It has been three months since I took the physical exercise and insisted on sit-up exercises. Consequently, my waistline size declined from 36 to 33, and I feel good about myself. When recollecting the past experiences on purchasing clothes, I just cannot help myself but to feel funny. It is quite easy for middle-aged people to get fat, regardless of their nationality or gender. Before I took more exercise, the size of their trousers increased freely with their waistline—the trousers I bought become bigger and bigger, from 32 to 33, then 33 to 34 since 33 is not enough. Finally, the size reaches 36. In fact, I did not notice too much change from 32 to 36, nor did I realize the seriousness of the problem until I found my BIM exceed the standard when taking the physical examination. Definitely, not until I took exercises, controlled my diet and improved my daily schedule did I found the advantages among it in turn: the size of the trousers can be controlled. Thus, the superfluous trousers with big waist size can be donated, which will reduce the inventory and “undesirable” waste.
It suddenly reminds me of the quality control of the factory. Without control, the tolerance of the product will become bigger and bigger. The quality cannot be enhanced if the accuracy cannot be improved. Since the tolerance cannot be widen within a single day, the negative impact brought by enlarged little tolerance every day will not be noticed. Not until the product was involved in quality problem, complained by customers and abandoned by the market and clients did they realize the seriousness of the problem. It is quite similar to boiling a frog in warm water: as the temperature of water increases gradually, the frog loses its ability to be aware of the changes in temperature until they get boiled thoroughly by boiling water. However, what seems to be different from boiling a frog is that when the enterprise is about to collapse, the problem has already become considerably complicated. In fact, it is quite difficult to figure out the problem which results in such outcome. Likewise, it is hard to say that obesity is caused by the single factor such as increasing age or irregular diet, or simply caused by differences in human races, or combination of multiple factors. Nevertheless, the every country in the world has reached a consensus that one of the indispensible stages for controlling the weight and waist sizes lies in intensive exercises. Just as Motorola that conducted and promoted the six sigma management method yet sold its mobile division with dismal achievement, it is not the six sigma method but other multiple factors like product position, product design or marketing strategy mixing with each other that gives rise to this outcome— conversely, six sigma management method is able to generate positive effect at any stage of the company development.
Quality is closely related to brand. Establishing a good brand requires efforts from several generations. Without good quality, the brand cannot survive. I once visited the biggest ceramic sanitary enterprise which possesses high brand-awareness and even engages in setting up the ceramic standards in China. As it belongs to a family business, each child of the president was assigned a brand and operated them individually. Once someone found that the South-east Asian market required less on quality while its market was booming, thus he asked whether they can establish another brand that focus on low-end market. This idea was rejected by the president, and the one of the reasons is that it will be difficult to deliver a clear concept and positioning from upper-level leaderships to middle managers and then to general staffs if producing both high-end and low-end product simultaneously in a group company. Under the motivation of performance, sales will introduce , this product and those well-known brands come under same leadership team” when promoting products. It is relatively hard for staff to focus on high-end products today while emphasizing on low-end products tomorrow, despite different product line or different branches. Nowadays Japanese quality as well as German quality can indicate that products from these two countries are of high standard, yet speaking of the international influence exerted by Chinese quality, although China has owned numerous big brands, consumers from most of the countries still tend to label China as “the country of low to middle end products”. People are accustomed to labeling people: people from Beijing are all officials, people from Shanghai are all petty bourgeois, while people from Guangdong are all bosses. This is the influence from brand on cities. It is easy to go downstairs yet hard to go upstairs, If an enterprise want to make progress, it should rise rather than decline, whether it is the sales volume, management standard or quality requirement.
One of the steps in controlling quality is to control tolerance. This is why quality should be built in product design. Tolerance will directly influence the consistency, stability, reliability and functions of products. It is easy to design tolerance, yet it is difficult to control the tolerance in a limited range. This is why America cultivated over ten thousands of engineers studying the control in statistical processes to ensure the quality of military products during the 1940s. The aim to control statistical process is to minimize the product defects which exceed the tolerance, and to inform the engineers of the investigation reasons to take precautions via the form of graphic trend in advance before producing defective goods.
Tolerance does not mean that sometimes we can achieve it while sometimes we cannot— Instead, it refers to the ability to achieve a long-term stability, this is the so-called reliability. There is a joke: cranes manufactured in Japan claim that it can lift cargos up to 100 tons. If you lift cargos of 105 tons, the arm will break. Cranes from another country claim that it can lift cargos up to 150 tons, but it can only lift cargos of 80 tons once in ten times. That is to say, the arm breaks when the 80-ton-cargo is about to lift. The outcome seems to be beyond the imagination, and this is the consequence resulted from stability and reliability.
The given tolerance resulted from understanding the manufacturing capability of actual process. With the same product design, the given tolerance from Germany and Japan will be relatively small because their capability of manufacturing process is strong and their processing precision is high. For instance, the domestic bearing exhibited in an exhibition can only rotate for one minute, whereas bearing produced in Germany can keep rotating for at least 10 minutes. Likewise, I heard that the retail price of accessories from Japanese cars will be higher than those of German cars, as the randomly selected accessories of German cars from stock is unable to match other accessories of the original car, while those from Japanese stocks can be perfectly matched. You can imagine that the unnecessary waste of accessories of German cars will be much more than that of Japanese cars.
One of the aims that we talk about the early engagement of suppliers is that we hope to understand the manufacturing capabilities of suppliers in advance, as well as expect suppliers to understand the expectations of designing product tolerance. Therefore, the requirement and the practical ability can be matched better, reducing the time of designing the product and reviewing the drawing specifications instead of repeating proofing and revising. The cycle of Toyota from freezing the product concept design to batch production is about 18 weeks, which is nearly 2 months shorter than Hyundai. What’s more, the period is even much shorter than that of American cars and Chinese cars. Although this development period examines the comprehensive ability of a company in developing products, it is well-known that the relationship between Toyota and its suppliers is much closer than that of the American or German automobiles with its suppliers. Therefore, it can be concluded that early engagement of suppliers is beneficial for both improving the product design and shortening the development period.
Let’s come back to the story at the beginning. If we regard the requirement on clothing size as a tolerance to conduct management—for instance, limiting the tolerance from 32 to 34— then the quality is under requirement. Since we have the objectives, and the next is the method. Methods can be various, just as the methods of controlling tolerance within a factory can be various. Exercising is like improving, and continuous exercising is like continuous improving.
Let you be slim forever, and let your factory keep lean always.
Great Acknowlegement Given to Ms. ZiZhu Wang (Akiko) from GuangDong University of Foreign Studies for Translation.