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Quality: a race without a finish line.

Behind every success story you'll, more likely than not, find a tale of failure. But it is the recognition and acceptance of a failure that ultimately leads to success. As a wise man once wrote, "If you have faults, fear not to abandon them."

It looks as if much of U.S. manufacturing has taken that first big step and, from all appearances, is on the road back to quality and winning back the hearts and minds of American consumers. But in almost every case it took a jolt of reality to get them back on track. Fear can be a potent motivating force.

Consider the following comments offered during the AFS Foundry Executive Management Conference held last September in Colorado Springs. "We ran scared every day." ... "Our initial reaction was shock, followed by disbelief and anger." ... "It taught us that we weren't quite as good as we thought we were."

These are statements from U.S. business executives from international corporations. They were different ways of saying the same thing: "We had to be frightened into taking quality seriously."

The first came from Richard Buetow, senior vice president in charge of Motorola's worldwide quality program. He related how a rapidly shrinking market share in the 1970s and negative long-term prospects drove the electronics giant to find the root of its problems.

What Motorola discovered was that, without realizing it, its product and service quality levels had not kept up with that of competitors. Global competition, in fact, had redefined quality levels for customer satisfaction and Motorola didn't know it. So, in 1981 the company set a five-year goal to improve its quality levels by a magnitude of 10. Motorola soon discovered that even this ambitious goal would not be enough to maintain its field.

These events led to the launching of a long-term program of "Six Sigma." As Buetow explains, today most American manufacturing falls in the Four Sigma range, which equates to about 6210 defects per million parts. Achieving Six Sigma would reduce that to about 3.4 defects per million.

As of December 1991, Motorola had achieved a Sigma rating of about 5.3, making the company either "Best in Class" or close to it on an international basis. Beyond the quality progress already achieved, Motorola has experienced a variety of other benefits as well. One example is a cumulative savings between 1987-90 of $2.2 billion through defect elimination.

The second comment ("Our initial reaction was shock, followed by disbelief and anger.") came from Al Ware, now retired from Xerox Corp. If Motorola thought it was in trouble in the 1970s, then Xerox had even more reason to act, according to Ware. As developer of the unique Xerographic process in the late 1930s, the company held a virtual stranglehold on the market for photocopiers up until the 1960s with a market share in the 90% range. During the '70s, its market share began to drop dramatically until it reached less than 20%. At one point, company executives discovered that the firm's international competitors were selling copiers for the same price it took Xerox to manufacture virtually the same product.

Their response to the problem was benchmarking, the process of comparing performance between organizations. According to Ware, "Benchmarking helps you to recognize superior performance, identify what you need to change, and to determine targets to achieve world-class performance." In other words, if you don't know where you are, it's difficult to know which way to go.

What Xerox discovered in 1979 was not at all encouraging, but it provided a starting point to begin getting back on the road to quality and growth. And even after several years of quality improvement and higher market share, further benchmarking showed that it wasn't going to be good enough. As Ware pointed out, "By the 1980s we were achieving an 8% annual growth rate and we thought that was great. That is until benchmarking revealed that we would need to achieve a 17% rate to stay even with out global competitors."

Today, both Motorola and Xerox are back on the road to quality and moving toward regaining leadership roles in their respective industries. And while they had to be literally frightened into taking a long, hard look at themselves and their futures, both companies managed to turn a negative force into a positive motivating factor. They were able to acknowledge their faults, learn from them, act and achieve their quality goals.

But more importantly, as both executives emphasized throughout their presentations, even after making significant strides they came to realize that their improvements were not good enough and never would be. Even before Motorola reaches its goal of Six Sigma, plans are under way to reduce the number of defects per million parts to parts per billion. Xerox is on the same path. Simply put, they have accepted and are in the process of institutionalizing the process of continuous improvement.

Ware put it even more succinctly, "Quality is a race without a finish line."
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Kanichi, David P.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:834
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