themselves. This category includes the costs of technical re-equipment of laboratories, performing tests, staff training and everything else that is patently necessary for the production of high-quality products.
When it comes to quality, there can be no compromise between price and safety
The second category includes costs associated with the appearance of nonconformities: eliminating defects, discarding defective products, reprocessing or recycling, and the costs of warranty repairs. Naturally, this category includes indirect costs associated with lost trade, fines, and reputational damages borne by the manufacturer. Costs of this type, associated with the system’s response to irregularities, can be called ‘reactive costs’. The burden of these costs is carried by both parties – the producer and the consumer – because irregularities arise during the production process and are identified in service, over the course of the product’s life cycle. The losses are borne by society as a whole if failures lead to man-made disasters or environmental and social problems.
By increasing proactive costs, it is possible to reduce irregularities and thereby reduce overall costs. At a certain level, however, the increase in proactive costs will cease to be offset by the reduction in reactive costs, and total costs no longer fall – this means that the system has reached its optimal level in terms of quality.
This is only a simplified model, of course, explaining why it is necessary to take into account and analyse the cost of quality.
Status must always be earned
How does UWC work with suppliers to improve the quality of its products?
This is an area of quality control where international best practice differs from Russian experience.
Within the supplier evaluation and development system which is used in the US and the EU, there are many standards in place which outline a working structure down to the finest details. When establishing business relationships, the customer assesses and takes into account all of the risks associated with an insufficient level of compliance on the part of the supplier. And then the customer actively participates in the development of said supplier to a satisfactory state. A company becomes a supplier only when systemic work has been carried out – with its participation – to bring the quality of its processes and production in line with the buyer’s requirements.
The Russian market has a different practice. It is not uncommon for work on bringing a supplier in line with requirements to proceed concurrently with the fulfilment of supplies. At UWC, of course, we follow global standards, and have introduced an internal “Development of suppliers” process.
We work closely with our partners: we regularly audit them, encourage them to make quality improvements, monitor their implementation of joint ventures, and provide technical support in setting up processes. For example, as part of our controlled delivery process, our specialists work alongside a supplier to carry out an evaluation of the technical aspects of their production. Thereby we ensure mutual compliance with requirements and control procedures firsthand at our partner’s manufacturing site.
We have a tangible result at the final stage, with fewer supplies of inferior quality products. Hereinafter, our suppliers can independently reorganise their production and technological processes, since the results achieved are also beneficial to their brands. On our part, this approach to working with suppliers allows us to reduce resource expenditure on comprehensive component checks.
Over the last year, we have more than doubled our number of suppliers, and the volume of products undergoing incoming inspections has grown many times over. With all of this throughflow, quality issues must be worked out in detail. Our partners are, without a doubt, interested in attaining the status of a reliable approved supplier, which grants them more comfortable working conditions and the prospect of longterm partnership.
What does it take to earn the status of a UWC approved supplier?
Certain companies have been working with us for 3–5 years and still haven’t achieved this status. The foundation of approved supplier status is the absence of comments on products during incoming inspections, production and operation. In other words, it has nothing to do with the time-frame for cooperation, but rather how optimally designed the supplier’s quality control system is and how flexibly it can be restructured in order to fulfil our requirements. However attractive a manufacturers may be in terms of price, if there is any doubt about the quality of their products then there will be no agreement. When it comes to quality, there can be no compromise between price and safety.
In 2019 we are planning to develop our cooperation with suppliers based on the PPAP international standards (Production Part Approval Process, a process for proving stability in meeting consumer standards on the part of the supplier, is part of the ISO standards usually used in mechanical engineering – Editor’s note).
Getting everything in ship-shape
How far in line with international standards and quality requirements are Russian standards?
In terms of regulatory documentation, the various standards in place around the world have developed in different ways. In systemic processes, requirements are synchronised based on the fundamental ISO 9001, ISO/TS 22163:2017 standards. Much, however, depends on operational conditions going forward. Our products must withstand all Russian realities, be they climatic or infrastructural.
When we implement a foreign project, we carefully work out the specific requirements of a buyer nation’s standards. At present, for example, we are working closely with quality control departments on a flat car project for Deutsche Bahn (DB). We successfully passed a comprehensive audit conducted by a German expert group and received Quality 2 status, meaning that we are an approved DB supplier. This status confirms that a highly organised quality control system is in place and opens up the possibility of partnership on tenders with European railway operators.
How are client requests changing today?
Most often they consist of special requests for a specialised fleet, in particular for tank and flat cars, since these are the most demanding products from a technological standpoint. The buyer approaches the purchase of a railcar from the perspective of their infrastructure, the operational experience of their existing fleet, and the possibility of breakdown. All the details are worked out jointly by experts. All of our clients want to possess a product with increased life cycle, so that it can comfortably be used for longer periods with fewer repairs. The client, staking an investment on an innovative product, is always anxious about what they will receive at the end of the process.
For example, audits of our products are carried out on the part of our clients with the help of quality specialists, who assess both the products and the production process as a whole. If, in the course of the auditing process, it turns out that the manufacturing process needs to be quickly restructured, the technical documentation needs to be corrected, or additional tests need to be conducted, then this is what happens – the client is always right.
What are the requirements for weld quality?
Welding is a very important procedure, directly impacting safety. There is design and technical documentation for every type of welded joint, as well as requirements governing the equipment and quality of materials used, and the qualifications of the workforce. In batch production, all welded joints are divided into several categories based on technical complexity and load-bearing capacity. Depending on these factors they are subject to various mandatory monitoring procedures: visual, ultrasonic, magnetic particle, and x-ray.
There are differences between the technical regulations governing welding works in Russia and abroad. In Russia, there is a structured system of state standards in this area, as well as domestic regulatory documentation (checklists, inspection instructions etc.)
European practice is governed by the EN 15085 set of standards on “Welding of Railway Vehicles and Components”, which require the presence of a certified welding quality system. During the work on the project with DB we were required to draw up processes, and certify both the production process and our specialists in accordance with these standards, which was mandatory in order to be assigned approved supplier status.
How do you motivate your employees to improve the quality of the products they manufacture?
Our workforce is a core of quality control. Obviously, neither high-tech equipment nor full compliance with standards can replace a trained, qualified and properly motivated workers when it comes to creating high-quality products. A UWC railcar is a product that requires the involvement of thousands of people in its production. Accordingly, given that documentation, materials, parts and joints are changing hands, it is people who must take care to ensure that a quality product is being created. Errors tend to accumulate where staff do not promptly evaluate their work, and ensuring quality at the end of production becomes much more expensive. Teaching employees is much more cost-effective than replacing them, and the learning process itself is a part of a wider system of motivation. When they see their skills improve, people understand that this is going to be their workplace for the long term.
It is just as important for an employee to see that difficulties encountered in the workflow are not ignored. Global best practice for implementing improvements begins with a demonstration of personal interest in ongoing changes on the part of top management.
Over the past year the quality control system in our holding has been developed extensively and integrated with the standards of the leading global manufacturers in railway engineering. The success of these projects was made possible through the professional teamwork of UWC’s technical and managerial specialists.