Meld quality and manufacturing for great results.

For more than 10 years at my current company, my title was vice president of manufacturing and quality manager. Traditionally, manufacturing managers are portrayed as the guys trying to shove product out the door and quality managers are portrayed as the guys desperately trying to keep bad product from shipping. Some people say that having the manufacturing manager in charge of quality is like letting the fox guard the hen house. To the contrary, I've found that having both responsibilities has allowed me to make cultural and process changes that lead to tremendous improvements in productivity and quality. However, a balance needs to be maintained.

Currently, we use self-inspection checklists as a way to integrate quality into manufacturing and have people double-check their work as the product is being built. Our manual assembly processes are susceptible to human error. Inspections are integrated into our assembly documentation and training processes. By incorporating quality tasks into manufacturing processes, assembly errors that were a major problem in the past are almost insignificant now.

We also use the integration of quality in manufacturing to enhance pride in workmanship. In a manual assembly process, pride in workmanship has a huge effect on product quality. Because our manufacturing operation is fairly low-volume, we designed the production system so that each assembler builds a sub-assembly from beginning to end, inspects the assembly as it is being built and tests the assembly before it goes to the next operation. Assemblers sign their name to the assembly to show who built it. Deming was right-people have a strong desire to do quality work when you let them.

Melding the quality and manufacturing functions needs to be carefully done. Blindly turning over quality functions to manufacturing with no audit process may end in disaster.

We use several formal and informal measures to assure quality is being audited. First, the manufacturing manager is also responsible for running the field return repair department. There is little motivation to ship a bad product when you know you will have to fix it eventually and deal with upset customers. As my fourth grade teacher used to say, "If you are going to have to take time to do it right later, why not take the time to do it right now?"

For the melding of quality and manufacturing to deliver to its fullest potential, you need assemblers that are passionate about quality. The best way to get there is in the hiring process. When we hire a new assembler, he is paired with an experienced assembler for hands-on training. The most important part of the training, though, is for the trainer to evaluate if the trainee really cares about quality and is double-checking his work. Many new assemblers can't seem to work in the mode of effectively checking their own work, despite many reminders. All assemblers are hired as temporary workers until they prove they can effectively inspect their work.

I think quality professionals play a very important role. I believe that the quality department should do the last inspection on the product to provide some third-party feedback as to whether or not our processes are working and if people are checking their work. Based on bad experiences I've had in the past, having a product totally self-inspected seems too risky. I also believe that quality professionals play an important role in gathering and analyzing important quality data for problem identification and opportunities for continual improvement. We also get great feedback from an extensive out-of-box audit where a finished product is taken apart and analyzed. Internal audits are another important task for quality professionals to ensure processes are operating correctly.

I've seen companies run with traditional boundaries between quality and manufacturing and, in most cases, when manufacturing and quality departments operate in adversarial roles, pride in workmanship diminishes. I've also seen companies go overboard on totally integrating quality into operations that fail because of a lack of internal auditing. By finding the right balance over time, dramatic improvements in output and quality can be achieved. Having had responsibility for both manufacturing and quality, I've had the control to make changes in both areas to find the optimal balance that yields exciting, controlled continual improvement.

What have you seen? Send me an e-mail. I would like to know.