Wrapping It Up   12/20

The cards have been sent, the gifts have been purchased and we’re counting down the days to 2014. This is a natural time of year for reflection and as 2013 comes to a close, we’d like to offer you Talk Quality’s year-end wrap up.

In August, we posted a great blog about Bolt Handling and Storage. If you've been wondering about how to ensure your suppliers are top notch, then this is the blog for you.

As the year comes to a close, you may be thinking about cleaning out your files. We definitely are! Make sure to check out our blog on Record Retention pitfalls for some tips that will keep you from non-conformances at your next audit.

If training is your goal for the New Year but you’re not quite ready to bite the bullet, our blog on Periodic Training might help you decide.

Finally, we gave some helpful tip on the new Mock Girder Requirements and posted three handy steps on putting together your application for AISC certification.

These are all pointers for you coming directly from the field. Real life experiences from our project managers, staff, colleagues and clients. In the season of giving our goal is to give as much information from the steel construction industry as we can! 

Before we wish you a happy holiday, we want to offer just one more tip. If you are thinking about getting AISC Certified for the new year, start now! There is currently a 120-150 day lead time for certification after you apply. Getting together your documentation will always take longer than you think; a PQR for bridge certification can sometimes take up to a month to complete. Start planning, asking questions and don’t forget you can call on us if you need assistance!

We want to hear your quality successes from 2013! Share with us on Facebook or Twitter; tell us your stories, your tips and leave us suggestions for more Talk Quality topics in 2014.

From all of us at Atema, I want to wish you a Happy Holiday season and, no matter how you define success, a successful 2014! 

Dan Hoffman
Director of Operations
Atema Inc. 

Survival Guide - Tradeshows   10/03

Going to a tradeshow is not unlike going to your first day of high school. Lots of people (kids) from different companies (schools) coming together in one gigantic new space, all trying to network (make friends) and get to know each other.

If you are a naturally outgoing and extroverted person, this might be a piece of cake for you. If you aren't, this might be your worst nightmare. Either way, we present you with some survival tips for getting through a tradeshow. With FabTech coming up in November (in our hometown of Chicago!), this is the perfect time to put these into practice!

  • Sit down at lunch with someone you don’t know. Ask them where they are from and play “5 degrees of separation”. You never know who you might know in common and that could open the door for future opportunities!
  • If you are exhibiting, make eye contact with every person you can, in a non-threating, non-judgmental way. Attending tradeshows makes people skittish; if they feel pressured, they may not stay to chat. Smile and be sure to really listen to what they are looking for. That may be the difference between a new client and a lost one. 
  • If an exhibitor’s services catch your eye but aren't quite what you need, talk to them anyway. You never know what other services they provide that they aren't directly marketing.
  • Take advantage of apps on your phone that can help you capture people’s information and make sure to follow through right away. With an app like Evernote, you can set a reminder so that when you return to your hotel in the evening, you can send your new contact more info on your company or just a note to say you enjoyed meeting them. You meet hundreds of people at a tradeshow. Keep yourself fresh in their mind. 
  • For FabTech specifically, go to the Robotic Arc Welding Contest or the Welding Wars Competition. Everyone likes a little competition and cheering for or against the same team is an instant ice breaker.
  • Lastly, bring an extra bag for all the stuff you pick up! You can’t leave a tradeshow without a mountain of freebies, giveaways and information. Bring an extra bag to keep it separate in your luggage so you can easily sort through when you return to the office
If you’re attending FabTech 2013 in Chicago, send us a Tweet or visit us on Facebook and let us know! 

AISC Application Packages - 3 Steps for Success!   8/30

As admins at Atema, we spend much of our time putting together AISC application packages for clients. Our expert staff works to create all the documents necessary and then we take those documents, put them in a package and send them off to AISC. For those of you that are considering sending your documents to AISC yourself, I’d like to offer some basic tips. These are common errors we find people make with their packages.

Clean Copies
Ideally, you should print a fresh copy of your documents - manuals, job descriptions, bios, etc. Print them in color, single sided to avoid confusion. If a freshly printed copy is not an option, be sure to get a clean scan of your documents. If you can, use a high resolution scanner. Also be sure that the entire document is scanned and not cut off at the bottom. 

Signed pages
There are several things that need to be signed when you turn in your application. Your application itself, the first page of your manual and your internal audit should all be signed. Don't forget or this could delay the review of your package!

Separate docs with colored paper.
AISC provides a list of documentation submittal requirements . Separate your documents out according to this list and use a colored sheet of paper or a blank sheet marked “Intentionally left blank.” This ensures that each document is seen and alleviates confusion.

BONUS TIP - Keep a copy for yourself!
This last tip seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a good reminder. Make sure you keep a physical copy of exactly what you turn in. In the event that you receive a document deficiency, you want to be able to look at what the reviewer saw so you can address any issues.

Although these four tips might seem like minor issues, they can put a delay in your certification process. By checking to be sure you’ve covered all your bases, the process will move smoother and faster and you’ll be on your way to certification in no time!

PS: If doing it all yourself seems like a daunting task, we’re happy to help.  Visit our AISC page to read more.

Mock Girder Requirements Have Changed - Are You Prepared?   6/18

In 2011, AISC finalized and published its new AISC Certification Program for Steel Bridge Fabricators – Standard for Steel Bridges – 2011. With this new publication came changes to the “Mock-up Bridge Girder Instructions”.  Now that AISC will be implementing this newer certification standard and looking for compliance among new applicants and currently certified alike, we thought we would point out the big changes.

1. The first paragraph of the latest edition of AISCQC015 "Mock-up Bridge Girder Instructions" has changed from 2006/9. such that the requirements for when a fabricator must complete a mock-up are no longer defined (nor are they implied) in the document, whereas the previous edition applied the mock-up girder requirement to "the fabricator seeking Initial Certification for Major Steel Bridges, with or without Fracture Critical Endorsement" and who did not have "appropriate work in house at the time of audit to demonstrate all of the knowledge and skills addressed by this instruction".

2. The reference document "Requirements AISC Certification Program for Steel Bridge Fabricators - November 1, 2012", which can be found on the AISC website, appears to more clearly define when a mock-up would be required.

  • Note 18 - at any time during certification cycle (initial or renewal) if the fabricator applies for Intermediate or Advanced Bridge and does not have that type of work in the shop at time of audit/observation, AISC would require a mock-up.
  • Note 19 - if the fabricator is also applying for FC Endorsement and does not have FC work in the shop, AISC would require a mock-up.
  • Note 21 - if the fabricator has a type of project that would be classified as Intermediate or Advanced Bridge but would prevent demonstration of all aspects of the level of certification, AISC may require "substitute exercises" to demonstrate required knowledge and skills.


Proactively, to avoid surprise call-outs for substitute exercises, the applicant might consider a request to AISC for clarification of Note 21 regarding specific work in its shop at expected time of audit. While Section 2 of the AISC 205-11 "Bridge Fabricator Standard" defines the type of work classified as Intermediate and Advanced, Note 21 of "Requirements AISC Certification Program for Steel Bridge Fabricators - November 1, 2012" appears to allow AISC a great deal of subjectivity in determining which types of Intermediate or Advanced Bridge projects would not allow the fabricator to fully demonstrate competency.

We know this sounds confusing but the Atema Quality Professionals are here to help you make sense of it all. Shoot us an email at information@atema.com or visit our website to find out how we can help.

Record Retention Pitfalls   12/21

A recent interaction with one of our clients regarding their official AISC Audit shed some light on Record Retention Pitfalls -- basically an issue that was brought to our attention during the client’s audit. 

The AISC Audit Agenda called for the auditee to have the last two years of audit reports and CARs available for the auditor. The exact wording was: 

“You are required to have last year’s audit report and CARs from the previous two years available at the opening meeting.  If you do not maintain these records a corrective action can be written to the management review in the case of a standard audit or to the question on non-conformance / quality control program in the checklist questions.”

Say what? 

So we first checked to see if a new auditing policy had been issued. Nope, none released. Then we looked within the Certification Standards and found no specific requirement for the certified company to retain these records as required in the aforementioned agenda.  Perhaps it’s in Element 9, Record Retention? No two year retention time requirement there. 

While it makes sense to retain at least the previous year’s audit report and any CARs issued for the purpose of the Management Review meeting discussion; it may not make sense for your organization to keep records beyond your company’s record retention policy.   
The AISC Requirement for record retention is “Shall be at least long enough to permit evaluation of the records during the course of the project construction unless a longer period is required by contract or government regulation, and not less than the duration of any warranty provided by the fabricator.”  These records (QMC audit reports and CARS) are not project specific, but the evaluation cycle should be at least since the previous event. So one year until the next audit to permit evaluation of the implementation of plans and actions.

Always remember: Chapter & Verse; show me in the Standard where & what the requirement is. If an auditor can’t show you the requirement, it probably doesn’t exist. 

So what is the takeaway from this? 

Keep your CAR documents and AISC Audit Reports for two years if you take no issue with this requirement. If you take exception to changing the requirements of the Certification Program without issuing an Audit Policy or re-issuing the Standard after public commentary, let the AISC Certification Committee know how you feel.

Training Definitions De-Mystifed   11/08

We work with many clients around the United States and the world. It is Atema’s common practice to offer advice and support both during and after the official AISC/QMC audits. With this support often comes feedback on the audit results and what common Corrective Action Requests were issued. Lately we have spotted a trend in one of the findings.

QMC Auditors are focusing more and more on initial and periodic training of personnel. Let’s first look at the requirements. The 2006 AISC Building Standard element 18 states: “Inspection personnel performing final inspection of the product and personnel responsible for functions that affect quality shall receive initial and periodic Documented Training. Personnel receiving initial and periodic Training shall include: project managers, detailers, inspectors, welding personnel, fitters, and painters.” Other AISC Standards have similar language.

When a Quality Management System is first rolled out and implemented, personnel need to be trained in their respective roles on their new QMS. This is classified as “initial” and pretty straightforward. People need to know what is expected from them in the execution of their work.

“Initial training” does not carry with it much ambiguity, but what is the definition of “periodic”? After much digging and searching, it was difficult to pinpoint a clear definition of what constitutes periodic retraining. Does periodic mean every week, month or year? Why even attempt to define a word that is nebulous in nature?

We looked at the impact and goal behind training. Atema had team discussions and we even polled some of our existing and past clients. This is what we came up with: periodic training should occur anytime a procedural requirement is changed and when personnel undertake additional or new responsibilities at a minimum. Internal audit findings are also great indicators that refresher training is needed.

One of our staff members shared an excellent analogy on this topic during our discussions. In his former life as a QA/QC Manager, refresher training was done every year. A very good friend of his told him that he had heard some heavy grousing about having to train and retrain personnel all the time, with the biggest complaint being: “What if we invest all this time in training and my people leave?” His response was: “What if you don’t train them and they stay?” Bottom line: Train your people and give them the tools to do it right. It’s cheaper than rework or scrap.

Interested in recieving a free Excel Training Matrix to help you manage your training of employees? Go to www.atema.com/contact and we’ll email you a copy.

WARNING! Can You Trust Your Bolts?   8/23

Fabrication components and supplies may arrive from various suppliers. Cost and quality help one decide which supplier to use for a project. We want to spend less, but still get reliability. Most importantly, we need to be sure the supplies meet code and contract specifications.

You may think you have found a good supplier that meets requirements, but can we really trust our suppliers?

Allow us to illustrate.

The Scenario
Atema discussed a project with a Detroit testing agency who was overseeing a building job in Mexico where A325 bolts were being installed.

The bolts were torque checked, and all were found loose. All were retightened, and when checked again, they were loose. There were four instances of re-tightening in all.

The bolts were creeping under tensile load.

The testing agent rejected the bolts but said he wasn’t sure the A325 spec covered the creep situation. He said the bolts were from 3 different manufacturers and included regular hex head and tension control (TC) bolts. The TC bolts were not as bad as the hex head, but nonetheless did stretch some.

The Twist (no pun intended)
The bolts were ordered from South Korean manufacturers, but those manufacturers subbed work to other producers, including some in China – same head mark, but head size and other items varied.

The root cause was bad Quality Control and Inspection by the primary company. They trusted the supplier, and they were led astray.

The Solution
Countless things can go wrong from one end of the supply chain to the other.  The only thing you can trust is your own system. If the system required that they always check their specs and always check their sources, they could have stopped work before using bad bolts.
A good system of review saves time and money before inspection. Although it will take more than just reading this article to set up an effective quality system here are three things you can do today to help catch mistakes before they happen:

1. Go beyond trust. Ask for documentation. 
2. Don’t just file! Review Certificates of Conformance before using the material.
3. Know code limitations of product being used.

Atema can help you develop and implement a quality system to prevent errors like this before inspection. Contact us here for more information on the services we provide.

P.S. Find tips like this interesting? Follow us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn to get similiar content more often!

The Zen of Nonconformances: 9 Ways to Take Charge   7/11

In the quality field, nonconformances are issued to call attention to a problem with a process or product that is not being produced up to par. Occasionally, there may be employees who become defensive when a NC is issued, feeling that the NC calls out a problem with their product or process. This can cause undue tension between employees, the heads of the quality control program, and the person issuing the NC.

The key to dealing with this issue is the attention, approach, and tone of the “Champion” of the NC program. Their actions over time related to the program can change attitudes. This can’t be accomplished by telling someone, “It’s not personal”, over and over, but rather by showing your people that that NC’s are for the good of the company and the program. Here are 9 ways this can be accomplished.

1. Visit the Manager
When you can identify a trend in NC, critical single NC or NC from an audit, a personal visit to the manager in charge to explain the opportunity to protect the company and her/his process may be helpful.

2. Find the Savings
Look for a monetary (or time) payback or cost avoidance from addressing the NC trend that the “owner” of the NC can claim by successfully addressing the issue. People tend to respond to tangible data well. Apply this once you’ve decided to elevate a trend or a single critical NC item to your corrective action process.

3. Redefine the NC
Review what you have defined as a non-conformance. Make sure the system isn’t focusing on “hangnail” items and focus the definition on serious wounds that will have important and serious impact if they are not addressed. Raise, lower, or redefine the bar.

4. Check Attitudes
Check how supervisors and managers are discussing or dealing with the NC program. When they discuss the program with their direct reports, their approach may be sabotaging a positive image without knowing it. Enlist them as allies in a campaign to get more from the NC program. “We’ve got to do it for certification. Why don’t we get some real economic benefit from it and make sure it is identifying real issues that are important?”

5. Get the Head Honcho Involved
Revisit your president, CEO or owner’s involvement in the program. There may be an opportunity to take a small amount of time here and there to recognize a trend or issue and have him/her talk favorably with those involved to show the importance to the company.

6. Call A Meeting
You may want to consider a training or meeting for employees to re-communicate the purpose for tracking nonconformances, why you quantify that data and the resulting costs. Remind them that identifying and eliminating nonconformances makes the company competitive in a tough economic environment; it ensures future work and benefits for everyone.

7. See if it’s a Personal Issue
The problem can be more serious if there is a single person who is spreading the opposite of good cheer on the subject and poisoning the opinions of many. There may be other issues surrounding this employee, not just discrediting your quality management system. It may take a disciplinary action or termination if they don’t come around.

8. Have a Group Investigate
Once you’ve decided to elevate a trend or a single critical NC item to the corrective action process, look at how you investigate root cause. Involve some of the affected employees in the process. The group may find that you’ve jumped to conclusions and not investigated far back enough or deep enough to find the real cause. A strong caveat: only do this with employees who are trained well in this process and understand it thoroughly. A well conducted root cause analysis won’t be threatening for anyone. Even root cause analysis training could bring a few people around.

9. Check Your Zen
Finally, check your own approach. We all need to, from time to time. To you, it may seem crystal clear that addressing a particular problem is necessary and shouldn’t need an empathetic explanation. However, you must step back, look at the situation from the receiver’s mind, choose your words carefully and understand the perceived extra work the problem will take to fix.


P.S. This Blog was crafted from questions that came directly from our customers. If you would like to see more of this, or if you want your own questions answered, Contact Us Here, or connect with us on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

Finally! Get the guide you've needed and never had   6/13

Terry Logan here, Principal of Atema.

I would like to give a friendly hello to our online audience on the day of my inaugural contribution to our blog. This will be the beginning of our "higher-ups" occasionally giving their voices to our humble marketing team to spread our knowledge and wisdom to those willing to read it.

My first contribution is a downloadable White Paper: "A Guide to the Definition and Understanding of Low Stress Die Stamp in the Structural Steel Industry". I've been researching this for years, and since no one ever wanted to define it (AWS, AREMA, AASHTO, etc.) I figured it was time for someone to step up to the plate.

Click here to be redirected to our webpage containing the downloadable material. Scroll down, and you'll see the PDF icon.

In addition to being the first post from the voice of one of our executives, this will also be the first of many White Papers to be produced by Atema. Keep your eyes open, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn for further updates, posts, and helpful and fun tidbits.

Until next time, folks!

DISASTER! : Do you know the two unbreakable rules of auditing after a tragedy?   5/15

In 2007, Minnesota experienced an unpredictable disaster. The Minneapolis I-35W Bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River. There was public turmoil as traffic was immobilized and rumors spread through the public and the media, the most frightening of which was the suspicion of a terrorist threat. In the end, 13 people were killed and 145 were injured.

After such a tragedy, auditing the suppliers to the Owner of the bridge becomes a great challenge. Suddenly everything changes at all levels of an organization. An auditor must face a new raw and volatile environment.

Above all an auditor must remember two unbreakable rules of auditing after a disaster:


As an auditor, it is tempting to fall into the vortex of emotion that surrounds such an event. The auditor is often the first "face of the agency" a supplier sees after a disaster, and sometimes the disaster is the reason for the audit. Auditees may look to an auditor for answers to why the disaster happened, or auditees may expect the disaster to be the scope of the audit. Everyone is watching with more acute vision and listening with sharper ears. Anything you say or do as an auditor can and will be construed as the official opinion of the Owner you represent. Keep off the subject of the event.

2. Stick to audit criteria

It is paramount that the auditor keeps a professional façade. Mixed emotions likely will permeate the staff of a fabrication shop after a tragic event. Guilt, Blame, and generally bad feelings inspire auditees to look for direction. As we mentioned above, that direction should not be driven by the disaster itself. The codes, standards, and specifications set forth as the sources for audit criteria remain the driving force behind audit observations. The purpose of the audit is not to find all the things that went wrong in the disaster; it is to assure that requirements are met and procedures are in place to produce a good product.

P.S. On May 22, 2012, Terry Logan, our Vice President, will be giving his presentation "How to Audit After a Disaster" at the ASQ World Conference in Anaheim, CA. He will discuss in detail and from experience the critical things that must be considered by auditors in trying times.

If you’ve see Terry speak before, you know that his presentations are always lively, no matter the topic! If you haven’t seen him speak, what are you waiting for? More information on the conference can be found here:

ASQ World Conference.

P.P.S. Be sure to keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more information about this and other upcoming events!