Quality Management Systems: What they can mean to your company and to you

Management has announced a new quality initiative. So what does it mean? Is it this month's theory for success or is there long-term management support behind it? Let's take a look at several quality management systems and what they can mean for a company...


Management has announced a new quality initiative. So what does it mean? Is it this month's theory for success or is there long-term management support behind it? Let's take a look at several quality management systems and what they can mean for a company and its employees.

The philosophy behind quality systems takes many turns but the emphasis is on the customer. A satisfied customer is a returning customer and companies profit from satisfied customers.

The Japanese are credited with introducing quality systems such as just in time and kaizen to manufacturing companies. And Japanese companies like Toyota are still seen as leaders in continuous improvement programs. Many programs and associations were created during the 1940s to make North American companies competitive in the marketplace. And with the condition of today's economy, the advantages of implementing a quality program could save jobs if not companies as a whole.

Here are descriptions of some of the most common quality initiatives.

Just-in-time (JIT)
Just-in-time is an inventory control program. Working closely with suppliers, manufacturers indicate how many and how often they need components or parts to keep up with the manufacturing or assembly line. This system requires communication and trust that quality parts will be delivered when needed. This system frees up space that previously was stacked with components, allowing streamlining of the actual manufacturing lines and plants, and reducing the costs of storing inventory as companies only pay for components as they need them. The relationship with suppliers is an important one as your livelihood is dependent on an outside source. In developing JIT systems, there is often an evaluation or certification process to ensure suppliers are able to meet a company's needs in terms of quality, price, and delivery.

Kanban

Kanban is a quality system that depends on visual flags, typically cards or containers, to move parts from one workstation to another. While the basis is JIT, it goes further by changing the system from a push to a pull process. New parts are only introduced into the system when a flag indicates that more are needed. Advantages of kanban include lowering costs, quick response, minimizing waste, avoiding overproduction, and delegating responsibility to line workers.

Besides inventory control, kanban also incorporates re-engineering. It creates a modular/cell production flow. Layout of processes and machines are streamlined to reduce duplication and encourage the best flow of employees and materials. So, for example, you don't have to walk across the plant to get a part or a tool, it'll be right next to you when you need it. A U-shaped processing flow-line instead of one that is in the form of a straight line allows for minimal travel time through the various processes, increases supply accessibility, and often minimizes the overall space requirements opening up space for other processes or projects.

Kanban also places emphasis on the team and the individuals that make up the team. Team members have input through concepts like quality circles where problems are discussed and solved within the team's boundaries. This framework puts more emphasis on the team, the level that usually is closest to the problem, instead of relying on supervisors and quality control inspectors. Quality is seen as part of the process instead of an afterthought or as being removed from the process.

Continuous improvement
Kaizen is the Japanese term for continuous improvement. It is a scientific method and a framework of values and beliefs that keep the focus on quality. The kaizen cycle includes a plan to change whatever needs to be improved, carrying out changes on a small scale, observing the results, and then evaluating the results and the process to determine what has been learned so it can be used or improved for the next cycle.
These theories and practices have been modified and expanded into various quality improvement systems such as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and ISO 9000 certification standards.

Lean manufacturing focuses on speed, elimination of waste, standardization, and responsiveness. This can lead to getting products to market faster (planes delivered sooner) or redesigning a product to meet market needs and satisfying the customer.

Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology developed by Motorola that strives for perfection. It examines variations and root causes of current performance with a focus on all business processes. There is a logical progression for making improvements to a company's product or internal processes.

Goodrich has been implementing lean practices since 1996, but is gearing up for a program that will marry lean and Six Sigma practices together. According to Sam Lee, training coordinator, it will start with a training program for management and then eight hours of training will be given to each employee at all Goodrich facilities.

Currently Goodrich conducts kaizen events that look at processes by documenting reality, what you're doing today, either by written descriptions or by videotaping a work process. Then according to Lee, "the team meets to look at the whole process, and asks where can we remove waste. They'll go through every single process and ask how can we improve the amount of time it takes to accomplish a task. When the team agrees on the changes, they'll write up a standard as a process and it'll be put on a standard work combination sheet. This shows the process, the time, and the travel of the operator. Then that becomes the new work process that goes out on the floor for everyone to follow. People come up with ideas, then they'll look at it again and rewrite the work process. Anyone on the team can make a suggestion on how to remove waste and improve the process."

Awards and associations
Besides companies adopting quality practices, associations and government programs have been created to foster quality programs. The Malcolm Baldrige Award was created by law in 1987 to stimulate American companies to improve quality and productivity, recognizing companies' achievements, providing an example to others, and establishing guidelines for companies and organizations to follow to achieve higher quality.

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