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July-August 2002

HOT TOPICS                    

Quality Inspections
A Necessity Though Manufacturers May Disagree
by john matukaitis

A few weeks ago my wife and I were paired with another twosome on the golf course—a young man by the name of Mike, and the man’s father-in-law, Tom. Both men were very pleasant and demonstrated above-average golfing abilities, which made for a very enjoyable day on the golf course. Throughout most of the day Mike frequently asked Tom for advice and tips on how to improve various aspects of his golf swing.

As we were approaching the 18th tee box, Tom told Mike that the golf swing consisted of many inter-related, but separate actions: the grip, stance, take away, weight shift, follow through and so on. He added that if any single one of these actions was not performed according to specifications, the entire golf swing loses its effectiveness and efficiency. Tom, incidentally, is a retired engineer.
In recent columns, I have talked about quality, what it may or may not be, and the costs associated with it. Part of any quality assurance endeavor must, like Tom analyzing Mike’s golf swing, require frequent inspections. If someone were to observe the fenestration products manufactured at various facilities he would find a diverse range and scope of quality inspections.

Types of Inspections 
Organizationally, some companies utilize formal inspection personnel, charged with the responsibility of seeing that the established standards and specifications criteria are being met. Some companies designate a production person to also serve simultaneously as the inspector. This is fine, as long as quality is of very minor importance. Given the responsibility for both is placing too much temptation in this person’s path.

I have seen a centralized scheme, where the line worker and inspector are separated. This seems to do little to prevent faulty work because specific operations usually are completed on materials before they are brought to the inspector. Many times it is difficult to discover defects after the work is completed.

Other facilities, and this seems to be more prevalent, use a roving, patrolling or floor inspector. These people usually seem to be more highly skilled than those in a centralized scheme, and are not part of the production organization. Generally, they seem to know more about the product, how to inspect it, how to correct quality deficiencies and are able to work with little supervision.

A few facilities still use a final inspection, but for the obvious reasons, they are in the minority. One company told me, using the illustration of a radio manufacturer, that for its inexpensive line of radios, the consumer is the first person to inspect the product when he turns it on for the first time. If it is defective, it is less expensive to replace it than to pay for an internal inspection program. When asked to elaborate, I was told that the company’s cost to institute a formal inspection scheme of any type, shows a ratio of approximately 10 percent of the inspection cost to direct labor.

A Necessary Evil
Time and time again I have heard that inspections are not necessary in order to make a quality product: “the line runs itself;” “somebody will pick up on a deficiency if its there;” “we have question and answer manuals so we don’t need somebody looking over our shoulder;” etc.
Yogi Berra (of, “it ain’t over till it’s over” fame), supposedly is also credited with, “you can see things when you observe them.”

Tom was trying to inspect Mike’s golf swing, find the defects and implement corrective action. Assume Tom did not watch Mike address the ball, assume his grip, align himself to the target, or actually swing the club, but only saw the results of his production (the swing). Not unlike Tom or Yogi, they knew you need to see things to observe them. Quality, cost and inspection are as closely related as the many facets of an effective golf swing. 

John Matukaitis serves as marketing director for Delchem Inc., based in Wilmington, Del.

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