Fast Quality?

Faster, faster, faster.

Maybe that sounds like leftover encouragement from the summer Olympics, but I’m referring to the rate of change and our struggle to keep up with it.  A couple of years ago the VP of quality for a large consumer electronics manufacturing company told me that the average life of a consumer electronics product (hence manufacturing line) was six months.  I’ve used this quote all over the world and no one has yet rebuffed me, so maybe it’s close to the mark.  

The same VP, who had also been an executive at a large, well-known cell phone manufacturer, told me it was time for the quality community to have a conversation about how the practice of quality could evolve to support the needs of a rapidly changing world.  So share with us some of the ways the practice of quality is changing to meet the needs of faster, faster, faster.  

Or, if you prefer, tell us why quality should not change despite the rapidly changing world.

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12 Responses to Fast Quality?

  1. In all due respect to your VP colleague, what a spectacularly bad idea. The concept of fast turnover and designed obsolescence may work well in the cell phone industry, where models swap out on a quarterly basis. What we got wrong this time, maybe we will fix it the next time.

    Quality doesn’t work that way.


  2. Gaurav Kulkarni says:

    A basic principle of Quality is to produce what the customer wants. As the life of consumer products has reduced, Quality needs to be geared towards planned obsolescence. The role of quality control cannot be only to check a minimum threshold is being met ; it needs to check for an upper limit on quality as well.

  3. Tom Chang says:

    I am a practicing BB in a transactional environment (banking) so my manufacturing knowledge is limited. I would like to see if someone can enlighten me on why a change in the end consumer electronics product would necessitate the changing of the manufacturing line? My previous assumption was that the modern day manufacturing line is highly flexible and would lend itself to easy adaptation of new technologies. Current changes in electronics very often involve minor tweaks, and even then to specific components. This would mean that the majority of the manufacturing process and quality for the associated would be preserved and only require changes in a fraction of the entire process.

  4. Bill Schroeder says:

    How can quality not advance to meet the ever changing needs of manufacturing? There is a reason for the little “c” in front of cGMP. It is that the Quality system needs to be as current as the manufacturing it is there to support. This was discussed at length in the September 2006 FDA guidance as well as the ICH Q10. The maturity of the quality system is what the FDA is tuning their inspections to. In essence, they are looking to see if the quality system continues to grow at a pace sufficient to stay ahead of the manufacturing changes so that we are able to maintain a high level of oversight to protect the customer. I think many of the warning letters and Consent Decrees that have been increasingly issued by the FDA can all be linked to this concept of ever changing maturity.

  5. Jeff Brenner says:

    I find the 6-month theory hard to swallow. Perhaps the meaning was that the product may evolve or require an engineered design change – either to correct a problem or improve the product – but for any product other than those of the simplest design complexity the recovery of R&D would not merit a six month life cycle. I can understand that a manufacturing line utilizing a lean and flexible format would occur natural and continuous change such as layout and tooling, but certainly not a more fixed, possibly high-volume line.

  6. I used to work in the pharmaceutical industry for 35 years. As the production lines goes faster and faster over the time, it is a challenge that QC should test the product faster too. There are many practical cases that the QC analysis is much more time consuming that the production process itself.
    One valid alternative is to implement continuous process verification as it is stated in ICH Q8 employing real time release and Process Analytical Technology. (PAT)

  7. Brice W. says:

    In quality we must do what we teach, continual improvement. We can do all the same tasks, take the same steps, but with continual improvement we reduce that turn time. We find better auditing methods to give us more info that is more accurate, faster. We work smarter. We find better ways to get customer feedback verified and provided to our product development teams. In quality we should be working just as quickly as our product teams, without loosing sight of the intended results.

    Quality must be flexible, and must be willing to change to meet the needs of the consumer. If quality doesn’t move with consumer needs then our products won’t meet the consumer needs…and down the hill we go. However, we have to be careful in quality not to move fast for the sake of moving fast. We must make sure our product/services are hitting the mark and the data we are feeding our internal teams is the highest quality information we can provide. We all realize the faster we can do that succesfully the quicker we can introduce a new product or service.

    To say quality shouldn’t change, cannot improve, or become better & faster, is a quality team stuck in the past.

  8. Robert Perry says:

    My experience with consumer electronics in the past ten years or so is that I’m a fool to throw away the receipts and boxes. You get much better warranty service when you return the product in its original box, and I need to obtain warranty service a lot.

    Along the same lines, a recent issue of “InCompliance” magazine notes major electronics recalls each month, and in general, the issue at hand is that components are under-specified–one can tell this because they’re overheating in the finished product. We’re not talking about a hard to model corner of an IC. We are talking about ground wires and such.

    My take, and hope, is that some manufacturers will slow down and do the necessary quality and reliability work before releasing products. They will find me to be a good customer.

  9. Kirk Bailey says:

    Here are some thoughts regarding qualiyt practices and rapid changes:

    The practices of quality are made up of validated principles that are captured and defined in standards, which are interpreted and distilled into guidance and procedure documents. These are combined to help direct an organization to establish a performing environment. That environment may be positive, energetic and self-fulfilling and the means for the organization’s success, or it can be dismissive, distrusting and lacking value resulting in an organization’s much poorer performance.

    The results of both descriptions (and the variety of other environments that fit in between) are, in large part, a product of how well quality principles are understood and implemented by management.

    Rapid manufacturing, short life cycles and competitive environments create demands that showcase quality principles in action, or not, depending on how they are executed. Time and time again the successful organizations demonstrate that they understand and are able to coordinate people, resources and time to successful outcomes by implement quality principles in a well-rounded fashion while lesser competitors struggle through limiting barriers.

    Keep sight of the principles. Decisions made on correct principles are self-guiding. They require minimal attention and tend to be easy to understand, clear to implement and inherently reduced in variation. There is a common thread of understanding (the principle) associated with these decisions that aid the organization to be clear and focused. Performance increases with increased understanding.

  10. Larry Pope says:

    Quality, in my experience, is being pushed to the literal edge due to the fast-paced business world. In my last two positions, the final review process has been contracted to the point where mistakes are simply inevitable. For example, management has set metrics for the review cycle for batch release. The last step in the cycle is the quality review and approval. Any upsets in the manufacturing process simply reduced the time Quality has to do their review. Investigations of deviations must be conducted quickly. The end result is a short-changing of the investigation process. Root causes are not full addressed and prevention is circumvented. As an MBA graduate, I understand the need for swiftly moving product to the market. However, I also know that it will cost a company dearly, in profit and customer good will, if the product injures someone or has to be recalled.

    I see a place for swiftness in streamlining the practice of quality. Namely in new biological drugs that are specifically designed for an individual patient (e.g., cancer treatment). This is where good QbD (Quality by Design) comes in. Quality professionals can certainly design systems to meet both the regulatory and customer demands in a case such as this.

  11. Rapidly changing consumer [electronics] products, as a concept is akin to the Concept of Planned Obsolescence prevalent in the post-WWII USA automobile market.
    In simpler words, it is a marketing tool that [hopes to] create a competitive differentiation.
    However, a mere change in the product or a process, per se, does not necessarily call for a change in the basics of Quality Management.
    Yes, a stream of rapid changes in the environment would force Quality Professionals to be more agile, quick-learners, and all that, but the core remains what it is.
    In the ultimate analysis, the Quality Management System must remain tightly aligned to the (business) ethos of the organization vis-a-vis the external environment in which the organization and quality management, as its sub-system, operate.

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