Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Interpretations and Insights for the Developing Markets

Hello World,

I would like to begin with a word of thanks to my friend and colleague Abdul Afoo Parkar for contributing as a guest writer to my post. Abdul is an Analysis Engineer by profession, specializing in CFD simulations. He has a passion for machines and traveling. I consider myself fortunate for having shared the classroom with Abdul while we were graduate students at Mississippi State University.

Me and Abdul have the habit of engaging in long discussions on various topics ranging from technology to marketing and beyond. One of those discussions happened to cover the field of Quality Control in Manufacturing and at the end of the discussion, we both felt, it would be worth the time sharing our thoughts with you.

Here are a few bits of my observations and enlightening experience auditing a heavy machinery manufacturing firm:

QC Document handed over to the client has a very detailed index but did not have those documents:
The QC Manager thought, I was there just to see if they had a quality document for every order they were doing and that would be it. Unfortunately my job description read otherwise. We had already sampled out a set of orders to be verified. I had the QC Manager informed of the list and he provided all of them hoping I won’t understand anything from it since I was young and I represented a small consulting firm. Human frailties.

I go through the index page and I was pretty impressed by the granularity it boasted. I started flipping through the pages, looking at each item as mentioned in the index and I started getting a feeling that I flipped fast and got lost in the thick file. I went from page 1 again and found the same mismatching pages. When I looked closely, I realized, the file did not contain over 40% of what it claimed to contain as per the index page.

QC Document had test certificates as old as 10 years:

Some of the supporting documents mentioned in the index indicated standard test certificates of the materials that were used in the concerned order. These test certificates were claimed to be obtained from the supplier who had supposedly gotten it from the manufacturer.

The photocopy of the test certificate was there and it mentioned the material details such as name, category, dimension and so on. I looked at the date it was dated 10 years back. The order we were verifying was received and completed within 6 months from the date of the audit. 

I asked the QC Manager, if the material they used was indeed a 10 year old stock and he almost lost his cool. He said they would never do such a thing and all were procured for the order and used as freshly procured material. I asked him if the supplier sent them his 10-year old stock and he said that can never happen as they scrutiny every piece of material before accepting it. I showed him the test certificate copy that was dated 10 years back and asked why a 10 year old test certificate is being used in the QC Document and he replied with a smile ‘Nobody cares about it. We need to have a test certificate and that’s why it is there.’ I asked him if they insisted on getting a recent test certificate or inquire into the validity of such a test certificate and he said the standards are there but nobody cares since their work is good and that such test certificate is not important to anyone.

Metallic plates 3 mm thicker than what the design had mandated were used in the heavy machinery that was built:

3 mm seems too low but for an equipment the size of a truck, 3 mm more on the thickness will results in huge weight gain. That equipment is going to be part of a much larger set-up. If the weight is exceeded in any equipment, it has to be indicated to the design team so the suitable update is made and revised edition of the design can be shared with the rest of the manufacturing teams. If the cost implication of chaining the system design owing to one sub-system’s change, then such a change cannot be allowed. 

When I asked this question, my whole idea of ‘risk’ due to uninformed excess weight was classified as unnecessary and unrealistic. I only hope whichever factory is using such equipment have a strong set-up that can handle excess weight so that, 10 years down the line, the factory employees don’t get stuck under broken machinery simply because a contract-manufacturer considered Quality Control as ‘Not-a-Big-Thing.’

No QC checks were done before accepting the materials from suppliers. Their quantity alone were verified:

The QC office, for some reason was located far away from the storage/delivery area and no QC personnel were deployed in the storage/delivery area to verify the quality of the materials that were being delivered.

Further inquiry revealed that the QC checks never happened and the documents were merely sent across offices to be signed and predated. So the QC checks for all materials delivered happened only in paper.

Materials were stored out in the open, letting them weather the elements and succumb to rust:

The storage area was crammed and in a state of disorder. Most of the materials, including metals were left outside and they were getting subjected to sun, rain, dust and other environmental factors that can possibly deteriorate their quality over time, rendering them useless for manufacturing. Those materials were used anyways.

My concerns were only entertaining them and they considered my questions as jokes rather than indications of risk. Manufacturing best practices never call for degraded materials to be used.

Objects of aesthetic nature can be built using degraded materials (rusted metal) since they can be cleaned and painted. Besides their using inferior quality material is not going to cause any significant danger since they won’t have any mechanical purpose other than remain a non-interactive display piece.

I was surprised to see heavy machinery that were to be used in factories dealing with large volumes of fluids, being built using material that weathered the elements for a long time before getting into the finished product.

The QC process just did not have any element of control to sense, measure and mitigate the risks of using degraded material on machinery that were made for paying customers.

I think, it was deliberate negligence that was mostly responsible for the QC ‘gaps’ that I noticed. There was a big gap in terms of systematized QC that might have eradicated most of these small yet significant risks. Nobody cared because they were getting paid and nobody complained. What they fail to realize is that products that come out of such inferior QC process tend to have short lifetimes and very unreliable failure modes which may strike anytime, irrespective of the equipment’s design life. The factories where such products are installed go into higher risk of disaster since they have many other sensitive machinery that operate in the vicinity of these rather ‘Riskily Manufactured’ equipment.


Well, with the fast moving trend of globalization, companies are expanding across continents connecting thousands of industries and end-users as they go. Standardized manufacturing practices is a dire need for them to interact at the same level and benefit from each others contribution.

With this existence of deliberate ignorance of QC in manufacturing domain, the industry participants of the respective regional market will be branded as ‘Unsafe & Unreliable’ and eventually lose businesses to those markets that boast and deliver Quality of global standards. Also, now with heavily data-driven industry practices, when an end-user faces danger due to system failure, it is possible to track down to the manufacturer of the sub-system that caused the incident. 

These are times when industries are expanding and evolving. The businesses are looking to expand into different markets and invest in them. Any indication towards 'Lack of Concern for Quality'  will demotivate businesses from investing in the markets with questionable business practices. In the end, it has to be someone from the developed market who will have the capability to take the first jump and drive the developing markets into further growth but they will be looking for commitment towards growth to base their decision on.

Possible Remedies

An elaborate, systematized and data-driven QC process will be the ideal solution but more than the process, it is the implementation that matters. I think, manufacturing companies should stop looking for customer demands and install ‘Best-in-Market’ QC standards that will equal or top the QC requirements that their customers might look for.

The safety of the end-users while their interactions with the machinery/equipment should be prioritized and the QC process should orient its testing and evaluation terms towards the end-user safety.

The other area can be robust design and analysis which can enforce QC-friendly factors such as ‘all-weather’ materials and additive manufacturing that can eliminate the possibilities of a significant portion of flaws, eventually reducing the burden on QC process.

I think it is time for us to get the insights of an Analysis Engineer on the topic.

Here is what Abdul thinks about Quality and the underlying philosophy:

Let’s take a step back and rewind to the essence of quality. 

Quality Control, Quality Assurance and Total Quality Management practices can be seen as a disruption to what was the traditional way for getting things right. Think about it. 

The traditional method relied on accept-or-reject approach based on inspection/measurement of specifications of finished product before shipping to the end user. The disruption brought about by Quality movement when it started in earnest was the shift in focus from the accept-or-reject routine to encompass something even greater - i.e value or the TRUE WORTH of product (or service for that matter) in the eyes of the customer. 

It would be worthwhile to look briefly at the birth of the Quality movement and how it took root. Of course, it has to be borne in mind that a business has a lot to lose if poor quality assurance procedures (like what Arun shared with us earlier) and unpleasant customer service remain the operational norm. 


Is it just a buzzword? Is it a fancy word that has lost its meaning? We cannot claim that with certainty.  Why? Because it depends on who you ask and how effectively they practice it. The origins of quality can be traced to mass production as a result of rapid industrialization in past century [1]. It was the time when goods were rolled out in volumes and numbers. The final product had to be inspected to check its acceptability for selling in the market. 

Were all these goods perfect in every way as they rolled out at the other end of the production line? Of course, not. Variability is inherent to each and every process. It cannot be taken for granted because if process variability is way out of range (outside an acceptable tolerance) the product is no longer suitable for use – it may not fulfill its intended purpose as the buyer originally expected it to or the product might fail way before it was designed to fail. The end result: customer is going to feel cheated… simple as that. It affects the chances of repeat business and the overall sustainability of the seller’s business model.

This brings us to two questions: 

a) How do you define quality? 

b) How do you control quality? 

Quite simply quality is defined as fitness for use i.e. how well a product/service performs to meet its intended purpose and satisfy the expectations of the customer. Would you buy a kitchen knife knowing that it has perfectly blunt edge? No. The next point is how do you control quality? This is where the body of knowledge really swells – different models, philosophies and systems -depending on the industry and the extent of quality control mechanisms required.

Very briefly: the concepts and ideas of quality were being promoted by early pioneers in the US - Joseph Juran, Edward Deming, Philip Crosby et al. However, the US industry did not embrace the new thinking. It’s human nature to resist change. It was the Japanese who picked up these ideas from their American gurus as part of the post-world war reconstruction collaboration. Only when the market success of Japanese products had begun to threaten the survival of US-made goods, the Total Quality movement took off in US [2]. The auto industry and electronics industry were the first to adopt the ideas and put them into practice. 

Quality focus shifted from traditional inspection…from accept-or-reject approach to a comprehensive monitoring and control system that encompasses organization-wide processes, all streamlined with one single high-level goal of creating value and customer satisfaction.

Why were the Japanese so successful? What is it that they realized so early on and embraced so sincerely that they literally rose from ashes of World War II? 

Toyota is the most popular example of quality management. They installed their own system which became popular as TPS or Toyota Production System. The cornerstones of their TQM (Total Quality Management) philosophy were the following:

1. Viewing their end-product from value point of view as opposed to traditional perspective of cost per piece.

2. They tailored their processes to incorporate value into the product as it progressed through the conception/design/production stages.

3. Their focus on eliminating waste. (The highlight? Entire take on the meaning of waste; According to Toyota philosophy, any activity that does not add value to end product is 'waste'. )

4. Management support and unwavering commitment to promoting a company-wide culture for quality, continuous improvement, employee empowerment, process focus and change management.

Now, let’s rotate some knobs and get the picture in focus. You sold something and your customer is not happy with the money spent… We ourselves have been through such an experience at least once and we all know the outcome. Its human instinct to praise when satisfied and to ladle out criticism when not satisfied. In the modern era with powerful social media, a customer complaint will not go unnoticed. Certainly a negative product/service review is the last thing on business owner’s mind. 

Today one of biggest challenges to quality is the sustainability of the quality-improving process/change. Almost every major organization or a mid-size manufacturing unit has a quality objective and a QA/QC department. Well, that’s great! Take one good look at mission and vision statements of a company … you know what I am talking about. Every mission/vision statement will talk about the organization's lofty commitment to customer satisfaction and high standard for excellence

But, the questions are: 

How good are they at practicing quality and seeing tangible improvements to their product/service as direct result of a quality policy? 

If a quality initiative is indeed successful then does this new method/initiative snowball into a bigger transformation across the organization?  

Are organizations embracing quality for its true benefits or are they faking it because regulatory bodies need to see a quality policy? 

Are they 100% committed to delivering something of greater value in their product/service? 

The reason for asking these questions is simple: 

Are we adopting quality because everybody else is doing the same?

There is a big difference between making quality work for your organization (like the way it did for say Toyota or Motorola) versus having a quality department. Believe me, a mediocre quality department that lacks the power/achievements to influence company-wide culture is a blot in the name of quality. It is also the first sign of executive management’s poor commitment to promoting a culture of continuous improvement. These are the example organizations that remain in the market for perpetuating mediocrity as Arun described in his quality audit experience in the beginning of this article.

Once again, let’s open our eyes to the real picture: Is quality a fancy word that has lost its meaning? We cannot claim that with certainty.  Why? Because it depends on who you ask and how effectively they practice it.

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Abdul Afoo Parkar


1 comment:

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