You don`t need to be really smart to teach University students. They are more than capable of teaching themselves. What really sets one lecturer apart from the other is their ability to inspire.

Dr Francis, our total quality management course lecturer was one of these lecturers. He could convey his passion for quality systems with great eloquence. His lecturers ranged from failure prevention to quality assurance and he was very good at tying this to the meaning of quality and what it meant to the end consumer. His more advanced lectures taught us how to use our mathematical skills to solve multivariable problems using Taguchi`s method for design-of-experiments.

So like any young hard-working enthusiastic engineer I decided that I wanted to become a Quality Engineer......

Luckily chance had it that I got an automotive design engineering job before I could self destruct.

So what does a Quality Engineer do all day?.

A quality engineer walks into the office in the morning. His desk is old and has some permanent coffee stains on it. Besides his telephone and a picture of his pimply wife, it is void. His chair is exacly where he left it the day before: perfectly centered in the middle of his desk. He has a marker on his chair to help him line it up perfectly. He learned that trick in 5S training and feels superior to everyone else because he's the only guy who does that.

He checks his voice mail: 5 unread messages. 3 are calls from an angry customer asking for progress reports on the rattle issue and demanding an updated control plan for the change that was made to the supplier's screw coating. The other calls are from his boss, the quality assurance manager introducing him to 2 new issues discovered at the XD57 assembly plant. They need immeadiate action. The call ends with strict instructions not to tell the customer of the recently resourced LCC supplier.

Joe walks over to the coffee machine and fills his mug. The bottom of the mug has years of coffee scum deposits and he recently chipped the rim. A few runs of sand paper smoothed it sufficiently that it no longer bothers him. Joe returnes to his desk, takes a sip of coffee and calls up the capacitor vendor. "Hi it's Joe again....listen, we found 3 loose capacitors in our GX module, we need you down here this morning to sort your stuff....No tomorrow's not OK...Shall we get a 3rd party inspection in?"

3rd party inspection is to problem suppliers what the bogey man is to naughty little boys. Let's say, for example that you make parts in Dallas, TX but you supply to Warren, MI. It's often too far for you to react to a problem as fast as your customer would like you to. So your customer engages a local 3rd part inspection agency that sends someone to your plant to inspect all the supplier's parts to fish out the problem ones. Despite charging exorbitant costs, 3rd part inspection agencies seem to only be capable of employing bottom of the barrel workforce who are as likely to damage parts in inspecting them as they are in detecting bad parts.

With that out of the way, Joe walks across the parking lot to the design office in building 2. He doesn't know why, but he likes FMEA meetings. All the literature he ever read stresses the importance of a good FMEA on a successful product launch and Joe was going to scrutinise every single word. The 2 hour review only managed to cover 3 pages out of the 80 page document but there was another meeting scheduled for next week.

Joe then hurried back across to his own office for a meeting with his boss.
"We are into our third week with this squeek and rattle issue, where are we?"
Joe pulls out an extensive test report that Pawl, the design engineer, was compiling. After subjecting about half of the 50 modules to the 5 parameters Pawl believed could have caused the issue, he accidentally realised that one of the modules had a loose capacitor. Excited, Pawl thought "Yippie, we found the source of the rattle, we can stop the tests".

Well not quite. Joe's boss barked:
"we can't tell the customer that this is the problem. They'll find out about the switch to the new capacitor vendor...Pawl needs to come up with something better... something that will divert their attension... tell Pawl to get his ass in the lab and finish those tests"
So Joe, reminding himself that his job is to oversee quality as opposed to make quality happen, phones Pawl to relay the orders. "Pawl, we need something better for tomorrows's conference call. We can't tell them the problem. we need you to finish the tests...Ohh and don't forget to update the DFMEA"
Pawl, rolls his eyes. The next few hours will be a demoralising, futile waste of time and for the 3rd time that week, he calls home and says "sorry hun, I'll be late again...I've got a quality issue to deal with."
Pawl was planning to spend time reviwing a new design one last time before design freeze but there's no time for that. There's quality work to be done.

PS: I don't mean any disrespect to quality engineers, but like most design engineers, I like to poke pun at them. I wrote this article because as a university student I was fascinated with quality engineering and wanted to become one, but as I started working I came to realise that the real world quality was well removed from the pretty classroom word of Taguchi.


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