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July 2002
Volume 9 • Number 3


Quality in U. S. Manufacturing Industries: An Empirical Study
by Christopher Roethlein, Bryant College, Paul Mangiameli, University of Rhode Island, and Maling Ebrahimpour, University of Rhode Island

Quality management practices were determined in this research study from previous research, in-depth interviews, multiple case-study analysis, and an empirically based survey. Twelve categories consisting of 89 quality management practices were determined. The categories are: top management support, customer relates with responding entity, responding entity relates with customer, statistical control/feedback, rewards to employees for quality improvement, impact of increased quality, work attitudes, product design process, process flow management, supplier relates with responding entity, responding entity relates with supplier, and information technology. A national survey was sent to 3375 managers representing 3285 different manufacturing companies. Six hundred thirty-four of the surveys were returned. The responses were examined with respect to each organization’s self-reported level in a five-level manufacturing supply chain (base-level supplier to end-product producer). The rank order of the most applicable and least applicable quality management practices was consistent across all five levels of the supply chain. The authors’ results indicate that level of supply chain does not influence how quality is managed. A successful manufacturing company is usually indicative of a successful manufacturing supply chain. By identifying the quality management practices that are considered important to each level in a supply chain, one level of a supply chain can better communicate and understand another level. Better communication creates a competitive advantage for individual entities and their connected supply chain.

Key words: manufacturing, quality management practices, supply chain, survey


Quality management practices that contribute to higher levels of quality are important for consumers and for business performance. Members of both academic and industrial communities have struggled to determine quality management practices that contribute to a higher level of quality and, henceforth, a higher level of productivity and profit. Making matters more difficult is that quality management practices of today must involve more than the manufacturing entity; they must involve the suppliers, subsuppliers, and end-product producers. These combined entities create a manufacturing supply chain, and the ability to understand how each level interacts with the other is the key to improved quality, performance, and productivity. This study determines if quality management practices change with respect to level in a manufacturing supply chain. In other words, do people manage quality differently depending on where their company is located in their supply chain? Specifically, the authors answer the following questions:

  • What are the current quality management practices of U. S. manufacturing companies?
  • What are the most and least applicable categories of quality management in U. S. manufacturing companies?
  • Do categories of quality management vary with respect to a firm’s level in the supply chain?

This study builds on past research to provide a comprehensive analysis that culminates in a survey that far exceeds (in mailing size) previous surveys on quality management practices. In addition, the authors’ study differs from previous studies of quality management practices because they relate quality management practices to the respondents’ level in their supply chain. Assessing the whole supply chain, and individual levels, on the status of quality management practices will better direct decision-makers in quality, and hence, performance areas. Knowing the relationships between categories of quality management and level in a supply chain will better arm decision-makers to direct quality management within their supply chain.

Before quality management practices within the different levels of a manufacturing supply chain can be understood, definitions must be established along with an acknowledgment of previous research efforts.

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