Complacency and Quality – 2 words that don’t belong in the same sentence

Recently we visited a company that had no automated system for collecting data, no system for SPC, and they were not monitoring process performance in their manufacturing plants (doing OEE). They do some quality checks once per day in the lab, and prepare a weekly report with some control charts, which they provide to their customers when they are asked.

They explained that they operate in a relatively unregulated industry, and the products that they make have been sold for decades to the same large companies, who once asked for quality data, but don’t often any more. They make a fairly unique non-consumer product that their customers need, and apparently buy primarily from them.

Sounds like a perfect scenario doesn’t it? A stable market, few competitors, and no need to improve or even really measure quality or manufacturing efficiency.

Life for some companies is indeed, good.

Consider this. The steel industry was once dominated by US companies. If you were the CEO of a US steel company fifty years ago, you had the largest car companies in the world (GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors) as your customers, with relatively little off-shore competition. Your country was the fastest growing economy in the world, with an insatiable appetite for steel. You probably would have thought that there was no need to improve or even really measure quality or manufacturing efficiency. You sold all the steel you could make.

Today, there are 12 offshore steel companies before you get to the biggest North American steel company. 11 of the 12 are in Asia.

Somewhere along the line, the North American car companies came under attack from leaner, hungrier manufacturers that demanded high quality at great prices from their steel suppliers. Ignoring quality proved fatal for some of these North American auto organizations, and the America dominance of the automotive industry vanished, probably forever.

Massive consolidations in the steel industry followed, and all of a sudden, everyone was talking about Quality being Job-1.

Just because everything looks rosy today, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a competitor eyeing your business and looking for weaknesses.

Don’t let quality be that weakness. Measure quality, analyse it, improve your processes, and measure again. And again. Never stop improving; it is the only way to survive.

Don’t be complacent about Quality.