Writing tribal knowledge in a metal fabrication shop

Tribal knowledge is great in a metalwork shop, but what happens when the tribe retires? There are benefits to evaluating manufacturing processes and having written welding procedures to ensure consistent, quality work. Getty Images

Q: Recently, I was promoted to Workshop Manager of our small welding manufacturing company. This company has always trained employees for specific tasks by having them work with senior welders to gain tribal knowledge. I would like to create work instructions and use welding procedures, but I don’t know where to start.

A: While many businesses have survived for years passing information this way, it is always good to have written procedures to maintain integrity.

First, and it will take the most time and effort, you will need to start documenting the ongoing procedures. Make sure all of your welding power sources are calibrated for amperage and voltage. For each project or product manufactured, have the welder document the process, electrodes, gases, amperage, voltage, wire feed speed, heat treatment, and any other critical data. You will also need to document the type of material, size, cut length and order of operation. It can also include any preparation required such as sawing, shearing, bending and machining before and after the completion of each part or project. You may also want to document the reasonable time required to produce the product.

Then, as you go through all the data gathered and start creating the work instruction sheet, it would be beneficial to include the senior welders in the discussion. Match this information with a technical drawing or printout of each part. Decide on the appropriate range of acceptable parameters. Completed work instructions and technical printing should be written in such a way that even a novice employee can follow them. Determine if your products must follow one of the welding codes by AWS, ASME, API or any other regulatory body. If this is the case, the appropriate codes will need to be acquired and followed.

Finally, use the collected data to create the Welding Procedure Specification (WPS) and test the procedure to create the Procedure Qualification Record (PQR). Each welder will test and qualify for each welding procedure involved in the manufacture of a specified product. You may find that some of the employees are better suited to various procedures and processes.

This type of business usually takes a lot of time and persistence. It also requires buy-in from the administration and employees. Documentation also involves periodic review and modifications if necessary. By using proper work instructions, quality technical prints, and documented procedures, you can help your business develop a strategic approach to effective, efficient, and economically productive manufacturing.

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