Zero defects is a wonderful idea. It points to striving for perfection, something we all do in some shape or form in our everyday lives. Whether its searching for the perfect mate, or self-improvement, or any number of such things, the journey toward a perfect “thing,” whatever it might be, seems to be part of human nature.

Of course, perfection is not attainable. We all know that. But it’s important to make the effort. In manufacturing, that effort is essential for continuous improvement.

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Dr. Deming’s 14 Points: Striving for Zero Defects

The concept of zero defects immediately brings to mind the father of modern statistical process control (SPC) methodology, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management form the foundation for increasing quality and reducing costs by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition, and litigation. The result is more loyal customers and higher profits. The cornerstone of this methodology is continual improvement of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces.

Dr. Deming’s point number ten states: “Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce.” Slogans can lead to disillusionment, frustration, and worse, unrest in your employees. Face it, having a carrot perpetually dangled in your face with no means with which to ever reach it is demoralizing, at best. Hollow slogans are those that are unattainable.

Zero defects is a slogan and a target. Thus, if you’re going to talk about zero defects, you must put the conversation into context:

  • Be open about the intent; explain to employees that the goal is, in fact, unattainable (but striving for it is important).
  • Be able to show your employees how to achieve the intent (that is, how you plan to “strive” for perfection).
  • Explain that you don’t plan to dole out punishment for anyone not meeting the goal. (Deming also says to “Drive out fear.”)


Continuous Improvement

The pursuit of zero defects revolves around a defined mindset. You set up a direction to focus your employees. For example, if you want to increase sales by three percent every quarter, and you challenge your employees with that, then they start thinking in that direction…all the time. They focus their everyday activities toward achieving that result.

Same thing with zero defects. Although the goal is unattainable, everyone is thinking about it and striving to make it happen. That focus enables breakthrough improvements to happen.


Breakthrough Improvement: An Example

A bicycle manufacturer embraces a continuous improvement goal of reducing the weight of their bicycles. The lighter the better.

To make the goal concrete, they set a specific incremental goal: Reduce the weight by three percent in the next series of bikes.

Everyone starts thinking in that direction.

  • Where can we trim weight?
  • Can we make the seat post out of a different material?
  • Maybe somehow change the hardware that holds the seat in place?

You can see how employees might collaborate, brainstorm, and come up with small changes to the makeup of the bicycle to reduce weight.

So, the company starts to implement those changes and begins to drastically reduce the weight of the bicycle. Challenge accepted; it becomes part of the corporate mindset. The goal is now more than a hollow slogan. It is a company mandate. And it’s attainable!

Next, employees start looking at the bicycle frame itself. The ideas keep coming. Then someone comes along and invents a technique to weld aluminum. Eureka! Bicycles go from steel tubing to aluminum. Weights drop dramatically.

That is breakthrough improvement.

And, happily, that improvement was taken a step further with the development of carbon fiber. Incremental improvements, then boom! Breakthrough.

To find a breakthrough, everyone has to be focused on continuous improvement. What’s the next thing I can do to shave that weight? Or make this process faster? Or produce more of these in an hour? And then the breakthroughs come.


Continuous Thought: Leverage Operator Expertise

When you focus your employees on a goal like zero defects, you open communication. Your operators are smart, experienced people, and when the competitive juices are flowing all kinds of wonderful things can happen.

I love the idea of operator-artists. Invaluable employees who run the machines that are critical to your operations. When you point them all in the same direction, great things happen. But it all starts with the data they collect.

An operator employs art and intuition in daily operations. When they do their next data collection, and the data indicates something has changed, they know that even though they didn’t hear, smell, or feel anything. They simply know they need to adjust their machine or process.

SPC data enhances and elevates that art. Data provides insights beyond that experience and instinct. The best operators know that the data they collect expands their knowledge of the machinery and validates their artistry.


Data is the Key to Continuous Improvement

Whenever we talk about manufacturing quality, we always end up talking about data. You start by simply collecting data. Then, to see the bigger picture and truly assess the quality of your processes, you aggregate the data.

Data aggregation is rolling up data across your manufacturing enterprise. When you do that, you can uncover your greatest opportunities for reducing waste, reducing costs, and improving quality. This is how you get a huge return on your statistical process control (SPC) investment.

When you can see those bigger improvement opportunities, you can provide a clear definition of the goals you’re setting. Goals like zero defects become meaningful and enable focused, incremental improvements that can shape the quality of your products.

InfinityQS quality intelligence software empowers manufacturers to control processes and make continuous improvement across their entire operation. They enable you to extract the most value from your quality system—saving you money, cutting down on scrap and waste, and transforming your organization’s performance.

Learn how a leading seafood manufacturer leverages data visibility to ensure the highest quality products—and dramatically reduce customer complaints. Read the case study King & Prince Seafood—In-spec Processes: Upstream & Downstream.