Power Electronics

Can American Industry Solve the Quality Control Equation?

Most U.S. companies are now taking the steps necessary to upgrade the quality of their products. This push to increase industry success is based on the increasing number of quality products found outside of the United States. To exchange information between industry and government about nonconforming products and reliability problems, the government founded the Government-Industry Data Exchange Program (GIDEP) in 1959. More than 1500 companies and government agencies participate in GIDEP. The focus of this program is not entirely technology. For example, many leading companies have implemented statistical process controls (SPC), MIL-STD reliability, GIDEP participation, ISO, and International Quality Network (IQNet) Certification — virtually assuring very high mean time between failures (MTBF) statistics. Although these are important elements to produce quality products, they're hardly the only ones.

Most of these quality levels have become an intricate part of RCD Components' continuing quality education effort — that's just one of 10 stops on a roadmap designed to translate quality principles into quality products and services. Efforts have now surpassed even the highest levels of certification for this company, resulting in the creation of a unique quality level, known as “ABZED™” program (ABsolute ZEro Defects). Designed to achieve “ABZED quality,” this program works because the quality level is now measured in parts per billion.

The success of this program is based on the idea that quality must be designed in, so engineering and quality control work hand-in-hand. Many of our products in the electrical industry are very mature technologies — some are decades old. However, once a product is considered “old,” it seems that company priorities are placed elsewhere. Considering these “old” products as “new” products changes the company perspective and drives the need for quality. When customers become intolerant of imperfections, their intolerance level will determine business size. However, improving quality will strengthen customer growth, creating good employee moral and decreasing unit cost.

Because people must be the starting point for any quality program, it's important that employees do a good job. In fact, even before determining how to better meet customer requirements, figure out how to better satisfy each other's requirements within the company. Realizing that all employees are also “customers” can lead to inter-employee exercises.

With management and staff following a process such as this, the necessary changes in attitude can develop a mind-set where quality is paramount, and errors are unacceptable. Focusing on error prevention rather than error correction is important. You can accomplish this by searching for errors in processes rather than errors in people. Quality-conscious people identify problems in quality.

So, can American industry solve the quality control equation? Continuing quality education for company employees is a good start. Having management and staff attend quarterly seminars and presenting quality modules to all production and maintenance personnel can help to bring about this new mind-set. Regardless of how you develop a quality-oriented organization, common sense still is the main ingredient in the quality recipe.

Succeeding in programs such as ABZED, it's possible to measure the cost of quality and identify and implement appropriate preventative/corrective action.

Is it possible to ever achieve total quality? The answer, of course, is “No.” However, it is possible to move closer to that ideal.

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