Matt Heidecker | How To Build A Quality System That Works For You (and not the other way around)
Matt Heidecker shares his deep and valuable experience with us from testing pharmaceutical compounds and understanding the mechanics of the universe on an atomic level as well as implementing truly practical quality systems that help teams work more productively without weighing them down in paperwork and bureaucracy. Learn more about his work by visiting PSN’s website.
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quality, system, customer, unforced errors, material, develop, people, create, testing, engineering, equipment, test, materials, medical device, fixture, procedure, understand, engineering teams, perspective, psn
Aaron Moncur, Matt Heidecker
Aaron Moncur 00:00
Hey everyone, we’re looking to add a new member to our engineering team. Ideally, we’re looking for a Senior level Mechanical Design Engineer in the Phoenix area, who has experienced designing custom automated machines, equipment and test fixtures. Also, having working experience with controls and system integration is a plus. If you’d like to apply or suggest Someone, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Being An Engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show
Matt Heidecker 00:47
As the Quality Manager at PSN, what I developed was a quality system that is intended to avoid unforced errors.
Aaron Moncur 01:08
Hello, and welcome to the Being An Engineer podcast. Our guest today is Matt Heidecker, who is the Vice President and quality manager at Plastics Services Network or PSN for short. an engineering services firm based in Pennsylvania, Matt has a Bachelor’s degree in Plastics Engineering Technology, and a PhD in Material Science and Engineering. Matt, thank you so much for spending some time with us today on the show.
Matt Heidecker 01:35
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Aaron Moncur 01:37
All right. So what made you decide to become an engineer/scientist, because I think you have both titles.
Matt Heidecker 01:44
I do. It’s the best in the worst of both worlds, you can ask my wife that she’ll tell you that. So I did my undergraduate in engineering technology and in the realm of plastics. So as I started to get towards the end of that program, I really understood that there was a big gap, which is what happens at the molecular level. So I understood how to make things I understood how to engineer things. But I truly didn’t understand at the molecular level, how stuff actually worked. So in the PhD process, what I was able to do in material science is truly understand from the atomic level, all the way up through the finished molded goods or finished products. And then post mortem, you know, how it fails, and the full lifecycle of a material. So by understanding that full plethora of information from the atoms to end of life of a product, I was capable of truly understanding how to develop products. And it was, it was something that is really interesting to me.
Aaron Moncur 02:47
That’s a fascinating answer. Our engineering manager, Michael Hadley, I had him on the show way back towards the beginning, when we started, and his answer to that same question was very similar to yours. He said, I wanted to understand how the world worked. And engineering seemed to me to be the best way to go about understanding that your your answers is interesting, because it takes it beyond just the mechanical universe, you take it down to the molecular level. I’m curious. This is kind of an open ended vague question, but let’s see what you can do with it. I’m curious, were there any, like big insights that you had, as you were studying down at the atomic level? Oh, that’s, that’s why the world works the way it does were any, you know, just big takeaways, or big insights that you had during that time?
Matt Heidecker 03:36
I do. And the reality was, it depends. And folks always ask the question. So when I went into my PhD program, I expected to step out of it and literally know everything. And the reality was I didn’t, what I learned was how to learn. So what I gain from the molecular level is that it behaves completely different than the macro level. So if you look at atoms at the atomic level, they behave differently than if you have something in the bulk form. And the easiest analogy I have for that is if you were to take an aluminum plates or steel plates, and it’s an inch thick, if you made that one atom thick, that material still has some of the same properties, but it behaves completely differently. So that whole construct, again, the molecular level versus the macro molecular level, provided me with an insight into the fact that it always depends, there’s really no true answer to any question because it depends upon the construct. So the ability to learn and to understand how things work both at the molecular and the macro molecular level made me a better engineer and a better scientist.
Aaron Moncur 04:49
I love that. It makes me think of one of the insights that I’ve had in a mechanical sense. The the area moment of inertia, I’ve always felt to be fascinating because it illustrates so beautifully how just a really simple change in an already existing shape can have such a profound effect, you know, you take something that’s maybe thin in one direction, but thick in the other direction. And if you hold it in the thin direction and apply load in that direction, then it bends easily. But if you just rotate it 90 degrees, so your, your your thick side is now aligned with the application of force, it becomes very stiff. And just, you know, things like that, to me are so interesting.
Matt Heidecker 05:29
They are and if you step into Mother Nature, that’s where you truly find a lot of fascinating innovations. Because nature itself has built its own construct and has survived for hundreds of thousands of years. So if you’re curious as to a good place to start, if you’re stumped, going into nature, and looking for your fundamental problem, and starting to look for solutions that are outside the boxes is interesting, because if you look at it from a classical perspective, and that’s what a lot of high level academics will do, they’ll look at it from the, the theoretical perspective. And the reality is, sometimes you have to step outside of theory, you have to go into actual practice to understand how things truly do work. Because in a lot of cases, it’s not well understood, it’s not well defined. And that’s been the biggest takeaway I would say, from my career thus far is that if you look at the modern marvels of the world, they’re actually a lot simpler than what you might imagine. And, to me, that’s the truly fascinating aspect of this.
Aaron Moncur 06:30
Fantastic, I love it. I like that you brought up nature, right? Mother Nature has iterated for millions of years to get right, all of the different systems that are successfully in place to this day, that can be a great tool for brainstorming. I think, too, if you’re stuck with an idea, and you can’t quite find the answer, maybe take a step back. And well, are there applications in nature that might be relevant? What can we learn there?
Matt Heidecker 06:55
Aaron Moncur 06:56
You spent a lot of your career researching polymers. And we designing consumer products for some of our customers and typically turn to one of a small handful of go to plastic materials such as, you know, nylon, or ABS or PC ABS acetal, polypro. Are there some polymer materials for for common manufacturing processes like injection molding that that engineering teams should be considering that maybe aren’t as popular as the standard half dozen that most of us rely on?
Matt Heidecker 07:28
It’s a good question and it’s a difficult question because the world is changing around us. If we start to look at it from the circular economy perspective, we start to think about how things again, are actually made. So if we think about consumer products, why have we been able to extend the shelf life for food products, it’s because the packaging in a lot of cases is using five or six or seven different layers of material. In order to provide unique barrier properties, like, for example, one, one material is going to provide you with good CO2, various properties and other is going to provide good oxygen barrier and other is going to provide a good water barrier. If we think about that, from a circular economy perspective, because you’ve added those different layers, those materials are incompatible. So the ability to fundamentally recycle or reuse them or separate them is difficult. So if I look at where the industry is moving in the future, again, looking at it, that circular economy, how to make things more recyclable, I would say that if there was one specific material from both a medical device and a consumer products and consumer packaging perspective that is underutilized, I would probably say co-polyester materials. And the reason I say that is from a circular economy perspective, or a the ability to recycling reuse, the companies in that space are starting to develop monomeric recycling mechanisms. So they’re able to take a used polymer good, and turn it back into the individual feedstocks and individual components that are reacted together to make that material in the first place. And why that becomes important as you’re not requiring additional oil from the ground, pick up material back into its basic starting materials. In addition to that copolyesters or polyesters are one of the few materials that you can truly do bio-based feedstocks. And first place Coca Cola was the first of the plant based model where they’re taking the reaction intermediaries and the precursors from sources that are truly renewable, like sugarcane and things along those lines. So it’s a difficult question and I took it in a unique way because I look at it more of from what the future trends are. And that’s that’s where I come up with.
Aaron Moncur 09:58
Are there any Industry brands that you like for copolyesters. You know, for example, PC and Makrolon, that kind of relationship.
Matt Heidecker 10:08
Eastman produces a couple of the Triton materials, those are really the materials that come to mind. And you’ll find a lot of them in some of the newer consumer products. For example, we have an espresso here at home because we’re espresso snobs. And you can tell based on the machining of the material that they’re using an leesman, Triton material for that thing.
Aaron Moncur 10:33
Great, great answer. Along those same lines, are you aware of any good resources that engineering teams can turn to that will help them select the right material for their application?
Matt Heidecker 10:47
It’s another good question. And that’s, that’s been a question that I’ve gotten throughout my entire career. So when I first started in Emerson, back in 2007, they were using a couple of 100 different grades of plastic across their 50 plus divisions. And there was really no collated resource that said, use this material for this application, this material for this application, my ultimate answer is a little bit of a cop out. But at the end of the day, we’ve worked PSN classic services network, we’ve worked with a lot of our customers to develop tailored databases for themselves. So what does that mean? We will go in and characterize material from mechanical and physical perspective and also chemical perspective. So if it’s a medical device or consumer product, we’ll put those materials through the actual application rigors. So if it’s a medical device, and it’s going to go through X number of cleaning cycles, we’ll actually put that material through those cleaning cycles and recreate what actually happens to material, we then characterize that and build it into custom databases for the individual and user using things like Grandta or UL prospector as the bulk on to a simple spreadsheet based system in which we’ve already characterized material. So as far as his resources are concerned, it’s it’s difficult because there are so many individual grades. And to generalize performance in a specific application is very, very difficult because it’s true actually comes down to the details, the atoms matter. And particularly when it comes to chemical resistance, at PSN we’ve developed, proprietary to us techniques for doing chemical exposure, that focus on those application based situations, because if you follow the standards, they’re really good. The standards exist for a reason, it provides a refereed way to test the material, the challenges, it’s not a deterministic outcome. And that’s been from from my perspective, my customers always say I want to know how it’s actually going to behave. That’s where we come in, that’s what we develop is a way to test the material so that when you’re done with the life cycle, test those properties, that’s what you’re going to see after five years or 10 years or 20 years in the environment. That’s our secret sauce. That’s our that’s our special sauce. That type of database is infinitely more beneficial to the end user, because then they can use structural analysis and who true deterministic life. modeling of that residual good. That’s the unique part about what we do. So is there a specific database that exists? Now it’s difficult to find one of those? There’s some nice polymer handbooks that have, you know, general chemical properties. But But again, not to go back to the, the constant answer of it depends, but it really does. And that’s where details really do matter.
Aaron Moncur 13:41
Does PSN have databases that it sells publicly or are these, you know, customer and project specific?
Matt Heidecker 13:49
They’re customer specific. And, you know, when we generate the data, it’s for that specific customer for that use, and, you know, from and we also actually work for a lot of the material manufacturers for that specific reason. And we generate the data. If you see those smiley-frowny face tables of chemical compatibility, we try to avoid generating those types of tables. But a lot of our customers end up wanting those because it’s simple for everybody to understand. But again, we’ve seen it as simple as changing a concentration of the solution by two or 3%. You can go from surviving 20 years of life to surviving, you know, a day of life. That’s, that’s how critical some of the details that go into the experimental design truly are.
Aaron Moncur 14:36
Yeah, I’ll throw one a resource out there. It’s a very, you know, high level place to start. And it’s really just some of the material properties. It doesn’t have any of the deterministic factors that you were mentioning, but I found valuable is this website, makeitfrom.com. You ever heard of that website?
Matt Heidecker 14:52
I’ve not actually.
Aaron Moncur 14:54
Yeah, it’s kind of like matte web. I think most people are aware of that web, but a lot cleaner. easier to read, and makes it easy to do comparisons between one material and another. Again, just really looking at mechanical thermal properties, things like that. What are the areas that you worked while at Emerson was was material conversions. And in your description, one of the things he said was metals to plastics, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit more about that, what were you trying to develop plastics with material properties that you traditionally find in metals?
Matt Heidecker 15:29
A little bit of both. So in that regard, the goal was metals tend to be heavy and bulky. So if you’re thinking about compressor systems, that are variable speed and run a very high velocities, the moment of inertia becomes challenging. So, the ability to lightweight those components to reduce the wear and tear on things becomes advantageous. Secondarily, if you can reduce weight, you can reduce shipping costs, if you can change the manufacturing equation, you might improve reliability as well. And because non metallic materials in general have their, you have different methods of processing them. So you can blow mold, you can injection mold, you can extrusion below mold, you can injection blow mold, you can thermal form, you can generate structures that are different from a physical form, then you can out of metal. So in certain cases, you can actually create a component that solves two or three problems, and reduces the overall number of components within a system, which also provides a benefit to a customer, if you will.
Aaron Moncur 16:44
Sure. Have any of those materials made their way into commercialization that we could use today?
Matt Heidecker 16:50
Yeah, so from I, you know, as far as materials were concerned that we use their I developed their work with companies to put onto the market, there is one specific one that I was able to get a patent on an application for, and it was using 100%, post consumer recycled nylon for internal compressor applications. And it was in the depths of the recession back in 2009. And one of my early mentors, Mark St. Carrillo he was my boss at the times when the most, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. I went to him and I said, hey, look, I think I’ve got a way for us to both save money and healthy environment. And with the cost of oil being north of 100 bucks a barrel at the time. He said, Well, what is it? I said, Well, you’re going to take carpet, and you’re going to turn it into plastics, reused plastic, and you’re going to put it inside the compressor. And he’s like, okay, go do it. So I flew down to Johnsonville, South Carolina, and I met with a woman engineering resins. And in this particular case, this was a new trade name for them. It’s called the Equilon. And it truly was taking everything that came out of the carpet, and recycling it. So you know, he had some polypropylene in there, he had some nylon, he had some calcium carbonate and towel that were left over from the polypropylene backing from the carpet. But what they did was take the mess, if you will, out of the equation, they created 100%, post consumer recycled material, I mean, when you walk into the facility, it stunk like you would want to walk in there without the ability to smell, wow, it was bad. But it turned it into, you know, a plastic with if you put it in your hand, you’d have no idea it came from. And from that, you know, we were able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from just keeping things out of the landfill and returning things that were used by a consumer into an actual industrial component. So from my perspective, I think that was probably the one of my greatest early career achievements just because there was an environmental aspect there was everybody was concerned about their job at the time. So I was able to save some money for the company and and give a feel good story. So that’s one where I was particularly proud of it.
Aaron Moncur 19:17
That’s fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. Now the the material that was used was that the waste discarded during the manufacturing process of carpet or was that actual, like used carpet that then came back and was recycled?
Matt Heidecker 19:34
Legitimately used carpet so this is why he said, yeah, “You had no idea what you’re getting”.
Aaron Moncur 19:43
So the 10 years people’s foot odor stinking up the place.
Matt Heidecker 19:46
Dog urine, cat urine. So what the CEO at the time of filming what he did is he came from, I believe Home Depot and he created a series of Waste retrieval systems across the Southeast. So he put these bins in, and the contractors. I know a lot about the whole process, but contractors actually had to pay when they were pulling carpet out of a home to throw that carpet into the land. So he charged them less to throw it into his..
Aaron Moncur 20:18
Matt Heidecker 20:20
And then the trailers up to Johnson, though. So you’ve got the carpet. And again, it’s got the backing, it’s got everything. And they had this proprietary equipment that they developed over the years to strip everything off of it, and to take it through washing processes and separation processes. And then they were making 20,000 pound batches. And they were constantly mixing them, which is what really allowed them to create homogenous products. And what sold me is the likes of GM and Ford had taken some of their other materials and had spec them internal are under the hood applications for the automotive industry. So if you can get a GM spec or afford spec, you’re in a pretty good position as a material manufacturer, because you know that that automotive standard requires a high degree of quality to go into it. And they basically took that and applied it to that the Equilon product line and create a little bit of a different product and commercialized it gave it a UL yellow card and the whole kit and caboodle. And it was just an interesting process.
Aaron Moncur 21:28
Brilliant. Yeah, it reminds me a lot of medical device reprocessing, we do quite a bit of work in that space in terms of test fixtures and equipment. And same thing, you know, the Well, I guess the reprocessors don’t necessarily get paid to take the discarded devices away, but they get them for free, right, they’re getting their raw materials essentially for free. And then they reprocess, reprocess them and sell back to hospitals. So this is probably a good good opportunity for me to take just a quick pause and share with everyone that testfixturedesign.com is where you can learn more about how we help medical device engineering teams who need turnkey automated equipment or custom test fixtures to assemble, inspect, characterize or perform verification or validation testing on their devices. We’re speaking with Matt Heidecker today who is VP and quality manager at PSN. And that’s right, very nice title there. Let me ask you about another component which you weren’t previously, this one was Stress Engineering Services. And I looked at their website and it looks like they do everything. I mean, they have their hands in oil and gas and consumer products and testing and medical devices pharma, aerospace power forensics, the list just kind of goes on. They’re very much it seems a an engineering services business, maybe the quintessential engineering services business with all the different areas in which they work. I am always interested in hearing about how other engineering services companies work. And I wanted to did stress engineering services have any procedures or best practices that you found especially helpful in helping engineering teams succeed on their projects?
Matt Heidecker 23:14
It’s a good question. It’s a difficult question to answer because with different units, different business units, there’s really and that’s really the challenge in an engineering services firm. That’s the biggest challenge for an engineering services firm is developing a quality system that truly covers all of your risk. And it’s, it’s difficult, I mean, that there’s there’s really no magic bullet, if you will, to specifically protect against something happening. And I guess, one thing that I did take away from there is a good friend of mine, Chris Alexander had a large write off. And, you know, I like to make analogies to sports. And, you know, as the Quality Manager at PSN, what I developed was a quality system that is intended to avoid unforced errors. So if you if you’re thinking about that, and you’re thinking about in the realm of a football game, for the first 28 minutes of each half and an NFL game, you know, things move at the pace that the teams decide to move that you can go faster, you can go slower, it’s it’s up to the team. If you’re trying to score in the last two minutes, though, you’ve got to really speed things up and that’s where unforced errors happen. I was watching the Steelers play the Colts this past weekend and the Colts had a third and forever in at the end of the first half and the probability of them succeeding that was like less than 1%. Yet they were able to gain Pittsburgh into not calling a timeout which didn’t preserve the time and was truly an unforced there. You know, when we talk about customers, they will come to you at with immediate and urgent needs and that is typically where the unforced errors happen. So if you’re in the realm of a testing project, and this happens to PSN all the time, you’re in the realm of the testing project. And they say, “Hey, you know, we need this result by this time, because we’re in a lying down situation”. You know, from a quality management perspective, from a customer perspective, you want to help them immediately, you want to do that the unforced error would be not properly documenting that. And that’s what I learned from Chris Alexander is that developing a strong robust system that documents the engineering change is important to ensure that you don’t end up in a situation where you have had an unforced error because you’re moving faster than what you normally would. And again, it’s verbal in the realm of a quality system is not good enough. Yeah, that will paper trail, you have to have a document. And that’s going to prevent you from spiking the ball on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs. I mean, that’s an unforced error, your ability to put the checks and balances in place to support you in those times of urgent need, are critical for a healthy quality system. Because the reality is, you cannot make a system, you cannot make a quality system that eliminates human error. And you know, whether an operator reads Fahrenheit versus Celsius, there’s nothing that I can truly do to make that operator, that technician or that chemist, realize that Celsius is on the sheet and you’re doing it in Fahrenheit, there’s nothing you can do. There’s no amount of checks and balances that you can put into place. There’s no amount of redundancy you can do to prevent that from happening. That’s, that’s, that’s an error as a human error. It’s the unforced errors that are truly preventable, that you’re trying to capture and prevent. And that’s where robust documentation comes into play.
Aaron Moncur 26:45
I really like how you’re framing this using the phrase, unforced errors, I’m not sure I’ve heard it put like that. Quality systems are in place to prevent unforced errors. And that’s a that’s a great segue into some of the other questions I wanted to ask you, which really are related to quality systems. So let’s talk a little bit about that. The second half of your title is quality manager. Full disclosure, typically, when I hear anything related to quality, I have to strain to keep my eyes open. However, however, the and this is a big, big button here, you and I had a conversation last month, and it genuinely changed my opinion on the subject and actually got me really excited about quality in that topic. And that was one of the reasons I wanted to ask you to join me on the podcast, because I think a lot of others will find your take on quality systems both refreshing and delightfully practical. So with that said, implementing a quality system can be a daunting task. And I imagine many companies don’t formally do so because the the perceived the level of investment and effort required to do so is just too big of a deterrent. However, that wasn’t necessarily your experience. And maybe can we can we start this section by having you just share your experience implementing the quality system that you use at PSN?
Matt Heidecker 28:11
Sure, I can. And you know, at a high level, when Mike, our owner, and I talked about it, he had some strong feelings about it. And they were warranted, you know, from our business PSN’s core business is responsiveness. And it’s the customer field. So any customer can pick up the phone and call a technical person at any point in time and get. Why is that important? You don’t have to make your way through four levels of sales to get to the right person. When you’re doing a project, you could speak to technical people, you could ask technical questions, you’re not playing the game of telephone. So understanding that these things work exceptionally well for our business, we had to preserve them. So from from that perspective, how do you start in create a quality system that creates that doesn’t create additional work for the employees. That was a difficult part. And you know, as I sat back, and I read through the quality standards, and truly started to dive into what quality means for an organization. It’s not intended, there is no prescribed path. You know, you’re creating something that works for your organization, something that provides a background for your organization to make its way through the decision free. You can spend an infinite amount of time creating a quality system and have just as many errors or just as many nonconformances as a as a company that spends you know a day putting together a quality system. It’s about truly understanding what your organization wants to deliver and how they want to deliver it. So it’s the culture of the organization. It’s providing the construct so that each and every time you do a project and again, for our organization, it’s a little bit different because we have three business units. We’ve got a processing lab, we’ve got our engineering services business, and we got our ISO IEC 1725 accredited testing facility in that realm, the goals for each of those are diametrically opposed. You know, how do you maintain the same quality system for those three things. And it’s, it’s through understanding truly what the word quality means and what the voice of customer is and what customers want. I’ll segue slightly into the realm of testing. For me, the biggest piece of understanding quality, and that is, when I started my career at Emerson, I looked at testing through a different lens, I just left graduate school and I knew testing equipment, what I didn’t know about testing equipment is there’s a whole lot of stuff that can go wrong in the process, from the operator to the procedure to the device to the calibration of the device, if if it’s even calibrated, I had always assumed incorrectly I might add, that you put a sample in, you push a button or buttons, and you get a perfect result on the backside. The reality is that the furthest thing from the truth. So I looked at a lot of the traditional testing institutions in which I would send samples to, I looked at him as gospel. And I started to peel back the layers of the onion. And I understood that there’s a lot that goes into a quality system for a test lab. And I had always held up a to LA/ISO IEC 1725 as like the gold standard, what I learned is that those just say you have a quality system, it doesn’t mean that you have a good quality system, it doesn’t mean that your equipment actually puts out good data, it just means that you have a quality system. So from my perspective, being the anally retentive person that I am. And being hyper competitive, I want to have the best test lab. So what we did in our quality system is we built it around the calibration and the procedures. So every four years as a laboratory, you’re required to go through something called proficiency testing, which is this blind testing, they send you a sample, you tested it, you send the results to an independent third party and they score. We do that in a lot of cases on a monthly basis to ensure that there’s no drift in the calibration, there’s no drift in the method and the operator and that everything fits well. It was by doing that, that we learned that there’s a lot of room for errors, again, the unforced errors to pop up, there’s a lot of opportunity for changes to happen that seem inconsequential on the surface, but have a true effect on the end result. When you’re dealing with equipment that’s user calibrated. Example the system or gravimetric analysis, you’re measuring the weight loss as a function of temperature, how you assign the peaks in the calibration mode of the instrument determines whether or not you can accurately measure or not. And there’s multiple ways that you can do it. It’s not been pokeo. We learned that the hard way. So I mean, these are the eat again, it’s the devil in the details. These are the little intricacies that we learned. And we’ve applied so that we can truly be the best test lab that exists. And I mean, the same thing goes for you. When you look at fixture design and you look at a quality system, you’re generally going to look at the fixture design in the same way every time but it’s gonna be a different application. You want to lock down those mission critical items and ensure that you Poka Yoke it so that the person can’t put the device in, back out if you will. And even sometimes, even though you do that, you’ve got Baba and Baba uses. But again, that’s that’s really what the quality system is, isn’t it to do. The quality system is meant to be the guy to provide the pathway for the person so that they are empowered to do it the same way every single time. And again, to try to avoid those unforced errors.
Aaron Moncur 34:04
How long did it take to implement your quality system? And has it been an ongoing iterative, iterative process? Or did you kind of, you know, set it up in the beginning and then it’s been pretty much static since then.
Matt Heidecker 34:20
So I’ll start with answering the second question. First, it changes on a daily basis. And reality is you want to design when a singular person designs a system, it’s not going to be right. What I designed was not perfect. So your goal is to implement things that fundamentally make sense. And what I tell all of our employees all the time is if it’s not right, if it’s affecting your job in any way, shape, or form, suggest the functional change to make it right because that’s a truly functioning system. It’s a living, breathing thing meant to change as your organization changes as the customers change. And as customer needs change. So it’s it’s common for us to develop a new form or procedure in the middle of our daily work, because it’s needed, you know, you learn how things change with the customer bases and what, what the market is asking for. So you address that in real time. So that’s, that’s the part of it. That’s the second question. The first question is, how long did it take to implement, we basically set a line in the sand and said, on this date, we’re going to start and we’re going to collect data, and we’re going to see how that data changes. So it took a couple of months to come up with the system in writing up all the forms and creating the procedure trees and whatnot. But as soon as you go live with a system, and you start to get data as feedback, feeding, you know, feedback is always a gift. So anytime you get feedback from a system, and you’re able to implement it into the system, you’re able to enhance and improve it. So do we have a set timeframe where we say, you know, we’re going to review every single procedure? Yes, once a year? Do we truly look at them, as we go forward on a on a daily or weekly basis and evaluate whether something could be more effective we do is that required? No. But that’s, that’s really philosophy that you have to look at with respect to the quality system, you can do what the standard says and follow it to a tee, which isn’t going to be a functioning system. Or you can adopt a process that enacts appropriate measures to again, prevent those unforced errors and to adapt with the changes in the market. And that allows us to be more responsive, rather than having, if you have a quality system that costs you time, you’re in a bad situation, you want it to save you time, because you’re doing the same core activities the same way each and every time.
Aaron Moncur 36:55
How, given that you are constantly updating your quality system, how do you keep people your team members trained on it? It seems like that would take a long time to constantly retrain people when you know new forms or new procedures come online?
Matt Heidecker 37:11
That’s a good question. And it’s it’s a simplistic answer. It doesn’t take a lot of training, because I’m not the one that are is asking for the change. It’s the actual employees who are empowered to actually change. Yeah, so if they are reaching a roadblock, or there’s something that’s affecting them, that’s where the changes are coming from, because they’re, they’re tuning into what they’re doing to make it more efficient for them.
Aaron Moncur 37:37
Okay, I’m going to take a very slight deviation from quality, and then we’re going to come right back to it. I think love to hear about how you go about getting things done. I think it’s really impressive that you were able to implement this quality system, of course, you had feedback along the way, and you gather data, and it changes. But if I understand correctly, initially, it was really just you that put this all together the first pass anyway, in a relatively short amount of time. And I don’t think that’s something a lot of people can do, which, which tells me that you probably have a system for ensuring your stuff gets done. What did that look like for you, when you were working on the quality system implementation or just, you know, kind of in general?
Matt Heidecker 38:18
Beer in a beach, something that you get with brutal honesty. So I told the team, holidays are good time frames to actually work in an engineering service firm and a testing firm like ours, this year has been a little bit different with COVID. And the needs continue. And there’s not really been a down period throughout the entire year. But typically, our customers take hiatuses around the Fourth of July holiday around Thanksgiving around Christmas. So you can actually and that’s what actually call Christmas and New Year’s week is quality. And I’ve actually tailored some of our audits around that for that specific reason, because I can actually dedicate more time to sitting down and preparing for those things because I don’t have the crush of other work that’s going on in the background. So in this particular case, you know, our owner, Mike Gallagher, and and I, we sat down and he was really instrumental in the process because I used him as a sounding board. So while I generated a lot of the documents, he was brutal in his honesty as to whether or not they were functional. And His goal was and again, this is our goal as an organization with everything we do is, let’s try it. Let’s see what works let’s see what doesn’t work and then we’ll address it topically changed. So in this particular case, I took the Fourth of July holiday as the the timeframe to really sit down and not be bothered so I took my computer out on the beach in Charleston, South Carolina took a case of beer out every day and I worked to the point where the word starting to get a little bit long and repeat.
Aaron Moncur 39:57
I love that that’s that is a brutally honest answer, but also very insightful, right? I mean, beer in a beach. Okay, on the surface, that seems pretty simple. But if you dig a little bit deeper, I think what you’re saying is find some quiet time without distraction and be comfortable while you’re doing it create an environment that’s comfortable for you to work in.
Matt Heidecker 40:18
Yeah, that’s exactly right. And the little island where we go there, there was no cell service. So it’s not like I could have created a hotspot to connect my computer. You go, yeah. And you know, you’re, you’re in nature. So you know, you have the ability to relax yourself to calm yourself and to truly think clearly, and I tried to give you a good beer quote, but half were made up anyways. But you know that that also helps you as well. And again, it’s a bell curve and the amount of help it provides. There’s a point of diminishing returns, but but the reality is, when you couple all those things together, you’re able to think about how to thoughtfully put something together because the keyboard is thoughtful. Just throwing something on a piece of paper for the sake of throwing something on a piece of paper isn’t really functional. You truly have to think about how others are going to view it and be a little bit selfless and understanding that this is for everyone. The whole point is to make everybody’s work a little bit less Helter Skelter.
Aaron Moncur 41:17
Okay, jumping back into the quality conversation. Now PSN is both 9001 compliant and certified, if I understand correctly, is that right?
Matt Heidecker 41:27
Yep, or ISO 9001 2015 certified? That’s correct.
Aaron Moncur 41:30
Okay, what does that mean, in practical terms? I mean, why, why might an engineering company want or need to be 9001 compliant?
Matt Heidecker 41:41
it means that you have a series of procedures and processes in place that cover what’s addressed in the standard from things like purchasing to supplier audits to internal auditing, and ensures that you have appropriate processes in place to conduct the work that you’re doing, it’s a little bit difficult to have an ISO 9001 quality management system for an engineering services firm. That’s where a little bit of creativity comes into play. Because as you’re aware, with the fixture development, and whatnot, we and you have no idea what’s coming through the door on any given day. That’s the challenge. So you have to have a quality system that addresses that entirety of it. So if you go to the core basic principle of our quality management system, it says, a customer picks up the phone and calls or sends an email gets a hold of us in some way, shape, or form text message is a valid way in the realm of you know, millennials and all that fun, yes. And we do get text message requests. But they start with a problem. And our quality management says, you get a customer inquiry. You start by sitting down and as an organization, we determine, “can we help that need? Or can we can we address that need”, then if we can, or it’s an opportunity that we want to partake in, you start the process of developing a proposal, then you go through the proposal review, you deliver the proposal to the customer, the customer reviews it, they issue a purchase order, from there, the purchase order in the terms of review, and then you develop a test plan or work scope. And that’s delivered to the engineering team, or the test lab or whatever you’re doing. And then your work product is generated. It’s reviewed your test report or your reports or whatever deliverable you have is formally developed and then reviewed, and then delivered to the customer. And then you go through feedback. That process is the core foundation of what ISO 9001 says it allows you from start to finish to say, and again, it provides customer feedback, we surveyed 20% of the companies that we do business with to get their feedback so that we can actually incorporate it. That’s the whole process with ISO 9001. Do you have a system in place that cover those things, because along the way, if you have to purchase, say, for example, we’re going to mold some functional prototypes for a medical device company that’s going to then take them and send them to to develop a fixture design. We need to purchase things on the outside. So we’ll have a procedure in place for purchasing to make sure that we satisfy the requirements of the standard and that there’s a check and balance in place. that’s truly what ISO 9001 says there’s a check and balance for everything that you do.
Aaron Moncur 44:36
Does a quality system, especially a 9001 compliant quality system allow for more streamlined development when you know maybe not all of the formal checks and balances are required maybe it’s a really small project and there just isn’t time or in the budget to to have all these you know checks and balances, can you still do that and and be ISO 9001 certified?
Matt Heidecker 45:06
I think you can. And the reason I say that is two-fold. One, by having formal processes and procedures in place, you know, if you’re writing a proposal, for example, going and finding the right template, from the litany of things that existed previously, it’s a time suck. So in this regard, you go to the standard format each and every time, which is pre populated with the information that typically takes you if it’s a short burner, quick one, you have something that’s pre populated, you have to fill out the appropriate tabs or spaces with the information to make the proposal tailored to the customer, rather than starting from ground zero each and every time. Again, you control the process you can, right, so this is the second part of the answer, you can actually write into your system, any number of caveats to it. A good example of this is we have different project number series. And we have, again, we have our ISO IEC 1725 Test Lab. And sometimes customers will call up and say, hey, I want one one test, that test is, you know, 250-300 or $500,000, whatever. So going through that full on process is difficult to remain cost competitive. So what can you do? You can we wrote into our system that those test lab projects go to a specific numbered series that has a different set of requirements for them. So instead of having to develop a test plan, every time, if you write the proposal the right way, the proposal is the test plan. Therefore, you don’t have to create another piece of paper that takes you time to create, to do the same thing that you could have done if you just did the proposal right in the first place. So by again, using thoughtful, sequential flow, and figuring out how I can augment my daily work instead of the worst thing you want to do is create a piece of paper for the sake of creating a paper piece of paper. And that’s actually one of the things that I push back against the audit bodies on and even our customers when they audit us is they want to see a procedure for everything A good example of this we use, we have a Monday morning meeting every two weeks as an organization where every buddy gets together for 30 to 60 minutes. And we talk through what we’re doing as an organization. And he trap points, any any equipment issues, and we do some educational items in there as well. So mentoring items. And our audit buddy asked us to create an attendance sheet if we were going to use that as part of our training seminar. And I said, Why? So I’m going to forget to fill it out. And because I forget to fill it out and I didn’t document it, then that technically becomes a non conformance. So why would I create a procedure for something I know that I’m not going to be successful in tracking every single time? that’s creating a system that actually works versus doing everything, to create paper to cover yourself, It’s non functional, you know.
Aaron Moncur 48:13
That’s a great example. Yeah, I think that the takeaway that I’m getting from this is that this system is designed by you, and you are allowed to put anything you want into it within, of course, you know, regulated guidelines, but you can put anything you want into it to make it functional for you.
Matt Heidecker 48:34
That’s exactly right. I mean, it’s got to fit for your organization, it’s got to fit with the context of the organization. A good example of that is purchasing. You know, in our organization, we do everything from build prototype tools to design medical devices to run structural analysis, and a lot of cases our customers are determining what components what materials go into it. So normally, if you were to write just a classic quality system, from purchasing perspective, you’d have to go do an audit for every new vendor. Okay. So why would I do an audit? If the customer is asking me to purchase that material in the first place? Doesn’t make sense, does it? So, you know, what we’ve written in his exclusions that say, when we’re purchasing these things, or a customer requires us to do X, we’re not required to we can just automatically add them to an approved supplier list. We don’t have to go through the audit process, for the sake of generating a piece of paper, when that does nothing to determine the quality of our output. It’s it’s immaterial doesn’t affect the results of what we’re doing. And that’s, that’s an example of that.
Aaron Moncur 49:47
What can your team do now with the quality system that it couldn’t do before or at least couldn’t do as well?
Matt Heidecker 49:54
I think from my perspective, if I was looking at this holistically, I think it’s accountability. You know, when you have a system that and I mean, PSN has been successful in business since 1991. A lot of that time period was without a formal quality system, but with more loose procedures in place, a lot of documentation of things. But now, when we have an issue, and again, no organization will ever have zero nonconformances if the organization’s truly functioning, okay, now when we do have a non conformance, we can point back to the procedure that was in place and say, Well, why didn’t he do this? And, you know, we had an issue pop up where we had a review example. And had we followed our procedure, you know, we wouldn’t have had the issue pop up, those are classic examples of where you can hold folks accountable. And it’s not about discipline, it’s about accountability. It’s okay, you know, why didn’t we do what we were supposed to do?
Aaron Moncur 51:01
Looking back now that the you have your quality system in place, and it’s running smoothly, it’s still you know, you’re iterating, you’re refining as you go, but it’s in place, and it’s working? Is there anything that you would have done differently when you first started implementing the system?
Matt Heidecker 51:16
I would have? Yes, I that there is I wouldn’t have focused on the details as much. As I wrote it, honestly, I tried to make it perfect. And I probably could have saved half the time by not going into as much depth because the reality is in our line of work in what we do, we again, we don’t know what’s coming through the door. So creating a, you’re trying to avoid unforced errors. So if if you’re the quality control manager for the NFL team, and you’re trying to, you know, take every potential possibility into play, that’s going to happen the last two minutes of a game, you’re never going to be able to do that, because history always creates itself. So your goal is to create stopping points at that situation where you know, you have something new or novel pop up, that allows folks to stop and ask the appropriate questions. You know, rather than trying to straw man out every potential outcome, I would have just left it at a more basic level and not spend as much time on the details because quite frankly, it didn’t matter. And it continues to not matter.
Aaron Moncur 52:29
Terrific answer that’s very actionable. There is a physician author named Atul Gawande, who’s written some wonderful, wonderful books. One of my favorite is called the Checklist Manifesto. And he says, I have a this quote here on my wall says, there must always be room for judgment, but judgment heated and even enhanced by procedure, which I think goes hand in hand with what you’re saying it does. Absolutely. Okay, I’ve got just a couple more questions for you. And I’m going to jump out of quality. And two a time when you were working at. Let’s see, the a company cleverly named Budding Analytical Laboratory, where the focus was testing cannabis and related pharmaceutical products. cannabis is kind of a controversial topic for many people with more and more states, legalizing its use, and I wondered, what, if anything, did you learn about it strictly from a scientific standpoint that you think might be important for the general public to understand?
Matt Heidecker 53:31
Testing is really important. And that’s the biggest takeaway that I would provide you with. And I think, you know, if you’re looking at, and again, this is more education for customers as well to, you know, when when a when an end manufacturer or a manufacturer of a cannabis, medical product or consumer product, is making them, their goal is to acquire testing at the lowest possible cost for a variety of reasons. And, you know, again, the difficult part is, you truly get what you pay for, what we’ve learned from the quality perspective is that calibration matters, you know, the the instrument matters, the operator matters, the procedure matters, and they all are interlinked. So, it is possible for equipment to drift and change as a function of time. You know, there’s nothing in any sort of quality standard that says you have to run a known spike or a known as a or a known known, a standard, if you will, to check performance of equipment on a daily basis or weekly basis or a monthly basis or, you know, by monthly basis for that matter. There’s nothing written into any standard that says, Thou shalt do that. If you are truly approaching it from the quality perspective, you want to make sure that instruments not drifting in real time, that costs a lot of money. So if you’re going to the cheapest laboratory, the cheapest vendor on the face of the earth for the sake of enhancing your profit margin product is going to suffer because your test results aren’t going to be nearly as good as what you get. That’s what I’ve learned through the cannabis industry and working through what we do from a testing perspective. Because, again, the standards, the solutions, they are expensive. And the added runtime, the added wear and tear on the equipment gets revenue. I mean, it’s true revenue. But at the same point in time, we want to be a beacon of hope for the industry to say, if you invest in in the equipment, the operators, the time and running those spikes, again, you’re supposed to run proficiency testing once every four years, we’re running it if we can on a monthly basis, we may not be submitting it to the independent authority. We are just comparing it to the results that we received from the independent authority. But that check in balance provides you with the ability to say, Yeah, my procedures are still sound. Yeah, my instrument, calibrations not drifted, the instrument itself hasn’t drifted. You know, everything seems to be going well. So if you do have a spurious result, or a result, which a customer says, Yeah, I don’t think that’s accurate, you can actually point back to that and say, well run the same procedure, running the same instrument, you have the same operator. And oh, by the way, we’ve done this thing called proficiency testing, and we’ve run this sample on a weekly or daily or monthly basis. Here’s the results of it. So it’s not drifting. So by default, it has to be your sample.
Aaron Moncur 56:50
Well, we’re running up on time here. And I certainly want to be respectful of your time. Do you have five more minutes or do we need to add right now? I do. Okay. All right. Great. This, I find this next question just personally very interesting. And since he worked in a kind of a pharmaceutical lab, I’m curious if he had any any experience with it. So another compound that’s getting lots of press lately is psilocybin, which is the the the chemical in magic mushrooms that makes them makes them hallucinogenic. A lot of people talking about this these days, it’s being I think, in some senses deregulated for for medical use. Did you ever do any testing or have any experience with psilocybin?
Matt Heidecker 57:36
I don’t specifically, and I’m curious where you’re gonna go with it.
Aaron Moncur 57:42
I don’t really know where I’m going to go with it. I just I’ve heard a lot about it recently, Tim Ferriss, I listened to his podcast, that’s a great one. And he talks about it a lot. He is not just Tim Ferriss, but a lot of people have talked about its medicinal uses for treating depression, and other mental and anxiety disorders. And and then beyond that, just opening one’s horizons or having new psychological experiences that that open your mind up to new possibilities, new ideas, it just, it seems like a really interesting, I don’t even know what to call it experience. Or, of course, there are dangers associated with it as well, right? So people have, what’s the quintessential bad trip, right where you come out of this thing, a lot worse than than going into it. So it’s just it’s something that I think, really interesting, and I’d like to learn more about.
Matt Heidecker 58:38
Sure. And, you know, I don’t honestly have much experience in that realm specifically. But what I do want to kind of take a tangent on that too, is, as you look at chemistry, and as you look at medical devices, for example, there’s a European medical device regulation, euMDR that’s coming into play for medical devices and the substances that go into them. There’s also Reach, which is a chemical characterization and evaluation of substances that go into devices. So you have to state that these things don’t have certain substances in them. Taking that over to hemp and cannabis. There are still several state crime laboratories that have equipment that’s more than five years old, that’s not able to delineate between cannabis and hemp. So, you know, what you are finding is that in some of the some of the equipment itself when I was in grad school from 2000 to 2007, it didn’t exist. So you are bringing this home to the medical device realm to medicinal cannabis and things along those lines. A lot of the equipment used to test these things didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. So you’re now developing this high end analytical equip. And that didn’t exist. People weren’t educated formally in university and how to operate it. And a lot of venture capital laboratories are just going out and buying it and expecting a random person technician level person to be able to run it, what we find is that the science behind it, again, going back to the molecular level, we have a piece of equipment called the triple quad. And what it does is it separates the individual parent and daughter ions so that you can truly separate them. So in the realm of medical devices, the phrase extractables and leachables drives everybody crazy. Why does drive everybody crazy? Because you’re you’re taking a device and you’re putting it in a solution. And you’re, you’re seeing what comes off of it. There’s about 9000 different ways you can contaminate that test in a lot of our customers, grouse about and rightly so, where did that contamination come from? Same thing with cannabis. Same thing with him. Where did that contamination come from Was that something that was actually introduced to the laboratory? Was that something that was introduced in the shipping process? A lot of cases, it’s both, or all the above. And, you know, that’s where, again, I like to call it the Ron Burgundy approach to chemistry where you read what comes off the teleprompter. And that’s where we at PSN have started to truly separate ourselves as as students of chemistry to truly understand what the customer problem is, and develop those unique solutions. And if we think about the topic that you broached here at the beginning of this, start with cannabis with hemp, any medical device or any medical product or any pharmaceutical for that matter. You’re now working with equipment that’s been designed, but the methods haven’t always been validated for it. So you get this new substance, how do I characterize it? Well, you’ve got to develop a validated method internally. And you know, a lot of customers just expect for that to be done. They don’t necessarily appreciate that. It could take weeks and even months to get a calibration curve to measure something. And again, you’re being asked to measure things that are on the part per billion level or the part per trillion level, and guarantee that they’re not there. You know, if we can detect and we can if we can detect the perfume a person was wearing when they built the medical device.
Aaron Moncur 1:02:29
Matt Heidecker 1:02:30
That’s the level of detail that goes into testing of these substances and characterization of medical devices. That’s why that level of detail truly matters. And, again, bring this back to the quality discussion. How do you create a quality system that that takes each and every one of those variables into play, because it’s constantly changing. And we adapt as we learn more information. And one of the things we do with a lot of our customers is we like to hold summits, particularly if there’s a specific area of work that we’re working for the latest craze is ISO 18562, which governs breathing devices and volatile organic compounds, particulates, extractables, and leachables. So we have done a bunch of research internally, to understand the mechanics of how the test actually works itself and how the actual sample collection methods work themselves. And we’ve done some fantastic science studies that you’re not required to do, but we did them in the spirit of becoming a better service provider for our customer. And that’s that’s where the quality systems generally fall short is. There’s nothing that requires you to do that. You have to follow the standard. It’s it’s the organizational construct that drives how effective a quality system is because your organization like our organization is focused on delivering the best that we can possibly deliver for our customers. Just having a piece of paper that you put your name on and says “Yep, I followed all my process steps”, it’s really not worth a lot. It’s truly adapting it to the construct that what you’re doing to ensure that you are delivering the highest fidelity results in the best possible fixture, or you’ve captured every potential way from a pokeo perspective that this thing could be put into a fixture. You know, that’s that’s the true value to the customer. Again, it’s not what’s required by the standard, but when you adapt your organization to ensure that you’re delivering that quality, we want to be the best that there is. There’s nothing short of that. That’s that’s our ethos.
Aaron Moncur 1:04:43
Excellent. Excellent. Well, Matt, this has been just a wonderful, delightful conversation. Thank you again, so much for for sharing your time with us. How can people get a hold of you?
Matt Heidecker 1:04:54
Sure. You can reach out to me directly through LinkedIn. You can find me Heidecker@PSNlabs, you can go to www.PSNlabs.com, there’s a contact us button and, you know, feel free to email me at Matthew.Heidecker@PSNlab.PSNlabs.com.
Aaron Moncur 1:05:15
Excellent, Matt, thank you again so much.
Matt Heidecker 1:05:18
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Aaron Moncur 1:05:23
I’m Aaron Moncur, founder of Pipeline Design and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please leave us a positive review. It really helps other people find the show. To learn how your engineering team can leverage our team’s expertise in developing turnkey custom test fixtures, automated equipment and product design, visit us at testfixturedesign.com. Thanks for listening!
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