Chet Babb has been on the front lines in the Quality Wars for over 40 years. During the past 4 decades Chet has seen firsthand major improvements in US Quality, and then witnessed the alarming rise in quality problems as the result of manufacturing being outsourced to Mexico and Asia. Chet’s “Letters from the Front” depict real world situations occurring every day in The Quality Wars.
Last week I went to see Ann Smith*, the Quality Director of a major US manufacturer of parts for the automotive industry. Ann had been dealing with Asian suppliers with numerous problems for a few years now. A new Corporate Quality Director had just come on board and was demanding improvements.
“Chet, I’m really boxed in a corner. I know I need to make improvements, but I don’t know where to start” lamented Ann. “We routinely get a shipment of parts from China and we find that at least 20% of them are bad. I write up a Customer Complaint and the Chinese supplier sends me back a Corrective Action Report, telling me all the ways it will get handled so that it will never happen again. I can’t afford to ship the parts back to China and we need to make schedule, so we are forced to 100% sort these parts ourselves.”
“Six weeks later I get a new shipment, which is again filled with bad parts. This time I stay up late and call the Chinese supplier. I start to pin them down and they claim they don’t understand my English. They tell me it’s my fault, not theirs! Nothing changes and I’m back to sorting parts. So here I am - again, sorting their parts, using up my floor space and my people. Chet, I don’t know what to do. This Chinese Supplier is really driving me crazy!”
I told Ann, “I can see you need some help, and you need it now. Here’s what you do - get on the phone and tell that Chinese supplier to ship the next order of parts to our Inspection Center in Indiana. And ship the bad parts you’ve got to us too! Get those bad parts out of your plant right now and let us inspect them for you. We’ll make sure you only get 100% good parts. You shouldn’t be paying for their bad quality. They should! We’ll charge the supplier for the sorting and let you know how many bad parts there were in the shipment so you can reduce their invoice accordingly. You can then direct Purchasing to increase the next order to compensate.”
This solved Ann’s immediate problem. I then helped Ann with a quality corrective plan for the Chinese supplier. Ann realized she may need to make a visit to China or even find a new supplier, but now she was on a path that put her back on top of things and she had options. She wasn’t boxed in a corner anymore.
Chet Babb has been on the front lines in Quality for over 40 years as the Director of Corporate Quality at Guide Corporation (a GM Spin-off) and now as the Director of Quality and Manufacturing at Continental Inc. in Anderson, IN. Chet works with Continental’s clients to improve their quality, improve their supplier’s quality and manage quality issues as they arise. Chet works hard to help Continental’s clients change a culture of constantly “fighting fires” to implementing pro-active systems that resolve quality issues before they become a full blown crisis.
*Names have been changed