Manufacturing Excellence: Making the Quality Department Work

February 22, 2008
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Since the 1950s expectations for quality have been increasing because of domestic and global competition. In the 1980s Motorola envisioned quality requirements for the year 2000 and realized virtual perfection would be the norm. Competitive benchmarking and requirements for virtual perfection led to development of the new methodology called Six Sigma.

During a recent trip to India I visited UFlex (www.uflexltd.com/flexfilm.com), a major supplier of packaging solutions. There I chatted with Senior President Pradeep Tyle.

In response to my initial question about the state of quality at UFlex, Tyle responded, “We don’t have a separate quality control (QC) department for taking care of manufacturing quality. Instead, we have quality assurance (QA) for customer services. Product was manufactured, and QC would reject a significant percent of the product-it looked like the QC department was established to reject the product. Today the onus of quality is on the manufacturing department. The advantage is that quality is built in. The 25 QC people were absorbed in the manufacturing department and we eliminated the QC department. As a result, we resolved the friction between QC and manufacturing. Now the manufacturing guys know they have to produce the quality.

“In place of the quality department we have established a test laboratory in the manufacturing operations,” Tyle said. “Customer returns returns have been reduced to 0.2%, and in-process waste remains the same. The yield of production line is 100% with no rework. When there was a QC department, line yield was 90%. Now when the burden is on manufacturing, they feel responsible for producing quality; the earlier QC guys had no accountability. It was easy to point to mistakes, but they were not contributing to fixing the problems, so the overall cost of quality has decreased.”

Probed about target-driven manufacturing for producing excellence, Tyle said, “The customer gives acceptable limits, but manufacturing must be set to the target. For example, to produce a 12-millimeter thick film, even though specification is 11.8 to 12.2, the machine is set up at 12 millimeters.”

As to the impact of improved quality on business, I was told that exports to the United States, Europe, the Middle East and South America have increased.

Why is it important to know about a company in India, or any other country? Because national boundaries have become invisible in the new distributed business model. In the United States we must see the value our quality department creates for the company. Have we reduced test time due to reduced defect rate? Is the defect rate reduced by adding inspection or by improving the process capability? Are we improving quality by sorting parts?

I have come to know that at the sight of one defect a major OEM asks their suppliers to sort all parts, or even sends a sorter to their facility, and mandates adding more inspection to ensure good parts being shipped to them. Not recognizing that OEMs added to the cost of poor quality, this disabled the supplier’s ability to solve problems.

We need OEMs to demand quality produced, not quality delivered. OEMs first must produce quality designs for their suppliers to produce perfect parts. We cannot expect perfect production from approximate designs without defining targets, and only specifying limits. Tightening specification limits does not make a design any better; instead it only makes it more expensive to produce. A better design will have target conditions defined for every parameter, and optimized for the performance for the target performance, then evaluated for its performance under best and worst case conditions. Designs with the desired targets, produced to the design targets, and operating under normal conditions at consistent performance tend to last. Designs without targets, built to limits, often fail in production and frequently in the field.

Let’s not count on the quality department to control or ensure quality of products or components; instead better designs of products and processes with clear target values ensure virtually defect-free production. Concurrently, the quality department also must question its value-add to the company’s bottom line. Reducing testing, verification and instilling preventive quality activities are measures of value.

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