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Measuring Cost of Quality August 29, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Operations, Process engineering, Quality, Supply chain.
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I’ve always thought “cost of quality” was a great idea in principle. If you could take the costs associated with defects, field failures, returns, and warranty claims, and add the costs of inspection, testing, scrap, and rework, then you could get everyone’s attention.

Quality would no longer be some abstract “nice to have” thing, but a real expense category that could be monitored and managed. With an objective, quantitative model to view how much money is actually being spent because of poor quality and associated practices, you would be able to evaluate proposed improvement programs and measure their performance. You would have something concrete to discuss with design and production teams to compare with estimates of future sales and operating expenses, apples to apples. All of this would lead to informed, balanced, and better decisions.

It sounds great, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds. You may be measuring yields and defects and returns, but now you’ve got to measure costs.

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Are You Looking For Root Cause, Or Someone to Blame? August 15, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Operations, Process engineering, Quality.
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When I worked as a quality manager in my first career I was often required to investigate quality failures to determine the cause. There were times when it was pretty easy to figure out, but in an uncontrolled business environment it can be hard to identify a simple dependent relationship between cause and effect. There are usually multiple contributing factors. Sometimes a small thing (the cause) can become a big thing when it’s overlooked (another cause).

Most of the other managers I worked with didn’t have much patience with the complexities of root cause analysis. They wanted a simple, actionable outcome: this is the cause, and if we eliminate this cause then this problem will never happen again (right?), so let’s eliminate the cause. The people who were impacted by this quality failure want answers, and they want to feel confident that the business has taken decisive and effective action. They don’t want to endure an extended period of uncertainty and exposure to risk while the business figures out what to do in order to prevent re-occurrence.

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3D Printing and the Production Ramp August 8, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Product design, Quality, Supply chain.
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Yes, 3D printing is great. Incredibly intricate designs that have been virtually impossible to fabricate using traditional subtractive or injection molding technology can now be realized. The range of plastics and metallic materials that can be printed continues to grow. The falling prices for commercial printers makes them economically feasible for a variety of applications, including rapid prototyping and on-demand manufacturing of replacement parts for field repairs. The technology will continue to disrupt existing business models and help develop new ones, and I’m following all of this with great interest.

I’m especially interested to see how 3D printing will change traditional manufacturing, particularly for mass production. It’s one thing to build a single product that meets design and performance specifications, but it’s a different challenge to consistently make the quantities of products that are required to satisfy a larger market over an extended period of time at a cost that enables a profit. At some point I expect that established manufacturers will adopt 3D printing as a replacement for current fabrication technologies such as injection molding for some applications, however there are still significant cost and throughput advantages with the older processes.

Here are a couple of considerations:

  • Will the prototype design created using 3D printing still work with the volume production plan? Or, will it have to be re-designed to meet the manufacturer’s requirements and capabilities? A change in the fabrication method means re-visiting the discussion about design for manufacturability.
  • Are the materials used for the 3D printed prototype the same as those that will be used in the final product? What does that mean for functional and reliability testing of the prototype? Are those results still meaningful?

Again, it’s going to be interesting to see how this space develops.

What’s the Value of ISO 9001? January 25, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, strategy.
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Earlier tonight I called in to listen to a presentation given at my local American Society of Quality (ASQ) chapter meeting about some of the changes in the ISO 9001 specification in the new 2015 version. I thought the speaker did a great job. He’s a consultant who makes his living helping companies become ISO 9001 certified and preparing for audits. He highlighted the differences in the new version of ISO 9001, and provided some useful tips about how to prepare for the updated requirements.

I don’t think he intended to do this, but he also made me question the purpose of ISO 9001 certification, and specifically whether it’s worth the time and money and effort.

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The Battle Over Discrepant Material January 19, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, Supply chain.
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Quality issues have been on my mind a lot lately, specifically some of the more frustrating things that I’ve had to deal with during my career as a quality manager. In my last job my team was responsible for managing the discrepant material review (DMR) process for our US-based factory.

For those who are unfamiliar, the DMR process is how most factories deal with raw materials or other inputs that have been identified as possibly defective and unsuitable for use. Incoming materials that don’t pass visual inspection or other testing are supposed to be sequestered so they can’t go into production. Later, the DMR process is used to determine what to do with that material. The choices are usually:

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What Is the Quality Team Responsible For? (Part 2) January 11, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Quality.
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If “everyone is responsible for quality,” then what is the quality team responsible for? This isn’t a trick question. If a team or department (or person) doesn’t have a clear, distinct, and ideally-unique assigned responsibility, then should they continue to exist as a separate entity in the organization? Shouldn’t they be doing something else instead, as part of another team?

Of course many businesses don’t have a separate quality team or department at all, and others have chosen to eliminate the quality department as an independent function. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t care about quality. Some of these businesses would probably argue that they have a greater commitment to quality because those principles and tools are fully integrated into all of their functions and processes. Why should all of the Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts be located in one central organization? Why not build local competencies within the functional groups, whether in new product development or marketing or finance?

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What Is the Quality Team Responsible For? (Part 1) January 2, 2016

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Quality.
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A few weeks ago I had coffee with a quality manager who’s now the president of our local chapter of the American Society of Quality. I’ve made a couple of presentations at the chapter meetings, and I’m helping to manage their web site, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before they asked me to take a leadership position. I declined. My short answer is that I’m “just too busy,” but of course that just means that I’m not willing to make time for it. To quote Bob Dylan: “I used to care, but things have changed.” More on that later.

The chapter president and I shared war stories about our experiences in quality management. His stories are a little more recent, but the underlying themes are the same, and I suspect quality managers one hundred years from now will be experiencing similar frustrations and telling similar stories. Everybody has stories, but I think the unique issues that quality managers face come down to a few fundamental questions:

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“Dare to Know” Reliability Engineering Podcasts January 12, 2015

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Product design, Quality.
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Over the last several months I’ve been working on a project with my friend and former colleague Fred Schenkelberg on a series of podcasts with thought leaders in the world of reliability engineering. Reliability and quality professionals have a tough job, but they’re not alone. There’s a large and growing community of experienced engineers, managers, authors, and other experts who are available to share their practical expertise and insights. Our Dare to Know interviews provide the opportunity to hear from these leaders and learn about the latest developments in analysis techniques, reliability standards, and business processes.

You can access the interviews at Fred’s Accendo Reliability web site: http://www.fmsreliability.com/accendo/dare-to-know/

Let me know what you think, or if you’re interested in joining us for a future interview.

Check Out “Document Center” December 11, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Quality, Supply chain.
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I don’t typically use this forum for recommendations, but here’s something I can support enthusiastically. My friends at Document Center manage and sell a comprehensive collection of industry and government standards from around the world. Customers who want to clearly express their requirements and quality expectations should be referencing standards in their communications with suppliers. Standards are developed through the cooperative efforts of experienced teams with deep understanding of their respective industries. While your specific product may have unique requirements, it’s important to use standards as a starting point rather than creating something from scratch. Your suppliers should already be familiar with them, and you should be as well.

If you’re looking for standards that are appropriate for your industry, or the most recent version of a standard that you’re currently using, go to Document Center. While you’re there, take a look at the guest blog that I contributed to the site last month at: Does Anyone In China Pay Attention to Standards?.

Problems With Field Failure Analysis September 29, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Process engineering, Product design, Quality.
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We hate to hear from a customer that there’s been a problem with their product, but sometimes it happens, in spite of our efforts to create a robust design and manufacturing processes, and in spite of whatever testing, inspection, and audits we perform. We want the customer to know that we care, and we typically try to make it right, either by replacing or repairing the defective unit. We’d also like to rebuild confidence and assure the customer that we know what went wrong, and that we’ve implemented corrective action to prevent that problem from reoccurring.

Of course that last part assumes that we actually do know what went wrong, and that we understand the root cause and how to eliminate it. That’s why we investigate field failures. We want that failed unit back in our hands so we can take it apart and figure out what happened. We want to know the operating and environmental conditions, and we want to trace the manufacturing history back to individual parts. We’re looking for clues that can help us determine why this unit failed when others didn’t. We apply disciplined problem solving techniques and develop a convincing analysis that we can bring back to the customer.

That sounds good, but there are problems when you’re trying to use field failures to improve product quality, and I don’t think it’s all that easy. Here are two examples:

1. When I was at Foxconn in 2009-11 we built inkjet printers for Hewlett-Packard and reached a peak production volume of 3 million units a month. These were consumer electronics products that were primarily shipped to a worldwide network of distribution centers and retail channels. Customer returns were received by HP or a 3rd party , and a very small number of units made their way back to Foxconn for field failure analysis (FFA).

“No trouble found” (NTF) was always the leading “cause” on the FFA Pareto chart. Many of the returned printers were poorly packaged and poorly handled, making it hard to know where damage might have occurred. We never experienced a “class failure” that affected a large population of printers. The small percentage of returns left us wondering if we were looking at a statistically significant finding, or just a bunch of outliers that would be expected from any complex design and manufacturing process. If we did find a broken part or an error in assembly (both very rare), we would send an alert to the appropriate supplier or production area, but generally the value of FFA hardly seemed to be worth the effort.

2. The other situation was my last position where we built solar inverters that were typically installed as part of a large construction project to support a vast “solar farm” of photovoltaic panels for power generation. Inverter production was relatively low volume, and inverters were often customized to meet the specific requirements of the customer. A field failure after installation was addressed by a team of mobile repair technicians who would be dispatched to the site.

The repair team’s performance was measured in part on how quickly they could get the inverter up and running again, and they weren’t going to spend much time trying to understand the root cause of the failure. Their standard approach was to swap out components or subsystems, guided by their technical training, past failures and data logs, until they found a combination that worked. Sometimes the replaced parts would be returned for analysis, but never the entire inverter. Returned parts were either damaged so badly by electrical or thermal failure that they could not be analyzed, or else they passed all testing against their design specifications. We struggled to determine whether any problem was due to defective parts, poor workmanship in assembly, or a product design that unexpectedly subjected the part to conditions that were beyond the part’s design capabilities.

I don’t think these are unusual situations. FFA often must contend with small numbers of returned units and the possibility that they may be compromised by poor handling at the “crime scene.” Data logs from the failed unit may be available to help understand the operating conditions before the failure, but that depends on whether the customer will grant access. A broken part without the larger system doesn’t tell you much, but often that’s all you get. Even if the analysis does get to a root cause in manufacturing or the supply chain, it’s too easy to dismiss it as an outlier. Given all these limitations, why do we put our faith in FFA as part of our quality management system? Is this just to make our customer feel better?

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