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.
I have a buddy, Bob Hudson*, who handles quality at a major vehicle manufacturer. One evening over a few beers, Bob told me his worst quality nightmare. Here is his story.
"I thought I'd seen it all, but I've never seen one like this. It started last month when I got alarming "bombshell" reports from the field, where our vehicles were in service. I really couldn’t believe it at first. They said the tires were falling off the cars! The tires just came off and they went right in the ditch! Bam! They said it was bad lug nuts. Lug Nuts! Can you believe it? Well I didn’t at first. Then the next day a tire fell off near the plant when we drove a finished vehicle to the train loading station. Hell, that’s right here in my backyard. It’s just 3 miles away! I realized then, it really was bad lug nuts. My customer was ready to shoot somebody, and I couldn’t blame him! All I knew was I had to move fast and get this figured out, or I knew I would not live long enough to collect my next paycheck."
"So I tracked down that damned lug nut, and found it was from a supplier in Mexico. We had it checked out in the lab and found that the material was not the material on the print. Can you believe it? The *#%&^@* cheated on the material as a "cost savings". He thought he could get away with it and pocket the "savings", while putting lives in danger."
"And here’s the worst part: the supplier cheated, but my customer made me hire a full-time engineer and pay to send him to live in Mexico at the supplier’s plant. All he does now is verify the manufacturing process and material. All this for a $1.00 Lug Nut! No wonder I started drinking again!"
Unfortunately this type of material shift is all too common in non-US plants and is especially prevalent in China. Sometimes these issues make the news. You have probably seen the reports of high amounts of lead found in children’s toys or the horror stories of toxic drywall from China a few years ago. But often the fact material has been changed is unknown or simply overlooked until a catastrophic failure occurs. From a Quality Engineer’s viewpoint, the only solution is a program of routine and continual testing of incoming parts from non-US suppliers. Realize that a material shift can occur at any time, so be vigilant. Caveat Emptor!! (Let the buyer beware)
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