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What happened to manufacturing quality?

What happened to manufacturing quality?

Isn't it ironic?

Thirty years ago, "Made in Japan" meant low-quality inexpensive products. And "Made in the USA" meant quality, pride, the best in the world. Now the opposite is true. What happened?

Simple. Old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity metamorphosed into old-fashioned methods. American industry continues to depend on obsolete techniques designed to manage its manufacturing processes. We insist on running our plants with outdated methods, like Manufacturing Resources Planning (MRPII) and Materials Requirements Planning (MRP). However, MRP has changed little since its development. Yet, manufacturers are using this old solution to an old problem as a remedy for new problems.

There are more than 450,000 manufacturing companies in the United States--80% of which are make-to-order. Most of these companies (90%) have 1000 employees or less, but supply our largest (make-to-stock) manufacturers with parts and assemblies--but only when ordered. That means over 300,000 manufacturers need software technology that enables them to manage their capacity so they can deliver on time.

And capacity management is our most critical issue today. It is the key to on-time delivery, and subsequently to improvements in productivity and profitability.

What happens when those 300,000 plus manufacturers can't schedule jobs throughout the shop; track, cost, and control complex jobs; or manage to a capacity plan? They struggle to quote delivery dates for jobs; they struggle to meet the dates they quote. They break promised dates and deliver late. Those larger make-to-stock manufacturers receive their parts late, then they can't deliver on time. Everyone is late. To avoid being late, they rush production. Rushing leads to chaos, to out-of-control factory floors, and to a factory full of neon stickers marked "hot job." Obviously, in this kind of environment quality is the first thing to goes. Consumers then turn to imports for quality products.

It's all a matter of habit. Materials Requirements Planning is a technique that was developed to sell computers to the larger, make-to-stock companies. Thirty years ago, they were the only ones who could afford them. MRP fits the make-to-stock environment.

When computers became affordable, the smaller companies adopted MRP. But nothing in MRP helps manufacturers deliver on time or tell when something critical is going to be late. MRP does not address capacity constraints.

Manufacturing-control software systems for the make-to-order environment later became available; however, it is difficult to change old habits. MRP put down sacred roots. Consultants and auditors believe in it; but they are not the ones running the production facility. They do not see the bottlenecks, the work-in-process, the shop-floor chaos, or the late deliveries. Manufacturers do.

Industry needs real scheduling systems that incorporate finite scheduling and understand capacity limitations. They need to attack a real problem with today's solutions. Proven systems are available. But now we have to use them.

In "Back to the Future's" most recent silver screen offering, the scientist of the 50s tries to fix his time machine. In pulling out the broken piece, he nods his head at his finding. Of course the piece broke; it was made in Japan. But the boy of the 80s disagrees: Japan is known for its quality products.

"Amazing," says the scientist. Isn't it ironic?
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lilly, Dick
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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