For more than 70 years and three generations of family ownership, product quality has been a driving value at Beckett Corporation, an Ohio manufacturer of residential and commercial oil and gas burners and controls. This is why, as part of a Six Sigma Black Belt project in 2005, the company moved to automated burner and burner control testing stations.
Beckett burner control testands
Current Senior Process Engineer Jeff Traczek wasn’t at Beckett during the conversion to automated testing. But he is gladly using the 16 automated teststands now in place to continually improve quality and operations.
While end-of-the-line testing to determine whether an assembled burner can leave the factory is a vital part of the program, Traczek’s focus is preventing defective units from reaching final testing.
Beckett's goal: increase first-pass yield
“We’re a lean manufacturing operation,” he said. “Our goal is to increase first-pass yield on all tested components and systems.”
To do that, Traczek and his team regularly review the testing database for trends.
“Being able to view reports over any period of time has been highly beneficial,” he said. “We can identify problem areas and why things are failing. We look for the top ten issues at any given time and go hammer on those.”
If, for example, an unexpected number of blower motors are causing systems to fail, they want to know why. “We go to the source to figure that out.”
Testing in-line and at component manufacturer
The company’s automated teststands are also used in-line for components. Two of the systems are at the contract manufacturer that builds burner controls to Beckett’s designs, including GeniSys, a new microprocessor-based primary control. “We don’t want to be paying to ship defective controls or to be working with them here.”
Beckett does test 100 percent of finished units. Traczek, who has been in the heating and cooling industry for more than two decades, said automated testing is more comprehensive and accurate.
“The previous testing process was operator dependant,” he explained. “The operator looked at gauges and digital meters and judged whether the unit was right. It was labor intensive, less accurate and inconsistent.”
Expanding tested factors, reducing human errors
Quality Manager Vic Turk said Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of production outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects and variability.
“The old testers were electro-mechanical devices,” Turk explained, “and required some manual set up for each new order that ran in the cell. They were often run in a partial by-pass mode, where the green light pass/red light fail feature was disabled for a test feature.”
“The older measuring equipment, coupled with human intervention, generated some inherently high variability. Upgrading to electronic readouts and data recording promised some improvements, but the significant opportunity was the potential to eliminate manual intervention and associated escape of non-conforming material.”
Wrong unit? Fail any test? No label!
“Now once the burner completes a cycle,” Turk said, “measured values are verified against parameters for the specific unit before the approval label is generated on line, providing a positive mistake proof—poka yoke in lean terminology—for burner performance and quality.”
The automated testers can process far more complex burner control cycles than the older ones, which essentially operated on a one-size-fits-all basis. Over time, Beckett has improved the rigor of testing, verifying additional functions and features for more than 1,500 possible build configurations.
“This has improved the consistency and reliability of finished burners for our customers with more complex testing demands without any increase in the tester cycles,” Turk said.