Prevention is Better than Cure
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Prevention is Better than Cure

While most of us fully appreciate this old adage, those of us old enough to have lived through the quality movement of the 80s will recall what a paradigm shift this was for the manufacturing community of the time. The quality movement advocated a refocus on the customer by building quality into products rather than policing poor quality out. I recall visiting a manufacturer of daily contact lenses and seeing rows of ladies (females are more eagle-eyed apparently) with the mind-bendingly tedious task of scanning each lens looking for minute defects. The company was fairly forward thinking and had recognized that this task could not be performed effectively for more than a couple of hours at a time. They had implemented a two hourly changeover system. The company had invested huge amounts of capital on automating the lens inspection process but had had limited success in getting a machine to do what the ladies could do. They were hoping, of course, that automating the inspection process would improve their poor yield situation. Deming teaches us through his red bead game, however, that human beings are notoriously ineffective as visual inspectors. What this company had not fully appreciated at this time was that their efforts would have been better spend focused on preventing the occurrence defects in the first place rather than on how best to deal with defects once they had occurred.

Many practitioners at the time would point out that while zero defects (ZD) was a ‘nice idea’ it was simply not achievable in reality. Whether it is achievable or not is of course to miss the point. ZD is the only acceptable standard. As long as we continued to think in terms of acceptable quality levels (usually measured in percentage or parts per hundred terms) we were never going to catch up with quality performance the Japanese were achieving. Remember this is when we first found out that they were measuring defects in terms of parts per million!

As our thinking moves on and grows ever more sophisticated (six sigma, for example, and its’ complex statistical lexicon), it is easy to take the basics for granted. Professor Hines and I will be reflecting on this during our fifth webinar, in a series of eight, we have called Lean in the 21 Century. Lean in the future will require a blend of newer ideas but also a refocus on the best of the old ideas.

While most of us fully appreciate this old adage, those of us old enough to have lived through the quality movement of the 80s will recall what a paradigm shift this was for the manufacturing community of the time. The quality movement advocated a refocus on the customer by building quality into products rather than policing poor quality out. I recall visiting a manufacturer of daily contact lenses and seeing rows of ladies (females are more eagle-eyed apparently) with the mind-bendingly tedious task of scanning each lens looking for minute defects. The company was fairly forward thinking and had recognized that this task could not be performed effectively for more than a couple of hours at a time. They had implemented a two hourly changeover system. The company had invested huge amounts of capital on automating the lens inspection process but had had limited success in getting a machine to do what the ladies could do. They were hoping, of course, that automating the inspection process would improve their poor yield situation. Deming teaches us through his red bead game, however, that human beings are notoriously ineffective as visual inspectors. What this company had not fully appreciated at this time was that their efforts would have been better spend focused on preventing the occurrence defects in the first place rather than on how best to deal with defects once they had occurred.

Many practitioners at the time would point out that while zero defects (ZD) was a ‘nice idea’ it was simply not achievable in reality. Whether it is achievable or not is of course to miss the point. ZD is the only acceptable standard. As long as we continued to think in terms of acceptable quality levels (usually measured in percentage or parts per hundred terms) we were never going to catch up with quality performance the Japanese were achieving. Remember this is when we first found out that they were measuring defects in terms of parts per million!

As our thinking moves on and grows ever more sophisticated (six sigma, for example, and its’ complex statistical lexicon), it is easy to take the basics for granted. Professor Hines and I will be reflecting on this during our fifth webinar, in a series of eight, we have called Lean in the 21 Century. Lean in the future will require a blend of newer ideas but also a refocus on the best of the old ideas. To join us, please click on the link below. If you are reading this after the webinar has been transmitted you should be able to find it in the resources section of our website.To join us, please click on the link below. If you are reading this after the webinar has been transmitted you will find it in the resources section of our website.

 

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