Around the World

One professional’s career spans more than 40 years, six countries

by Ian W. Hannah

Last year, I received an e-mail from ASQ that touted the organization as being "the leading quality training provider for more than 60 years." I can vouch for that.

As a young product design engineer in Vancouver, British Columbia, my boss called me into his office one morning and asked, "What do you know about quality?" I said, "Well, I can spell it. That’s about all."

Our company, with plants across Canada, had run into quality problems, and the local plant’s quality control supervisors could not handle the issues. I had to learn about quality––quickly––and fix it. In November 1966, I was appointed the de facto corporate quality manager without realizing it.

Learning from tragedy

I soon found and joined the American Society for Quality Control (now ASQ). By looking through the training advertisements, I saw that ASQC’s quality engineering five-day course was being held in Anaheim, CA.

At that January 1967 course, there were some quality engineers from a major supplier to the NASA space program. During the course, we heard terrible news: three NASA astronauts died during liftoff due to a quality problem. My colleagues at the training course were devastated by the news and felt some level of blame. It was then I realized just how important quality was, and I was determined to learn as much as possible.

I put much of what I had learned into practice at my company. For the next year or so, my company started to see some improvements in factory quality control through statistics applications.

In March 1968, I went to a quality management course run by the ASQC Boston section. This course broadened my outlook on quality, and a quote from Joseph M. Juran stayed with me: "To be successful in quality management, one must learn to be bilingual: to talk part numbers on the shop floor but in dollar terms to managers." These two ASQC courses set me up in a new career, which has seen me through to today.

Another part of my introduction to quality was realizing that analyzing data was more than crunching numbers—there was a human angle, too. By this time, on a monthly basis, I was receiving test data from each of the five manufacturing plants. Although four of them seemed to have normal distribution with very similar standard deviations, one plant stood out as being fantastic, with a small standard deviation.

The main product then was a multi-pair telephone cable for Bell Telephone. Each pair was color-coded to differentiate it from its neighbors. Similar bundles of 50 pairs were cabled together until the requisite number was achieved. One of the test instructions was to select 30 individual wires randomly, for example, check the electrical resistance of each and mark it on the test report. This data was then sent to my quality headquarters for analysis.

While watching this, it occurred to me that most of the colored wires the test technician chose were purple. When asked, he admitted he liked that color, so he chose it more than any other color. Case solved. When a better-written test procedure was introduced, the standard deviation fell into line with those of the other plants.

Adventures abroad

Since then, I’ve had some interesting quality-related encounters. There was the time I landed in a South American country to give lectures, only to find the university was closed and surrounded by armed militia due to serious student protests.

Another quality adventure took place in Warsaw, Poland, during the Cold War. I found two "bugs" in my room, but not before I was caught on tape exchanging—illegally, I later learned—dollars for Polish zlotys, which could carry a jail sentence.

Later in my career, having helped a multi-national company set up a manufacturing plant in Scotland, I gave occasional lectures to local engineering students. I soon joined the faculty at the campus’s newly built Centre for Industrial Studies.

There, I spread the quality word by holding short courses, including a certificate course on quality control, which was operated by the City and Guilds Institute in London. I later joined the education committee for the London-based Institute of Quality Assurance (IQA). I enjoyed that role for 22 years, during which time I shaped the IQA’s first quality diploma program.

Later, I took over as a programs director at Scotland’s University of Stirling. There, I developed the university’s first master’s degree in quality management, plus the International Register of Certificated Auditors-registered quality management system (QMS) internal auditor and QMS lead auditor courses.

In 1998, I privatized the Scottish Quality Management Centre and set it up as SQMC Ltd. in Dunfermline. Today, I work there as the director. And it all started with those five days in Anaheim many years ago, which certainly shaped my life—for the better.

Ian W. Hannah is the director of the Scottish Quality Management Centre in Dunfermline. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Vancouver College in British Columbia. Hannah is a senior member of ASQ.

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