Is quality something dedicated to one department in your company?

Is quality something dedicated to one department in your company? Does it have its own budget, separate from other equipment and software purchases? Do you have employees specifically trained in quality, apart from manufacturing operations?

This traditional approach to quality, employed by many companies, certainly works. U.S. manufacturers have used it for many years, adopting new practices and technology as they come along, and generally remaining competitive. But is that enough? If quality is segregated from manufacturing and business operations, can its potential to set a company apart as an industry leader be fully realized?

Starting on page 52, are this month's two cover stories on companies that make quality an integral part of every part of their manufacturing and business operations. Kenworth Truck Co. (Chillicothe, OH) and Accurate Gauge & Manufacturing Inc. (Rochester Hills, MI) are the 2006 Quality Plant of the Year Award winners. Kenworth, builds medium- and heavy-duty trucks and Accurate builds parts for commercial vehicle, automotive and heavy-duty truck manufacturers. Read these stories in detail, as I did, and one thing will become readily apparent.

Quality at Kenworth and Accurate go beyond having a metrology lab on the shop floor, or monthly TQM meetings. At both facilities, quality is present at every phase of business and manufacturing operations. At Kenworth, for example, tools are networked so that rundown information can be accessed, torques trended and preventive maintenance done. At Accurate, e-mail is used to route notices about production inefficiencies or changes in inspection requirements to employees. You might think such quality technology levels can only be had in large companies where there are huge quality budgets. Not true. Accurate has only 72 employees and annual sales of $25 million, small compared to Kenworth's numbers.

But quality at these plants goes beyond technology. Both companies give employees the power to address quality issues at their point of origin. Operators at Accurate conduct inspections after they make parts. They form dedicated teams that address scrap, rework and production issues. At Kenworth, employees look for, evaluate and implement continuous improvement projects, and take part in multi-department events that address quality. You might think such employee buy-in only can occur in small companies where the managers know each employee's name. Not true. Kenworth employs more than 1,600 people in Chillicothe and boasts a dedicated workforce.

From managers to designers to shop-floor operators, everyone at both these plants is concerned with making better products and improving processes. It is what they do, as sure as any other part of their daily routine. Quality runs "in their blood." To eliminate the quality aspect of their jobs would change these companies completely.

Kenworth and Accurate fully benefit from quality because they have made the decision to have it as an integral part of everything they do. Any company can accomplish the same if they make a similar commitment.