Manufacturing Excellence: Manufacturing Perfection in 2010

December 22, 2009
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In 1985 when U.S. semiconductor manufacturers were developing and building the fastest and smartest computer chips, our global competitors were targeting the U.S. semiconductor industry. As an observer of this scenario, I noticed that the Unites States and its global competitors made different strategic decisions.

While U.S. companies made a decision to focus on the next generation of chips, global competitors decided to produce the slower and older generation chips-and do it well. This decision led to the continual erosion of our manufacturing capability, and resulted in the loss of money.

We labeled our global competitors copycats without any intelligence and brainpower. The negative cash flow eventually shut down development work on the newest and fastest chips at U.S. companies, while positive cash flow from the slower chips enabled our global competitors to eventually invest in the fastest chips built on the knowledge generated by U.S. companies.

The essence is to choose between what the customers need today or to manufacture the latest and the greatest.

In the 1980s there was a saying that U.S. companies invested and invented, while the global competition innovated and capitalized on U.S. inventions. To some extent, this is still true.

About a year ago I had friends visiting from other countries and I wanted to buy some “Made in USA” gifts. During my search, I went to a few office supply stores and to my surprise I was unable to find U.S.-made gifts. Instead, I developed an admiration for products “Made in China.” Every item I found was beautifully produced, appeared to be of excellent quality, and of course, was produced inexpensively.

While China is doing well at manufacturing low-value products, we in the United States are still hoping to produce something, and create new jobs magically. We must know that China has accumulated cash reserves of more than a trillion dollars and loans money to the United States. At the same time, our debt has increased to more than $10 trillion.

The message is clear. We, the people of America, should not wait for some major technical breakthrough in energy, green technology, nano technology, or hybrid autos or planes to create jobs. We need to start building whatever we can for ourselves at the personal or community level. We must arrive into the new age where OK or Acceptable are bad words for the quality of work or product. We must produce products as good as or better than anyone in the world. We must commit to perfection and do whatever is necessary to achieve it.

What does it take to be perfect? It is equivalent of getting an “A” in school. Life is only a two-grade class. We either get an “A” or an “F.” To get an “A” we must set our clear targets, make a list of what we need, prepare well, work hard to do well, aim at the target and produce. Here is a list of steps that one can take to achieve perfection:

1. Clearly know and understand your target. Visualize your target.

2. Know your needs for achieving perfection in terms of information or material, machines or tools, method and skills.

3. Plan out the process steps or activities in sequence such that making mistakes is almost impossible.

4. Enjoy working consistently and repetitively.

5. There is a need for both creativity and consistency. Knowing when to be consistent and creative is important to succeed. Be creative to define perfection to achieve, but be consistent in achieving perfection.

6. Continually learn something new and improve on a personal level.

7. Design activities at work that are fun. Fun must become an integral part of work in this 24/7 economy.

My New Year’s resolution is to promote excellence and innovation more passionately. What is your resolution? If you don’t have one, why not make a resolution to be perfect and creative in everything you do in 2010. Make 2010 your year of success.

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Charles J. Hellier has been active in the technology of nondestructive testing and related quality and inspection fields since 1957. Here he talks with Quality's managing editor, Michelle Bangert, about the importance of training.
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