Zero Defects.

What do you think of when you hear that phrase? Do you think of “No headaches today?” or “No one screaming at me today?” Or does is it call to mind Lean Six Sigma programs? Preventing escapes? Maybe improvement in your manufacturing processes in general?

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Or maybe you think of it in a purely psychological or motivational context—successfully instilling a culture of reducing defects throughout your operations and getting everyone involved.

All those permutations are part of the Zero Defects concept. The idea has been around for decades, and it really takes hold in companies that are willing to take a good, cold, hard look at what they do and how they do it. It requires a company to analyze processes and proactively address issues rather than discovering those issues in their finished products, when it’s too late. Or worse, discovering defects only when customers bring them to your attention—which is never pretty.

In realistic terms, we all know that literally achieving zero defects (what some quality professionals call infinity sigma) is unrealistic. But it still should be an ideal we all strive for in manufacturing. Otherwise, we’re just settling for “good enough”—and that’s never a good thing.

So if Zero Defects is unattainable, is it a term we need? Let’s think about how you may define the concept for your organization.

Inspection for Quality Control is Great, BUT…

It’s better to find a problem before the customer does. It’s better to find a defect in a process and fix it, rather than produce poor quality products for a shift, day, or week, then sell the bad product—and hear about it in some social media review.

You can inspect all you want after the fact, find defects, and report error rates—and final inspection should always be part of your process. Some manufacturers mistakenly assume that if they’re producing fewer defects, they need fewer inspections. You still need to inspect; but you shouldn’t inspect only at the last step.

Hunting down issues before they become part of the final product is more efficient. When you should seek smarter, more sophisticated, better-planned testing and inspection throughout your processes, you can uncover exactly where to adjust your processes and solve issues as they come up—or even before.

That proactive approach fits into the Zero Defects concept, which incorporates a commitment to the greater principle of no waste in a process. Remember the eight types of waste from Lean Six Sigma training?

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Non-Utilized Talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Extra Processing

Waste is anything you deem to be unproductive, anything that does not add value to your product. When you eliminate waste, you create a state of continuous improvement.

The Nuts and Bolts of Continuous Improvement

That is the crux of the Zero Defects discussion: steady, unceasing, continuous improvement.

According to Philip Crosby in his book Absolutes of Quality Management, the Zero Defects concept is based on four basic elements:

  1. Fulfilling requirements at the point in time they’re needed
  2. Integrating quality into the process from the beginning, rather than solving problems at a later stage
  3. Measuring quality in financial terms
  4. Judging performance by the accepted standards and aiming to get as close to perfection as possible

These elements embody the idea of getting it right the first time. When you do that, you never have to worry about learning about a problem from a customer.

Quality = Money

Every defect represents a hidden cost: inspection time, rework, lost revenue, wasted material, added labor—and most important, customer dissatisfaction. If you can properly identify a defect, you can measure its costs and justify spending money on steps to improve quality. This is a concrete way to maintain management commitment and ensure that company goals are met.

All defects are not equal. Depending on their size and type, defects can have wildly different probabilities of impacting the finished product. Therefore, different defects will have different monetary values attached to them.

But the overarching concept of quality = money is foundational. If money is flying out the door (or not coming in the door) because of defects in your products, whether it’s a few dollars or a few thousand (or million) dollars, it’s money. And we can’t let it escape—it’s the point of being in business, right? Consider the impact the 737 Max issue has had with the Boeing Company. Not only are they spending millions of dollars on correcting a critical defect, but they are also losing millions of dollars in delayed or lost orders.

When you’re building products to meet customer specifications, the most distinct advantage of achieving Zero Defects is reduction of waste and cost. The benefits are visible: Zero Defects equates to upfront savings, higher customer satisfaction, improved customer loyalty—and higher sales and profits.

Pros and Cons: How Do You Frame the Zero Defects Objective?

So, you’ve established that quality is the most important element for ensuring higher profitability—and it’s the most important part of everyone’s job in the manufacturing organization. Now, how will you get your employees to all pull together to support that concept?

Announcing to your employees that you’re setting a goal of Zero Defects could lead to a scenario where your team is striving for a perfect process they simply can’t realistically ever meet. Never being able to perform at the expected level can negatively impact performance and put a strain on employee motivation, morale, and job satisfaction.

However, when you implement a program of continuous improvement—and give your teams the tools they need to identify issues in real time and take meaningful action to solve them—you’ve turned the conversation around. Now, instead of a message that says those teams are never doing enough, they are empowered and motivated to always be looking for the next improvement.

It’s a subtle but powerful shift. Failure can demotivate a team; ongoing success tends to have the opposite effect.

Quality Control from the Factory Floor to the Customer’s Door

Striving for Zero Defects is an admirable objective and most companies find that the positives outweigh the negatives. By striving for rigorous (but attainable) reduction of defects, organizations can improve their current processes, build better processes, and create an environment of continuous improvement.

But sometimes the way you define a concept can make a significant difference in whether that concept is adopted and supported in the organization. Many companies can do just fine by keeping that term “Zero Defects” in the backs of their minds while focusing their employees’ attention and effort on that continuous improvement carrot.

No unrealistic expectations or goals here. Enable your employees to support your effort. Give them the statistical process control (SPC) tools they need to examine processes and ask questions such as: Are we continuously improving? If not, why? How do we get back on track?

When everyone in your organization is paying attention to your processes, striving for a better process or product, and acting in ways that reduce costs, satisfy customers, and gain market share—you will succeed.

Continuous improvement is the essence of success. InfinityQS works with Ocean Spray, a major player in the Food and Beverage industry, and they have adopted our solutions in five Craisin® dried cranberry manufacturing plants with fantastic results. Please take a look at our case study.