Quality of leadership matters – at all employee levels

Quality of leadership matters – at all employee levels

Leadership isn’t always about the top management directing the way for the company. Leadership can be found at all levels of the company in terms of organizational structure. And even though AS9100 requirements for quality management systems indicate “top management,” it is also the “lower” part of the organization that is equally accountable and even influential. From the president to the shop floor worker and everyone in between, it is the collective of the team that defines leadership at the company.

Leadership is often seen as putting the carrot in front of the workers to get them to do what you want them to do. There is some merit in this sort of extrinsic reward as people file back into work the next day to earn their paycheck. However, not everyone desires bigger carrots, but rather the intrinsic desire of excelling and the chance to contribute their skills and talents to a greater cause. Therefore, motivation of employees — whether it be upper management or the lower tier of the organizational chart — requires both extrinsic and intrinsic modes of motivation.

The trick is knowing when to implement each form of motivation. That is true leadership. Some employees thrive on the bigger paycheck and cracking the production whip gets them moving quicker and with more quality toward the goal. Others need a different manner of motivation. That isn’t to say they are not capable of getting more done. It is more about finding a use of different potential strengths. Not everyone will be the ideal worker who goes above and beyond, but not everyone necessarily needs to be that worker when needing to get the job done.

Leadership and Commitment

A leader is expected to be ahead of the pack, to see the marketplace where there is opportunity to take the business, a never-ending game of calculating the risks involved with product and services and resources available to perform them, and to use quantitative and qualitative measures to gauge the levels of commitment and effectiveness of such an initiative.

Resources and the bottom line are not just material items such as a stapler and pens for employees to perform the job, or black and white numbers indicating success or failure at the company. Compliments to the employees for a job well done are just as important a commodity as a ream of paper for the printer. Most meetings for manufacturing center around defects and how to minimize scrap to improve overall yield. There are very rarely meetings on goals to highlight the good things people are doing, as most KPIs (key process indicators) center around improvement such as scrap or external escapes. And even then, it is a half-empty or half-full glass type of discussion erring mostly to the side of, “How come we couldn’t get any more product out the door?” instead of, “Wow, what a record month! What did we do to achieve this and how do we keep it?”

This is not to suggest that quantitative measures are not important. Measuring parts/hour and progressive discipline schemes are essential in manufacturing for it to sustain itself as a business. But are the employees engaged? Are they mindful of their actions? Do they even care? And if not, how can we motivate them? Some ways might be to scold them, discipline them, or write them up when their numbers fall below the day’s expected quota. These methods might work. But most likely not, as they can create resentment, a misperception of power within the company, a one-way flow of who is telling whom what to do.

Quality Policy

The quality policy is like a mantra for the customer. It pertains to everyone who works at the company. It can become cliché at times. “Customer satisfaction is my job” or “Produce high-quality parts” are classic responses to an auditor. But like the platitudes of “hard work pays off” or “say what you do, do what you say,” must be repeated and ingrained to become a point of realization in all aspects of what an employee does during the day. That it isn’t only in producing parts, where the quality policy is implemented, but also taken as far as to the mindfulness of the quality of steps taken to and from the lunchroom or the mindfulness of quality in the words spoken to other employees.

Organization Roles, Responsibilities, and Authorities

Everyone wants a feeling of importance and fitting into something that is bigger than themselves. Building that feeling of importance among the team is the most important aspect of good leadership. And even though AS9100 holds top management accountable to such leadership expectations, everyone in the company must be equally aware of the impact of leadership at their level.

All companies want to promote and celebrate success. Typically, this is in the form of doing a great job, getting a raise, and possibly being promoted every few years. But sustaining a culture of positive leadership and responsibility among the employees must not be done on an every few years schedule, but a more frequent day-to-day, even minute-to-minute schedule. This sense of time is brought more to the present in which employees can feel empowered even to make changes at smaller scales knowing their impact will be greater as these small changes compound over time.

But this is hard to measure. No KPI tracks the “nice work” or “thank you” through every minute of every day. The scrap numbers and delivery performance are far easier, high level goals to track.


“All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. if you want to lead people, you must learn how to follow them” — Lao Tzu

People’s emotions and behaviors are not always so clear and able to be quantitatively measured. Each person requires a special sort of attention, something that takes time and effort in a company. A good leader should possess skills not only of technical ability, but also of people skills. Anyone can remember a dictionary or cite things from a technical specification, but the art of successfully conveying the why and how to meet requirements takes a certain type of leadership skill and effective communication.

No one is born with special skills in life. We don’t sit in our cradle and infuse technical knowledge of the Gibbs free energy equation to create binary phase diagrams to be used in heat-treat practice. We learn them — just as there is potential to learn leadership skills. But recognizing that leadership is not just at the top seems to be an important step when promoting leadership throughout the company and team. Learning how people can empower one another is an important skill.


Heat treating from the operator’s perspective

Heat treating from the operator’s perspective

Often, a customer visit involves a walk through the facility. Comments are made about how clean it is or how well organized a process is put together, but probably the most important compliment is the heat-treat operator’s ability to express the knowledge of the process. To hear — in between the technical jargon — the support needed and given by the rest of the team at the facility displaying the confidence in the actions of what, how, and why they perform their job.

Similar to a sports team, the heat-treat team is comprised of different functions and roles that must all work together and support one another in achieving the goal of heat treating successfully to customer requirements. Fans file in to see the sports game and cheer and support the players on the field. They comment on how nice the stadium is or how well organized the processes of finding their seat and bathroom are. But what the fans really cheer for is the success of the players on the field.

In sports, it is the players on the field who ultimately make the plays that win the game, but the support on the sideline leading up to the game, during the game, and even after the game is what is crucial in making the program and team an overall success. Similarly, the heat-treat operator is on the playing field to properly run the cycle and meet the customer’s requirements with the support of maintenance, human resources, engineering, management, and quality.

Pre-game (prior to shift)

A typical Monday for vacuum furnace heat treating often begins with performing the leak rate test, a check that determines the integrity of the seals and the chamber for no possible air contamination during a cycle. The operator then begins to make sure the furnace is in working order by performing the daily checklist, a combination of basic maintenance items such as ohm resistance checks on the elements, replacement of possible hot zone parts, and an overall walk around of the furnace inspecting for leaks and other items that might stand out. When needed, the operator gets support from the maintenance team with a simple QR code work order entry to minimize the downtime.

Once the furnace is in working order, the operator makes sure the stickers are up to date, that all pyrometry requirements from the TUS (temperature uniformity survey), CAL (instrument calibration), and SAT (system accuracy test) are all up to date. If not, a simple request via email notifies the heat-treat engineer and quality personnel of the furnace calibration.

In sports, athletes need various forms of training. Maybe it’s mental training for confidence in the game or physical training to be stronger and faster. The heat-treat operator also needs training, mental training for audit preparation and physical training on how to operate any forklift equipment or how to properly run the heat-treat furnace.

In building the team, human resource personnel search the industry’s network for top talent. Once on board, training programs such as ARP1962 Training and Approval of Heat Treating Personnel are recommended and suggest both classroom and practical training. Exams are administered to check competency but also simulate questions that might be asked during an audit. Preparation is key to winning the championship game, and so is the preparation and training that makes an audit successful.

During the game (during shift)

The stage is set; It’s game time. Lights come on in the furnace area and the furnace power turns on, ready to go. Parts are ready to be heat treated. The operator has a beginning-of-shift huddle for the play actions for the day with the manager instructing the goals ahead for the shift. How many parts are there to heat treat? How many cycles need to be run? Once they are on the clock, the operator gets to work setting up various loads and running multiple furnaces simultaneously.

Like juggling multiple different plays that could be run, the operator must juggle the priorities of the day. A furnace may be running smoothly and then suddenly lose power. Last minute jobs that have become greater priority must be shuffled into the schedule. Even continual quality check-ins throughout the shift are important. For example, replacement of thermocouple wire lots dictates a possible alternate SAT requirement, or dew point verification testing may also be required. The original play call may need to be changed.

Post game (end of cycle/shift)

Once the clock hits the end of the shift, the game for that day is done. The reports get generated for the production and quality personnel of the day’s work and are reviewed by the management “upstairs.” Deeming the work adequate and conforming, human resources rewards the operator with a paycheck or sometimes even special awards for service to the company that is above and beyond what is required.

Process engineers then come in and analyze the plays and try to optimize for the next day. Opportunities lost in scrap or wasted time can be improved upon to help the operator be more successful. Maybe new techniques or more training is required. To keep the company successful, upper management measures the success based on AS9100 requirements of defining company goals and key process indicators (KPIs). A win at the end of the business day is determined by whether the entire team is trending toward the goal.

The Monday quarterback

Business and production are a never-ending cycle as each day is a game day. Sports teams have their dynasties where special players with great talent bring victory with triumph over defeats. In a company’s culture and organization, it is important to remember that each of the team members — the heat-treat operators, the personnel on the floor working with the process, and those in upper management — is equally important. Think of the professional sport programs that fire the head coach before the players!

Each day, the goal is to improve upon the operator’s success whether you are in maintenance, process engineering, quality, or management. The game to be won is not a short-term goal in just KPIs reviewed quarterly, but rather the lifetime of the company. The culture of success requires continual maintenance before, during, and after the heat-treat shift. Continual effort must always be made to improve the operator’s ability to successfully heat treat.



‘Say what you do, do what you say’

‘Say what you do, do what you say’

In the special process world of the aerospace industry, companies with requirements of aerospace manufacturing must rely on the accreditation of AS9100 and the Nadcap requirements to process parts for airplanes. SAE, the body that developed the AS9100 requirements for aviation, space, and defense organizations, encompasses more the measurement of the quality management system, whereas the PRI body that manages the Nadcap requirements for special processes is more technical in the details of the process.

The principles of AS9100 define the quality management principles of customer focus, leadership, engagement of people, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision making, and relationship management. These principles, such as leadership and relationship management, are not best  measured with quantitative approaches.

The Nadcap technical requirements of specifics of correction factors, instrument calibration frequencies, and surface contamination checks for microstructure are all quantitative measures that can be tracked toward the quest to quality.

Regardless of the more philosophical approach to business compared to the technical “nitty-gritty” approach to establishing a quality process, both requirements abide by the common phrase heard in the industry: “Say what you do, do what you say.” That phrase is likely on a banner in every quality manager’s office. 

Quantitative assessments

Major/minor findings in the audit: These assessments are discovered during an audit, which can be nerve-wracking. It can be an AS9100 audit, where they can choose anything in your system to investigate. Or it can be the Nadcap audit, with the black and white rules that must be followed with no deviations. Those who do not prepare, who don’t attempt to embrace the system, fret and worry the most. Audit findings usually are an indicator of how well the quality system is performing at a company and whether or not the technical details are being met. After so many majors and a combination of minor findings, the audit can be deemed a failure, indicating that quality must be improved to minimize these findings.

Key process indicators: Another method of quantitative assessment involves the goals being measured at the company. Even though there’s a section in AS9100 that requires them, goals are important to have — required or not. They chart success and failure in a visible way, with graphs trending upwards or downwards with respect to the goal. It’s an indication of whether all the elements are aligned at the company in such a way that they work in unison to achieve the set number defined as the goal. Whether that means on time delivery or scrap reduction, these set numbers simplify the language communicated to the team of quality system and technical detail alignment in that everyone can be on the same page.

Qualitative assessments

Let’s face it, not every procedure will be written to define every movement at a company. Beyond the standard operating procedure for loading and unloading a furnace or grit blasting a part, there are aspects of the process for which a procedure is not a practical tool nor is it worth tracking how many words or letters are written in a given day to chart quality at the company.

Willingness to learn: What happens when you get a corrective action? Not surprisingly, most people hate it. With the corrective action come the dreaded tools of “Five Whys” or Fishbone Diagrams to reach the root cause of ‘why’ did it happen? Whichever tool is used, the activity itself requires a gathering of the team and a willingness to realize the opportunity that was missing in the process. And what is interesting throughout the process of 8D or other formal corrective action process is that this system forces communication amongst the team. Forces the employees to all get on the same page and work together to solve the problem. With this, team members are quickly identified as either seeing failures as opportunities or as just a way to complain more about their job. It is the willingness to learn that is really being measured.

Human relations: I’ve had opportunities where I worked at both large and small companies. And the one thing I often take inventory on is the overall attitude of the workplace culture. One of the simple measures that resonates with me in measuring overall quality at an organization are the human relations. How many of your bosses call you by your name or even remember your name? Upper management talking to the shop floor workers is a good sign a company has a great overall team working together. How many small conversations can you have, but still be productive in a workday? These all add up as well to the bigger picture of getting product shipped out the door on time, and with the highest of quality.


Quality is not only a measure of key process indicators or numeric goals to hit and sustain. It is even beyond the “say what you do, do what you say,” as no procedure can always capture all the things being performed at the company. The presence of promoting quality-type practices is beyond how many pieces of scrap to count or how many corrective actions you have. Nadcap and AS9100 hold companies accountable.

As each production day shifts from one to the next, each crew is expected to maintain this level of quality every day. It’s a cycle of continuous improvement where we experience a problem or success and reflect on it to then take the necessary action. This requires quantitative measures to help structure the process and create a language for the company to all speak to achieve the quality goals.

AMS2750 pyrometry revisions tweak a crucial process

AMS2750 pyrometry revisions tweak a crucial process

AMS2750 pyrometry is a daunting heat-treat special process requirement in the aerospace industry. It’s a literal definition implying measurement of temperature, but it also defines a measurement system of extreme detail and consistency for a given heat-treat process. It is a specification that brings clarity to a process of bringing control to heat-treat, but also one that creates a headache if the parameters are not fully understood — not only from the technical requirements, but from a realization as to why these requirements are necessary.   

The scope of the specification 

By definition, “This specification covers pyrometric requirements for equipment used for the thermal processing of metallic materials. Specifically, it covers temperature sensors, instrumentation, thermal processing equipment, correction factors and instrument offsets, system accuracy tests, and temperature uniformity surveys. These are necessary to ensure that parts or raw materials are heat-treated in accordance with the applicable specification(s).”

The breakdown

Sensors equal the eyes into the furnace. The Seebeck Effect describes when two dissimilar metals join together, it creates differences in electrical conductivity. This phenomenon creates the eyes into the furnace — the vision required to see the heat and the heating of the parts. There are three ways to heat something: via conductance, convection, and radiation. A thermocouple is a sensor that measures temperature. It consists of two different types of metals, joined together at one end.

As long as the tip of the thermocouple is the only junction along the length of the wire and it is placed in the correct location, it will “see” the particular method of heating.  

Thermocouples can come in different types, such as noble and base-metal categories of materials and are further categorized by sheath considerations such as expendable (e.g. woven fabric) and non-expendable (e.g. metal sheath). A thermocouple is often designed and rated for specific temperature ranges, atmospheres in the furnace, and number of uses. AMS2750 lays this out in the respective tables by establishing recalibration and use frequencies based upon a temperature. 

However, mV differences do not mean much from a heat-treat perspective, and these values need to be converted into a value of more meaning to be understood. 


Instrumentation calibrations equal converting what the sensors see to something to which one of our human senses can relate. The instruments on a furnace take the signals from the sensors and convert the mV signals to degrees. This is the constant work that goes on during the entire process of controlling and recording the temperature cycle. Because of that, it becomes important to check the instruments of controlling and recording on a set frequency to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. AMS2750 requires specific instrumentation types to be defined and including how many and what types of instruments are needed to convert these signals on various parts of the furnace. Often, a customer will require a minimum instrumentation type to be followed. A common instrumentation type for a furnace is Type B. 

Type B requires for actual instruments, an overtemp, controller, and recorder. For a Class 3 instrumentation Type B furnace, it is required to check these instruments on a quarterly basis with an accuracy of ±2°F or 0.2 percent, whichever is greater. (Although some customers might have a tighter accuracy requirement.)

One might think from the metallurgist’s perspective that this degree of accuracy seems insignificant on the microstructure if the temperature is 2,000°F or really 2,001°F and to further require the use of correction factors of the thermocouples that can vary 10ths of degrees to get a true reading of now 2,000.5°F, for example. This accuracy of temperature seems irrelevant when considering the activation energy required for the atom to diffuse into a vacant lattice site. 

Often the heat-treat temperatures established for the process are not on the cusp of the potential energy required to move the atom, but in a range where it seems almost guaranteed. However, as an archer aims specifically at the bullseye to hit the target with an arrow, the focus in heat treat must be to an extreme point. This allows for the slightest miscue, while often still resulting in hitting the desired target. 

System accuracy test (SAT)

Ideally, an SAT is used to make sure the system of sensor plus the lead wire plus the instrument all work. The system accuracy test, so nicely described in Revision F in comparison to Revision E, lays out three methods: comparison, alternate, and the waiver. This begins to test the overall function of the system when the elements are combined — how the eyes work in conjunction with the brain of the furnace. The components themselves can be working, but the overall combination of these components must work in unison. This test, although simple in nature, is often required by an auditor to witness during the Nadcap audit. 

The Temperature Uniformity Survey (TUS) means defining the work zone and understanding the temperature variation in the furnace (defining the space of the furnace to be the working zone and determining the uniformity in each region of the furnace). It is the volume in which to guarantee the parts heat treat correctly and where the spatial recognition for the eyes of the furnace is monitored during a heat-treat cycle. This is a test that exposes the integrity of the furnace. Any wear-and-tear on the hot zone itself will result in temperature variations that exceed requirements. It’s a test of the heating components — such as graphite elements — in a vacuum furnace that is working correctly with no electrical shorts or inconsistent radiation. 

The TUS really begins with the furnace design and the manufacturer’s responsibility to adequately design and control the heat the best way possible. It then requires the patience of the engineer to adjust the power to the zones and to trim the furnace parameters into tolerance.


Pyrometry is a requirement that can be intimidating, but, at the same time, it can bring clarity and control of a process. Beyond the specific technical requirements, it symbolizes steps to follow to ensure repeatability and confidence for a given heat-treat cycle. There is little room for error when flying a plane; similarly, on the ground, there should be no relaxation of the strict expectations of demanding a sound process that is in control to be as specific as possible. And to prove that quality counts, AMS2750 requires quality assurance personnel to sign off on the pyrometry records.


Mapping it Out Excerpt 1

Mapping it Out Excerpt 1

Reflections on hiking an actual mountain growing up in New Hampshire... before the ascent on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. "It was always this sort of disordered commotion, and all of a sudden we were off on the trail, pacing forward, left foot and then right foot ahead of us."

Rooted in Value

Rooted in Value (Excerpt 2)

Get this... get that... it wasn't about getting more that my mentor taught me in college. It was about shifting the things I worked towards that had a different sort of value. Values rooted in health, family, confidence, personal growth, passion, intuition, and compassion.