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Quality still reigns supreme

Quality still reigns supreme

Quality is more important today than ever, say engineers at several companies in a broad range of industries. It's both a differentiator and an integral part of product development.

"These days, a quality program is expected, if not demanded," says Ray Pfeffer, the president of the Quality, Engineering, and Manufacturing Association (Phoenix, AZ). "No company will stay in business very long without a quality-minded approach to its product or service. If you are a supplier to Motorola and it has ISO certification, then your company needs ISO certification if you want to survive," he says.

Quality has actually gained in importance in the manufacturing sector, says Seifi Ghasemi, president of GKN Sinter Metals (Auburn Hill, MI), and it truly is a competitive advantage. "Anyone can drop his price," he says, "but not everyone can deliver on quality."

GKN Sinter Metals can deliver, he says, and has the awards from customers to prove it. Recently, Ford honored the company for supplying connecting rods for V-8 engines with zero defects for the last 12 months. And, General Motors just awarded the company a contract to supply main bearing caps because of its reputation for quality.

"We know that if our parts don't work, they can't ship the car," says Ghasemi. "If we make a mistake, the automotive plant can shut down."

Here are the views and quality practices of some other major suppliers:

Integrating input from multiple sources

At Honeywell, a Six Sigma Plus program is changing the way the company produces sensors and avionics products. "In a pure design engineering environment, engineers don't think about how products are manufactured," says Dave Purvis, vice president of technology and engineering at Honeywell in Phoenix. "That's changed at Honeywell because now we actively seek input from other departments in the organization. He indicates that the company's quality programs help design engineers understand the broader picture of the product, including how it's made and how customers use it.

"Our Six Sigma program also brought about a cultural change at Honeywell," says Purvis. "We now have an integrated team that brings engineering into the manufacturing process. In the past, electrical engineers stuck together with other electrical engineers, and process engineers stuck with other process engineers. They've all had to learn to communicate with each other about the product in new ways that others can readily understand," he explains. Before initiating the program, Honeywell was at Three Sigma, or about 7,000 defects per one million parts. Today, they are well beyond that point, achieving 4.26 Sigma.

Honeywell's approach to product design engineering includes a five-step process called DMAIC (Defining, Measuring, Analyzing, Improving, and Controlling product design). When Honeywell applied this approach to its data management recorder-the black box or flight recorder used in airplanes-the results included a 25% reduction in size, reduced lead times, and a reduction of one quarter of the parts.

Honeywell's success using the Six Sigma approach helped drive $600 million of operating expense out of the company last year. This year, they expect reductions of $700 million.

Electronic cocktail napkin
The Internet makes possible the bringing together of people from geographically diverse parts of the world for design projects. Bringing everyone together in this fashion is described as collaborative design, web-based product development, on-line collaboration, etc. "We sometimes just call it the electronic cocktail napkin," says CoCreate's Gary McCormick. For more information on how to work collaboratively over the Internet, contact the following companies.
Alibre, 1701 N. Greenville Ave., Suite 702, Richardson, TX 75081. Tel: (972) 671-8492, Fax: (972) 671-8492, www.alibre.com
.
CoCreate Corp., 3801 Automation Way, Ft. Collins, CO 80525. Tel: (970) 206-8000, www.cocreate.com.
CollabWare, One Oxford Centre, 301 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Tel: (412) 255-3784, www.collabware.com.

Expanding the design engineering function

Designing products with manufacturing in mind is not just a challenge for big companies. Jack Riley, an engineer and the quality assurance manager for D-Velco (Phoenix), a small business that supplies sheet metal assemblies and precision-ground components to the aerospace industry, agrees that suppliers to big companies need quality programs too. "The trend we see in outsourcing is that everything is pushed down onto the supplier, including ISO certification," he says.

Riley also explains that the company's ISO 9002 quality program is good for the business. "The focus now is to improve output while the product is in process rather than relying on final inspections after manufacturing completion. These manufacturing initiatives begin in the engineering group," says Riley. The engineering function at D-Velco used to only concentrate on instructions for manufacturing, but that too has changed. "Now, we design operation-specific instructions as well as the computer programs used for machining the products. All are generated in an effort to not leave anything to chance," he says

If the manufacture process available cannot consistently produce within specification, both rework and scrap costs will skew the profitability, he asserts. "In the past, this was not a design engineer's priority, but today it is."

Bringing everyone together

The product development process at Aptec (Ormond Beach, FL), a design firm that provides concept development and production services, also successfully integrates design engineering with quality and manufacturing functions. The company's clients include Maytag, Moen, and Royal Appliance. "Product design is where the quality decisions first start," says Thomas G. Morris II, Aptec's chief intelligence officer. "By finding trouble early and proactively, we improve the time to market. By solving the quality defect, we reduce the cost of manufacturing," he says.

He adds that virtual conferencing and design collaboration allow a distributed team of designers, component suppliers, and manufacturers to make real time decisions about a product while it is still malleable enough to accept changes. In one example, Morris indicated that early collaboration eliminated a defect and simultaneously reduced design cycle time by 20%. "By taking a proactive approach and breaking down the barriers that are traditionally found in a product development process, quality is guaranteed," he says.

"The difference today compared to when we started out is not in the methods of insuring quality for our customers. It is in the way information about quality decisions is conveyed," explains Morris. He says that virtual conferencing and on-line collaboration allow the right information to be relayed to the right people at the right time.

Tracking quality More than 31,000 U.S. companies have adopted ISO 9000-based quality management systems and have achieved formal registration to ISO 9000, according to Janet Jacobsen, a manager for the Registrar Accreditation Board established by the American Society for Quality. "We've seen a lot of growth recently, she says. For more info on getting registered contact ASQ at Box 3005, Milwaukee, WI 53210. Tel: (800) 248-1946, Fax: (414) 272-1734, www.asq.org.
Also contact Quality, Engineering & Manufacturing Association at 1001 E. Georgia Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85014. Tel: (602) 257-8884, Fax: (602) 257-8885, www.qema.com

Quality is job one

"Quality engineering is at the core of how we organize for the development of new products," says Tim Davis, the quality director of Ford Motor Co.'s Truck Vehicle Center. He thinks that 70-80% of quality issues at Ford stem from how well the engineering department does its job.

Davis says that quality impacts the earliest phases of product design and development at Ford. "Certainly a thorough approach to quality engineering is the bedrock on which our engineering teams are structured. We view vehicles as a series of systems that deliver attributes rather than a bunch of components just bolted together," says Davis.

Product defects and failures also drive product design decision at Ford. "We make sure our vehicles are durable, not just for the warranty period, but also throughout their useful life," says Davis. He adds that engineers at his company regularly interact with customers for first-hand, unfiltered feedback.

10 challenges for the decade Engineers in the coming decade will face an array of challenges and opportunities as they design the products that will define our way of life. This special report on quality is the seventh in a series on those challenges and opportunities.

Davis also says it's impossible to measure the value added to Ford from quality, but he does believe that the consequences for not valuing quality are drastic. "It would mean unhappy customers, poor satisfaction, loss of sales due to poor reputation, and eventually you would go out of business," he says.

The big picture

"Companies must adopt a top-down acceptance of the quality system," says the Quality, Engineering, and Manufacturing Association's Pfeffer. He indicates quality professionals have much to offer design engineers. "Design engineers need to realize that quality professionals can be a great asset to their efforts. A quality professional can bring to the design process a history of what has and what has not worked in the real world. It is the quality professional that is constantly contacted by customers with problems and failures," he says.

Although quality may seem voluntary, in a very real sense, it is no longer an option. The only thing voluntary is whether to develop a successful product or not.

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