Q: We are a small but growing ready-mix producer. We have just decided to open a portable plant to service a multiyear project. We are considering hiring a full-time quality control manager. At what annual production volume does it make sense to make this hire?
A: The operating volume or even the number of operating sites is not the determining factor when deciding the feasibility of a full-time quality manager. But there are several factors that can help managers make a wise economic decision based on the payback of the investment.
The decision must be part of your company's strategic plan. How much do you want to spend and where do you want to spend it? Hiring a quality control manager may be worthwhile if you think the position will help reduce material costs by producing more economical mixes or lessen production issues.
Does your firm plan to offer more complex or perhaps self-branded mixes? A staff expert is a great marketing tool. How knowledgeable are engineers and contractors in your market? Hiring a quality manager may be worthwhile if you think he will produce more economical mixes, keep the company out of trouble (low strength or durability failures), or help win large projects. The producer must make these decisions for his own company, as each operation will have different requirements.
Without good quality control of production there will be large variability in the concrete produced. Ready-mix producers can manufacture concrete with a large overdesign and avoid issues meeting most project specifications, but a quality manager will reduce variability in production and allow for more economical mixes. The quality manager also will balance the risk of leaning a mix and possible failure of the concrete, whether it is a durability issue or compressive strength. If you're a growing company, quality control managers can play an important role, as they provide inside knowledge of the operation and make better technical decisions.
A good quality manager will help solve quality issues quickly and assure customers that problems will not interrupt their project schedules. He will understand how the operation works, the cost of material, equipment limitations, and the qualifications of the employees better than any outside help can. A lack of this technical experience at ready-mix producers may prevent them from getting large projects, even if they are the low bidder.
To a customer, (contractor) time is money as the cost of material is already set. If they experience delays in deliveries due to technical issues with the concrete, they will look elsewhere. There's almost always a competitor nearby ready to supply the project.
However, there are plenty of industry resources for a small ready-mix producer to operate without a quality manager. The admixture companies or cement suppliers may provide some technical support, but they can't act as full-time quality control managers.
A consultant may be hired for support in difficult times or help improve production variability, but this would eventually prove cost-prohibitive for large amounts of support. These aspects must be considered to make the correct decisions to produce economic concrete proportions and reduce risk for the ready-mix producer.