The Big Picture

May 5, 2003
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I am a trade magazine editor charged with informing my readers and supporting this industry, but sometimes the big picture can be clouded by day-to-day duties.

Recently, I received a call from a consultant who was working for a client looking to invest in the dimensional metrology industry. The phone call was not unusual; they are part of the job. But, swamped and on deadline, I told him I could only give him a few minutes.

We talked almost an hour.

We talked about calipers, noncontact vision systems, Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, Juran, Deming...you name the buzzword and we talked about it. The interviewer got all the information that he was looking for, and more, but I think it was I who came away from the conversation with the bigger realization.

I came to realize just how many positive things and how much potential there is for the quality industry. I base this on a number of observations.

The first are the readers of Quality magazine -- those men and women who are in the quality trenches day in and day out. As Quality reported in August, today's quality professional works more hours, with fewer resources than in the past. Compared to last year, average salaries are down and budgets are cut back. But they seem to love their job, and despite sometimes being overwhelmed and underappreciated, when it comes right down to it, quality professionals solely want to put out the best product possible.

They see the big picture.

Quality professionals do not always agree on the best methods to ensure quality, but I think that these differences of opinion are also a strength. When Scott Dalgleish wrote in the last two issues about some of the problems with the quality profession (September p. 64, October p. 64), he did so with the idea of increasing dialogue and improving the industry. When my predecessor, Wes Iversen, wrote an editorial regarding the elimination of ISO 9000, the Quality mailbag filled up.

But it isn't the readers alone who make me appreciate the industry; it is also the manufacturers that have made a commitment to quality. Of course, not all companies have made that commitment and certainly there are cost/benefit considerations, but it doesn't require much effort to find companies striving to improve quality. In this month's Case Studies (p. 48), an electrical parts manufacturer analyzed its inspection capability and decided it needed to improve. Another company, a manufacturer of sorting machines for the U.S. Postal Service, wanted to improve the testing of a critical part. Every month we run these case studies, and I have a three- or four-inch file filled with case-study materials.

Also, I think that the suppliers to the industry are striving to keep up their end. New innovations abound. Sometimes they are groundbreaking, and sometimes they are the tweaking of tried-and-true instruments, such as the servoelectric material test system that is featured in Quality Innovations (p. 22).

Of course, I am not a financial expert, nor do not have a crystal ball to predict the economic future, but I have been scanning the news. Mergers and acquisitions that affect the quality industry seemingly occur every day. I think that the astute people running the companies that are buying into the industry or expanding their market share through acquisitions, know that the quality industry is a good investment.

I agree. It seems to me that after a down year in which manufacturers cut back spending, they will be looking to retool and improve productivity in the coming year.

When taken as a whole, it appears to me that there is a lot of upside to the quality industry. Sometimes, it takes just one phone call, even if poorly timed, to understand that.

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