Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on obstacles that keep many manufacturers from achieving manufacturing excellence.

Many experts, including myself, give advice on how to improve operations and achieve excellence. In order to figure out how to overcome challenges to manufacturing excellence, first we must be able to identify what obstructs us from achieving excellence. Here are some of the obstructions to or killers of achieving manufacturing excellence.

1. Executive focus on cost. It is worrisome that most businesses today focus on making money by cutting costs, not through profitable growth. We have been trained from the experts in the 1980s that the corporate purpose is to make money-which was true in a growing economy. However, tough economic times must challenge us to turn around to reach profitable growth.

Companies that focus on cost cannot remain competitive, and they continue to shrink. Instead of focusing on cost, corporate leadership must focus on doing well for its customers-not at the lowest cost but by giving the best value for the customers’ money.

2. Designs without target. Our designs are created approximately within limits, not on targets. Then we indicate that the target is supposed to be in the middle of the limits. But it does not work this way. Good designs must have targets for each dimension and then be optimized for the targets. Adjustments are then made to designs after testing to accommodate any special conditions or constraints.

Designing without targets is like a fuzzy photo negative. We are going to get blurry pictures or shoddy products irrespective of our focus on achieving manufacturing excellence. Manufacturing excellence begins with excellence in design.

3. Sub-optimized designs. After we design a product and build its prototype, we do not verify its performance thoroughly. Instead we look for its functionality-does it work or not? We are happy to see it work. Working from a design is not good enough; instead we must ensure the design works to its intended verifiable target performance.

At the design stage we must spend as much effort as needed to gain confidence in reproducibility of the design. Taking short cuts in testing at the design stage is a catalyst to expensive testing in production. Our designs must show the best-expected performance, not the typical expected performance, in order to be cost-effective.

4. Squeezing suppliers for cost reduction. I have no idea how smart business people can think of making profit by squeezing suppliers for cost instead of demanding that suppliers provide higher value. How long can a supplier keep cutting cost by 3% to 5% without significant innovation and survive?

I have experienced large OEMs demanding excellence and improvement from suppliers for their failures in design and manufacturing. Purchased parts cannot overcome flaws in the design process. Suppliers cannot pay for inefficiency in the OEM operations. Instead there must be dialogue between OEMs and suppliers for increasing value though everyone’s competence and innovation rather than issuing edicts for only suppliers to follow. We must collaborate and become partners.

5. Delegation of quality to large quality departments. Due to lack of focus on quality and poor product and process designs, most organizations delegate responsibility for quality to quality professionals and departments. I believe the cost of quality has been way too high in today’s globally competitive economic conditions. I remember transferring 90% of my quality inspectors to production, and making production accountable for quality. This led to higher quality products.

Even value added by quality departments must be questioned. Measures of effectiveness must include reduction in testing and verification activities, better product and process designs, and employee ownership of quality.