Quality Matters

I always associate quality with building a house. Because my dad was a contractor, each of his children learned about reading blueprints, controlling construction costs, choosing compatible materials, and measuring more than once before doing anything. “Measure twice, cut once,” he repeated. The same principals applied regardless of the project, so that the building would satisfy the user and stand up to usage over time.

One of the most interesting turnarounds in quality as applied to manufacturing began in Japan in 1950 when the Occupation Force restructured Japan’s communications equipment industry. W. Edwards Deming provided a seminar on statistical quality control (SQC). Within a decade the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers had trained 20,000 engineers in SQC methods. Now Fujitsu’s slogan is, “Quality built-in with cost and performance as prime consideration.” And Sony defines a next-generation product is “one that is going to be half the size and half the price at the same performance of the existing one.” In electronics, even though products are expected to be smaller in each generation, quality and reliability go hand-in hand.

Quality is connected to measuring and controlling error. The absence of error in production is integral to building a reliable product. For instance, early this January, The American Society for Quality (ASQ) reported that recent product recalls of Chinese imports reflects poor responsibility on the part of U.S. importers. “Companies are so used to dealing with suppliers in the United States or Europe who comply with their specifications, that they aren’t taking into account that the whole concept of quality systems is a radically new thing to many foreign suppliers in countries like China,” says Randy Goodden, chair of ASQ’s Product Safety & Liability Prevention Interest Group.

Quality contol begins with those involved in manufacturing. For example, at Intel’s plant in China, methods and practices are taught in the same manner as is other manufacturing locations. The laws and cultural practices in China and other countries can not be expected to change to suit another country’s rules and regulations. However, quality control, quality designs, statistical measurements and methods can and must be taught in individual plant operations.

On March 17 – 19, 2008, in San Jose, CA, the International Society for Quality Electronic Design will hold its 9th International Symposium on Quality Electronic Design (ISQED). The conference provides a forum for R&D, application of design techniques and methods, design processes, and tools that address issues that impact the quality of designs into integrated circuits. As devices get smaller and more integrated, the progress and quality of EDA tools and design methodologies is surpassed. Therefore, the EDA industry should focus on performance, timing, area, product yield, manufacturing, design for reliability, design for yield, and design for manufacturability.

The need for quality education in electronics took hold under Deming. Now it’s up to each manufacturer, no matter the country, to educate employees.

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