Keeping pace with quality control management

 By Timothy R. Murphy, P.E. and Amanda L. Murphy

Whether you believe that the asphalt paving industry in the United States has matured through an evolution or a revolution, you know that continual road building improvement is an endorsement for Total Quality Management (TQM). The corporate elements of a TQM system are typically designed to act as that company’s fortress for success.

These fortified entities function or exist due to organization and coordinated community efforts through excellent leadership, teamwork, and communication. This may be an oversimplification of all of the ingredients required to approach TQM and, therefore, to approach maximum pay under typical agency Percent Within Limit (PWL) specifications. To clarify the analogy, here are the major building blocks you can use for your own fortress, home, or company:

Foundation: Ethics, Integrity, and Trust
Building Bricks: Training, Teamwork, and Leadership
Binding Mortar: Communication
Roof: Recognition.

Let’s review these pieces of your fortress in more detail.

Foundations are developed throughout life and constantly renewed through personal encounters, educational efforts, professional development, and life experience. Recently, Tom Harman of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provided an educational talk with his open discussion of the Quality Assurance System for the United States. He discussed The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which guides National Highway Institute (NHI) construction projects. After listening to him, it became clear that the CFR is an integral part of the foundation that must be laid for a successful road building system.

An important aspect of the CFR is that our investment in road building does not start or stop at any one point, but rather our ingenuity continues through the evolution of the product, beyond production, and with personnel on an ongoing basis. Persistent investment back into the people and products needed for a complete road program must be reviewed and discussed throughout the industry. The guiding force that the CFR has on quality through the building bricks, binding mortar, and roof will be the focus for this series of articles.

Laird Weishahn, P.E., LW Consulting (formerly Nebraska Department of Roads [NDOR] Flexible Pavement Engineer) says, “At the start of the FHWA Quality Assurance Program mandate, they made it very plain to us to ‘keep it simple.’ Nebraska is systems-based, and being so it helps to simplify. I felt the FHWA review that we had a couple years ago showed that the system method was effective, and I know Nebraska is on the right track today because of NDOR and Nebraska AGC member company commitments to ensuring solid quality control efforts with the right amount of NDOR oversight.”

It should be noted that all successes occur because of intelligent process control that includes inspection, sampling, testing, analyzing, adjusting, and anticipating. Inspection is the effort we must all make, from design through construction, that will most satisfactorily help us to achieve the best roadway possible. All of the other activities rightfully support inspection efforts as they lead us to uniform control/uniform assurance.

Building Bricks
With agency, contractor, and consultant personnel working towards a common goal, many quality measures have been attained by industry, and many more levels shall be defined, as diligent road builders continue to launch efforts in excellence, e.g., the Sheldon G. Hayes Award criteria. This teamwork approach to improving asphalt pavements should be made at the highest level and requires a commitment from all parties to follow through with their efforts. As specifications are developed, the outreach to implementation, or “follow through,” is accomplished with training efforts that these same parties oversee. Training increases productivity, and part of the building blocks come from the leadership of the contractor and agency personnel involved at all levels. Action items include:

  • Quality Managers for the agency and contractor require unwavering support and input from upper management.
  • Statistics are used to assist in the decision making process but the numbers are not followed blindly.
  • Specifications should be fluid, with annual reviews and modifications to ensure that we always define terms, measure results, analyze data, improve output, and control for the best product possible.

This must become the corporate structure so we can avoid knee-jerk solutions based on a single test result. Follow these three steps for corporate success: inspect the process daily; anticipate problems; and take action.

Binding Mortar
Experience shows that, typically supervisors are responsible for implementing TQM within their departments and for teaching their employees the philosophies of TQM. Employee training in interpersonal skills, the ability to function within teams, problem solving, decision making, job management performance analysis and improvement, business economics, and technical skills are all part of the TQM process. During the creation and formation of a TQM program, employees are trained to become more effective employees in their work for the company.

Success arises from the development and empowerment of teams. Teams provide better, more permanent improvements in processes and operations. In teams, people are usually more comfortable with bringing up problems that may occur, since others within the team are acting cooperatively. Often, you can get help from other workers in your team to find a permanent solution to a particular problem and implement the solution quickly to help improve corporate efforts. Different types of teams that companies need include:

  • Problem Solving Teams — to identify, solve, and work through problems in a certain amount of time. These teams usually meet briefly for anywhere from one week to three months.
  • Quality Improvement Teams — to deal with re-occurring problems. Their efforts usually last for three to six months.
  • Natural Work Teams — to provide quality control. Team members typically share a skill or task and meet for a brief weekly meeting year round.

True success with TQM can only come through solid leadership from the manager who works with these teams and who understands and believes in TQM success. On a daily basis, the manager must be committed to leading and should demonstrate vision, direction and values.

As an explanation of the goals of the organization, several organizations have adopted mission statements and clearly posted them for all to see on a daily basis.

More to Come
In the next three issues of Asphalt Magazine, we will be exploring aggregate sources, asphalt production facilities, and construction workmanship needs. In particular, we will look at Percent Within Limits (PWL) specifications and how your organization can successfully bid and construct under these specifications by looking at test strips, equipment, and personnel efforts.

Here’s the line-up:

  • Aggregates for HMA: Quality Begins at the Quarry
  • Quality Control at the HMA Plant
  • HMA Workmanship on the Grade.
Tim Murphy is president of Murphy Pavement Technology, Inc.
Amanda Murphy is a technical writer for Applied Pavement Technology, Inc.