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This Year in Quality, Part Two

Widgets, wheels, and a responsible world

Published: Monday, December 13, 2010 - 08:20


eginning last week with “This Year in Quality, Part One,” the editors of Quality Digest Daily took a look at its stories and news articles throughout 2010 and collected what we thought were the most remarkable in the world of quality. From precision measurement to 3-D scanning, from Six Sigma to quality standards, from lean to customer satisfaction, we hope this three-part wrap-up (see part three here) will give you some perspective and insight on what next year holds for the quality industry.

It’s cool, it’s hot, it’s geek

When it comes to just plain cool stuff, nothing beats what those guys and gals at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) do. NIST puts the “eee” in geek and the “ooo” in cool. We can’t help it: Even if there isn’t really a quality application for some of this stuff (yet), it was just too neat to pass up. Like, finding out your head is older than your feet. According to NIST, they are now actually able to show that time passes faster at your head than it does at your toes—a curious aspect of Einstein’s theories of relativity that previously have been measured but at larger distances. Who knew? Well, if you’re shorter than me, you knew it about about a kajillionith of a second before I did.

And how about the ability to find an object of less than 100 sq. µm, even if it could be nearly anywhere on a microscope stage a million times that size? Scientists with JILA, a joint venture of NIST and the University of Colorado, have created a new instrument that combines precision laser optics with atomic force microscopy to do just that. That’s much more interesting than finding a needle in a haystack.

Not to be outdone in technical virtuosity, the men and women at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) continue to amaze. For instance, they tackled the problem of how to measure the power output of weaponized lasers (sorry, we mean “directed energy weapons”), which some day will have the capability of blowing a missile out of the sky. The problem is obvious: How do you measure the power output of a 2 in. diameter laser beam that’s hot enough to melt steel without destroying the target? Researchers on the GTRI teamed with Leon Glebov of Orlando, Florida-based OptiGrate to design and fabricate a target board that could survive high-energy laser irradiation without changing its properties or significantly affecting the beam. Now that’s hot.

And just to show that lasers aren’t just for adults blowing things up (lasers and explosions are two of the three things men like most... the third is BBQ), GTRI volunteers helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the laser’s invention at LaserFest, a yearlong event that volunteers hope will help attract more U.S. students to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Hands-on experiments included a hologram that looks like a real 3-D object, a laser telephone, and exploring the phenomenon of light diffraction by using a laser to see a magnified shadow of the hairs on their fingers. 

Dream machines, including a PR nightmare

Pretty much all roads led to Toyota this year as the world observed the automaker’s response to its first catastrophic public relations crash. Quick growth hastened a lapse in Toyota’s characteristic attention to detail, and in January the company recalled 9 million vehicles with hampering floor mats or faulty accelerator pedals. A separate recall in February for anti-lock brake software also occurred. Production and sales of the eight affected models were stopped. Not surprising, Toyota’s reputation plummeted, and Honda slid into first place to hold the coveted title as the world’s No. 1 automaker.

In response, Toyota established a global quality task force with marching orders to improve the company’s quality inspection process, enhance customer research, seek support from outside experts, and establish the Special Committee for Global Quality, among other directives. The committee appointed regional chief quality officers worldwide. Analysts predicted that Toyota would need until the second quarter of 2013 to regain half the value it lost as a result of the recalls. By November, however, the automaker had already regained half its lost ground; this was attributed in part to its handling of the recall and its transparency to the public.

Perhaps due in part to Toyota’s fall from greatness, this year marked the first time that U.S. autos beat imports in initial quality. Domestic automakers must have been listening to the voice of their customers, because a survey showed that U.S. car buyers this year rated quality as the most important factor in the decision process. Worldwide, automakers showed continuous improvement in long-term dependability and quality of their vehicles.

Up-and-comer automaker China increased its production and sales this year by 1.61 million and 1.66 million, respectively. The country’s Ministry of Information and Technology, closely watching Toyota, issued a guideline in March urging the country’s automakers to develop procedures to improve their quality management processes.

In the-future’s-in-good-hands category, students in the mechanical engineering program in the A. James Clark School of Engineering at University of Maryland who annually compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ competition to design, build, and race their own open cockpit race car, this year created a dimensionally accurate, 3-D CAD model of their competing engine.

Philosophies aside, social responsibility is officially defined

What is it to be socially responsible? What makes an institution socially responsible—nonprofit goals, smart management, care of local communities, philanthropy? What should they be responsible for? The idea that organizations should be socially responsible, i.e., operating to benefit the greater good of society, has been around for quite a while. In fact, being socially responsible has even become a reputation-setter. And although some businesses do the least they can just to earn the “socially responsible” designation, others take extra steps and really embrace the idea.

Needless to say, it quickly became clear that social responsibility needed a standard against which organizations could measure themselves.

For about five years, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) worked on ISO 26000—“Guidance on social responsibility,” and it was finally launched in November after much anticipation within the quality community. What makes ISO 26000 so great, according to ISO secretary-general Rob Steele, is that it “distills a truly international consensus on what social responsibility means and what core subjects need to be addressed to implement it. In addition, it is based on broad stakeholder input, including developing countries, business, government, consumers, labor, nongovernmental organizations, and others.”

Social responsibility is so in vogue that this year the American Society for Quality (ASQ) presented for the first time the Spencer Hutchens Jr. Medal for Social Responsibility. Joanne Adrienne Vincenten, who works for the European Child Safety Alliance in Amsterdam, was the first recipient of the Hutchens Medal for her understanding of social responsibility and her success in community development, human rights, and consumer issues.

Hopefully this new standard, which is merely voluntary and is not to be used for certification, will help companies and organizations succeed in achieving their bottom line with minimal negative effects on society and the environment. Something to be watching for next year, when the standard gets into full gear.

A generous portion of help served up to the food industry

There were also great strides to help companies minimize negative effects on society but toward another direction—food safety.

A Produce Safety Alliance funded by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is giving produce growers and packers training and educational materials through Cornell University, a leader in disseminating food safety knowledge to the agricultural community. The alliance provides opportunities to learn about current risk- and science-based best food safety practices and future regulatory requirements that the FDA is expected to issue in 2011 on safe production, harvesting, and packing of produce.

NSF International, a provider of global food safety certifications, has launched a free, online tool covering the core elements of standards benchmarked to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). The 10-minute assessment survey helps companies determine their readiness for certification and identifies specific areas that must be addressed to successfully achieve certification.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) approved the new food safety certification scheme, FSSC 22000 (aka FS22000), which defines in great detail how to implement food safety measures for food manufacturers that process or manufacture animal products, perishable vegetable products, products with a long shelf life, and other food ingredients like additives, vitamins, and bio-cultures. You can download the FSSC 22000 scheme and other relevant documents at www.fssc22000.com/en/page.php.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published the technical specification ISO/TS 22002-1 that applies to all organizations in food manufacturing. It’s meant to be used as tool for implementing and maintaining prerequisite programs to control contamination to food product and hazards in the food process environment. This is the first technical specification in a series planned by ISO to establish a structure to help and facilitate the future needs of the food industry.

Providing a little less talk and a lot more action, is Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., which opened the Food Safety Response Center in Dreieich, Germany in April. The purpose of this global food testing laboratory is to aid governments and businesses worldwide that are facing unknown food safety threats involving chemical contaminants. When a chemical contamination event occurs, the Food Safety Response Center team will mobilize and set into motion a process for developing the methods, providing the workflow instructions, and recommending the instrumentation, equipment, and supplies necessary to give food safety professionals around the world the capability to rapidly detect the contaminant.

The Food Safety Response Center also developed two new analytical screening methods to detect petroleum contamination in oysters and fish—specifically, hydrocarbons and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), resulting from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


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