Quality in the First Person

From Pizza to Quality

Job experiences essential to a quality career

By Bill Ashworth

I have always considered myself a blue collar quality professional. Growing up, one thing my father impressed upon me was to never turn down an opportunity to learn something new, because who and what we are is truly the sum of our experiences. I have always remembered those words.

In my youth, I held a number of jobs, mostly to have money for date nights. Looking back, I gained a great deal of knowledge from those opportunities. In 1972, I was hired to work part time as general shop help. The shop machinists took me under their wings and taught me to read blueprints, perform setups and operate various production machines.

After graduation, I worked at a local pizzeria, working my way up to store manager while completing my welding technology degree from a vocational technical school. As store manager, I learned the value of controlling costs, forecasting materials and personnel, and the importance of team leadership. Unbeknownst to me, these skills laid the foundation for my future experiences.

Along the career path

My career path took me to the U.S. Air Force, where I worked as a precision measuring equipment (PME) specialist. In the military, I learned discipline, adherence to specifications and standards. I also completed my studies in electrical engineering at Oklahoma University.

I was working as a welder and PME technician, but I was not done learning, so I returned to vocational school and graduated with a degree in machine tool and die. I later moved to San Antonio to take a job as a soil exploration technician. It was there that I not only learned about soil strata classification, but also about working in a team environment.

After two years, I was hired as a quality technician, working on turbofan jets and Rolls Royce engines. I received a valuable education in coatings, plasma spray, furnace operations and nondestructive testing.

At this point in my career, I had amassed a widely varied education and thousands of hours of practical experience, but something was missing—direction. That was about to change.

Moving into quality

I was hired as a quality technician at TexTek Plastics, and the quality manager, who had vast experience in quality applications, was impressed with my diverse education and experiences. He persuaded me to pursue certifications as a quality technician and quality engineer.

Thanks to my ASQ training, I visualized a whole new world of quality applications. We launched automated statistical process control (SPC) data collection and performed factorial experimentation on the machine cycles, which reduced cycle times and provided dynamic preventative actions.

To support our new coordinate measuring machine (CMM), I received training from the Zeiss Corp. as a certified CMM programmer and service technician. In 1991, TexTek Plastics and I were featured in Plastics Technology magazine for world’s best performance in quality systems innovation.

I joined the Lancer Corp. in 1992, and the opportunity to apply what I had learned immediately presented itself. The company was facing a 40% recycle rate on the shop floor and 20% customer returns. Applying life cycle testing, SPC on shop floor operations, design of experiments on critical processes and ISO systems application, we reduced the recycle rate to 4% and customer returns to 1.5%.

In 1993, I returned to the aerospace industry as a director of quality and engineering. The owner was a brilliant man who provided me with an extensive education in advanced coatings, metallurgy and aerospace applications. During my time there, I returned to school to study engineering.

In 1999, I was hired into my current position at Standard Aero, which has provided me the opportunity to apply the knowledge and experiences I have developed during my 30 years of training. Standard Aero has given me the opportunity to help shape the quality direction of a world class organization.

Although my time here has been genuinely rewarding, I continue to learn. I am a certified Six Sigma Green Belt and RABQSA ISO 9001 lead assessor, have extensive training in lean manufacturing and a master’s degree in engineering.

Six Sigma, lean concerns

Looking at what is developing in manufacturing today, I am very concerned we are losing our way. All I hear about is Six Sigma and lean. These two principles, although valuable, are only tools that help the quality professional provide continual improvement to systems and product.

Watching the news is painful. Every time I see a new product recall, I shake my head and say, “Where is receiving inspection, quality planning and supplier surveillance?” One of the absolutes I have learned in my journey is that the company looks to quality professionals to provide direction and demand strict adherence to standards, specifications and quality principles. As a quality professional, I take great pride in this responsibility.

BILL ASHWORTH is the director of quality improvement at Standard Aero (San Antonio) Inc. He earned a master’s degree in engineering from Kennedy-Western University, Cheyenne, WY. He is a certified quality technician and quality engineer. Ashworth is a senior member of ASQ.

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