Right the First Time

Quality control is not a matter of after-the-fact checking of inspection data. It is a state of mind and an insistence on perfection as the everyday goal.
Right the First Time

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When CCTV inspections went digital in 2001, few people realized the impact the change would have on the industry. Until then, relatively few videos were looked at after the inspections took place because it was difficult to navigate through the VHS tapes. Finding specific points on two hours of videotape was time-consuming, and most people weren’t willing to take the time.

Digital recordings changed everything. End users could now look at every inch of pipe in a CCTV inspection in a matter of minutes. For the first time, every video inspection run was not only looked at but closely scrutinized. The result was a much more sophisticated end user who began demanding better quality and more accurate information in pipe video.

This had two significant results. First, inspection operators could no longer be thrown into the field with little to no training or experience – only well-trained and qualified operators were able to meet the higher standards. Second, quality control became an important part of the process, ensuring that customers got the highest quality possible.

What is quality control?

The dictionary defines quality control as “the process by which entities review the quality of all factors involved in production.” In CCTV inspection, it is easy to determine what those factors are. They include the inspection videos and all accompanying pictures and reports.

Quality control ensures that the production video and data are always correct and consistent. Most people see quality control as something that takes place after the fact. They envision someone reviewing the videos and making the necessary corrections.

In reality, quality control is much more than that. It is a state of mind that encompasses all facets of the production, from beginning to end. It is a mindset of intolerance for anything substandard. It is pride in delivering the highest possible outcome under any circumstance.

If I were to give my own meaning for quality control, I would describe it as being the counterbalance to human error. In fact, quality control can even be looked at as insurance against carelessness. Let’s face it: We all make mistakes. Some of us do so more than others, but at some point, we all fall short.

Most of the time, errors are not critical or consequential. However, there are times when small errors can have huge implications. For example, if an asset identification number in an inspection report is transcribed improperly, the consequences can be significant. When that inspection ends up in a huge database, it will be practically impossible to find.

An incorrect spelling of a street name can also be aggravating. It makes it difficult to filter databases properly, and it also reflects poorly on the person and company responsible. These errors are intolerable and should never be ignored. Quality-control checks are designed to catch such mistakes before the final submittal of the product.

Protecting the image

Smaller, less consequential errors matter, too. Misspelled words, incorrect street numbers and grammatical shortcomings convey a negative image to the customer. Even though they are small, these errors erode the confidence and perception of professionalism that the customer has in the operator and company.

Quality is really a management issue – management dictates the level at which the product is deemed acceptable. The culture of quality must be based on a concept of acceptance that can be summed up in one word: Perfection. We must understand the human and mechanical element that sometimes prevents that, but perfection must be the goal.

Management must convey to the operators that nothing less than perfect is acceptable. That means the header information on the reports is 100 percent correct, as is the information on the screen. Each observation must be precise, and the data must be entered correctly throughout the video. Finally, the lighting must be at optimum levels, and the audio recording must be clear.

Quality is also a technical issue. By providing the best equipment possible, you ensure that the quality of the picture and the sound is of the highest caliber. A sharp operator can be neutralized with old or poorly maintained equipment.

An effective quality program

Most people think of a quality-control program as a QC manager reviewing every video. Even though that is an important part of the process, it is not by any means the only part. If all we did as managers was review and correct video and data already generated, then we would receive the same errors, day after day, year after year.

We must in fact plan for quality from the outset by looking at the inspection operator and determining where improvement is needed. This means operators must get intensive and regular training throughout their careers. We must constantly strive to correct areas of deficiency – we cannot take for granted that people will improve automatically. Even the best inspection operators can fall into habits that need correction.

So, managers must teach that quality is the individual operator’s responsibility. We must stress that quality means preventing errors now, so that they don’t have to be corrected later. We must emphasize the importance of getting it right while the work is being done. That means every entry must be performed at a high level, and then rechecked before proceeding.

This also means all operators must show up for work each day with sufficient rest so that they can perform at their highest level. They must eliminate distractions while they are working. And they must be thoroughly trained and prepared before they conduct pipeline inspections.

A two-tiered program

Every CCTV inspection company should have a two-tiered quality-control program. The first tier lives in the field with the inspection operator, who must review each inspection as it is completed. Immediately after each run, the operator should play back the video to ensure that:

  • It actually recorded.
  • It is recorded from beginning to end.
  • The lighting was adequate.
  • Data on the opening screen is correct.
  • Data on the running screen is correct.
  • There is acceptable audio throughout.

Corrections can be made on the reports later, but changes to the video are much more complex. Therefore, if there are problems with the video, this is the time to fix it. Rerunning the inspection while still set up at the manhole is the most cost-effective correction method. Having to return later to re-inspect will cost a lot more and waste production time.

The second tier of quality control is the in-house quality-control check. It is important that this review be performed by someone who is trained in NASSCO PACP defect coding. It helps if the quality-control officer also has some field experience and understands what occurs during the inspection process.

Before any video or hard-copy report is submitted to the customer, it must be thoroughly reviewed. Every picture, every report and every observation needs to be thoroughly looked at, and any errors should be corrected if possible. If the error is too significant for an in-house correction, it should be returned to the operator for corrective action.

The information compiled by the quality-control officer must get back to the operators. This feedback will help them learn, so that they do not continue making the same errors. Often, operators are unaware that they are doing things incorrectly. Bad habits can creep in without their realizing it. Immediate feedback is important in the growth and development of a top-rate inspection operator.

Review sessions

An excellent way to ensure that the quality-control information is used effectively is to hold group reviews with all inspection operators. In these sessions, the quality-control officer discusses areas where there have been problems.

Videos are selected and played back to point out areas of deficiency. It is also valuable to point out the areas where things are being done right. These meetings are valuable in creating standard procedures and improving product quality among the operators.

Ultimately, the goal must be to create a culture of pride in the products. This does not happen by itself. It must be done through extensive training, the setting of high standards, ongoing accountability, and the checking and rechecking of the product every step of the way.

Having a well-established quality-control process is one of the major keys in developing a top-rate CCTV pipeline inspection program. As Ford Motor Company says, “Quality is job one.” 

About the Author Jim Aanderud is owner of Innerline Engineering, a video pipeline inspection company based in Corona, Calif.


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