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Quality Digest  |  12/06/2010

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This Year in Quality, Part One

Outstanding people, new standards, and what we did with them

A new year always brings new hope, new plans, and new perspectives. While looking ahead is the most direct route to progress, looking back is essential to understanding the present. After all, the past creates the consequences that will shape the future.

With this in mind, 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 parts two and three here) will give you some perspective and insight on what next year holds for the quality industry.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2011.

Quality highs and lows

The really big, messy news this year concerned some 4.4 million barrels of oil spurting into the Gulf of Mexico following an April 20 equipment malfunction on a rig owned by BP. The leak wasn’t permanently capped until late September, and during the relentless drama that ensued, forensic scientists and metrologists were called in to help mop up.

Marine geophysicists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory used a visual analysis technique called “optical plume velocimetry” to analyze underwater video of the affected Macondo well riser. Det Norske Veritas (DNV) was contracted by the Joint Investigation Team of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help in the forensic examination.

Meanwhile, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) served as a technical resource, particularly its Committee F20 on Hazardous Substances and Oil Spill Response, and Committee E47 on Biological Effects and Environmental Fate, both of which have developed a wide variety of standards pertaining to performance, durability, strength of systems, and techniques used for the control of oil and hazardous substances.

But there was one very happy end this year. In early October, the world stopped to watch the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. One by one, along a 624-meter shaft in the “Phoenix” capsule, the miners were lifted to safety. ISO standards played an important role in the feat. NASA engineers used ISO 18738 “Lift (elevators)—Measurement of lift ride quality” as input to calculating the optimal rate of acceleration of the capsule to ensure its smooth ascent and avoid discomfort to the miners.

Other low points in human endeavor centered in the medical industry. Findings from a study commissioned by the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and completed by consultants with Milliman Inc. estimated that measurable, avoidable medical errors cost the U.S. economy $19.5 billion in 2008. Having mulled over the data for a couple of years, 87 percent of the actuaries concluded that reducing medical errors is an effective way to control health care cost trends for the commercial population; 88 percent believe this to be true for the Medicare population.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) this year challenged hospital executives to lose the waste through a new leadership initiative called “Impacting Cost and Quality.” Using specific programming tailored to CEOs, chief financial officers, chief operating officers, and clinical leaders, participants will identify opportunities to drive out waste, prioritize what changes are best suited for their organizations, and lead front-line efforts that improve their organizations’ financial standing. We wish them the best of luck.

Nanotechnology is helping the medical industry take a giant leap closer to personalized medicine. New electronic biosensing technology, such as that developed by a team of microelectronics engineers and biomedical scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, could make possible real-time disease diagnosis—potentially in a physician’s office—and help select individualized therapeutic approaches.

Customer service improved this year in our not-so-friendly skies, according to the 20th annual national Airline Quality Rating (AQR). It was the third best overall score in the 19 years researchers have tracked the performance of airlines. The industry improved in three of the four major elements of the AQR: on-time performance, baggage handling, and customer complaints. Denied boarding is the only element where the performance declined.

Customers had a few things to say, too, about the ubiquitous trend known as social media. Earlier in the year, an American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey decreed that portals and search engines lead all e-business categories, although the overall score of 77 for these sites represents a 7-percent decline from 2009, with Internet giant Google doing the most to sink the ship. However, according to metrics firm Experian Hitwise, 24.27 percent of Web pages viewed in the United States in mid-November were served by Facebook. In both visits and pages, Facebook’s 10.2 percent of online visits surpassed Google’s 7.2 percent. Online news and information sites continued to outpace their print journalism counterparts, which ranked near the bottom of the ACSI survey with a score of 65. RIP.

Small businesses showed that size doesn’t matter when it comes to quality. For the first time in a single year, three small businesses won the Baldrige National Quality Award—K&N Management, Studer Group, and Freese and Nichols Inc. The other four winners of 2010 were: MEDRAD and Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. in the manufacturing category, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in the health care category, and Montgomery County Public Schools in the education category. The nation’s public-private partnership dedicated to performance excellence changed its name to Baldrige Performance Excellence Program in October.

Standards kept things safe

As the manufacturing sector evolves and new realities set in, many standards must get updated and new ones created. This year the trend among standards developing organizations seem to have been around safety—tougher toy safety (ISO 8124), safe application of 3-D imaging technology (ASTM E2641), creep-fatigue testing standards (ASTM E2714), testing standard for safety of medical devices (ISO 10993-10), prerequisites on food safety (ISO/TS 22002-1), and product traceability with RFID standard (ISO 17367). In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced early in the year that it is working on the development of mandatory standards to deal with heavy and toxic metals in children’s products.

But if there is one standard that deserves the most anticipated honor, it should be ISO 26000, which guides public and private sectors with social responsibility. “It distills a truly international consensus on what social responsibility means and what core subjects need to be addressed to implement it,” says ISO secretary-general Rob Steele.

Other new standards that will help management systems were also published this year. With ISO/IEC 17043, laboratories will be able to demonstrate their competence, keeping laboratory testers on their toes. ISO/IEC 31010 was created to assist and provide techniques to organizations that are implementing the risk management principles of ISO 31000. ISO/TR 7250-2 provides updated country-specific body size data, which will help manufacturers ensure accurate measures in products such as clothing. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) released IEC 62591, which makes the WirelessHART technology the first global standard for wireless communications for industrial process measurement and control.

Other highlights of the year included ISO 9001 implementations topping the 1 million mark, implementation of TL 9000 proving to deliver better quality products, growth in interest in personnel certification program accreditation under ISO/IEC 17024, and the news that the United States may adopt IEC’s photovoltaic quality standards.

Measuring all things great and small

On May 20, measurement scientists and professionals worldwide celebrated World Metrology Day. This year’s theme concentrated on how measurement influences science and stimulates innovation. In keeping with that trend, 3-D laser scanning proved to be the front-runner in emerging technology. It holds great promise for capturing dimensionally accurate information by collecting millions of dense measurements quickly. In medicine, 3-D scanners helped in shaping new limbs, bones, and even noses.

Elsewhere, software from Pointools was used to create 3-D walk-through models to explore the viability of laser scanning on the moon and Mars. The project, which scanned the Four Windows Cave lava tube at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, was designed in part to provide examples of the type of data laser scanning could collect and the information that could be interpreted from laser mapping.

An associate professor of agricultural and biological and biomedical engineering at Purdue University has created a new sensor to detect the movement of auxin along a plant’s root surface in real time without damaging the plants. The sensor allows comparison with other measurements to better understand how auxin transport and other biological functions are connected.

ASTM’s International Committee E57 on 3-D imaging systems worked this year on developing new standards for 3-D technology, including ASTM E2761—“Specification for 3D Imaging Data Exchange.” The standardized data exchange format would provide users with greater flexibility in working with 3-D point clouds than is currently possible. Not a moment too, soon, either, according to Spar Point Group’s Sam Pfeifle. Observers of the 3-D imaging marketplace found some good signs among those businesses included on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing, privately held companies announced in September.

Thanks to 3-D laser scanning technology, the granite sculpture of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln was digitally re-created within two weeks, despite difficult weather conditions. Applications for the data could include virtual tours, 3-D models, digital animations, and interactive programs.

People in quality

Two quality gurus were honored this year. H. James Harrington, quality strategist and Quality Digest Daily columnist, was honored in May by the Australian Organization for Quality in appreciation for his invaluable efforts to improve quality around the globe. On that same month, Mark Hamel, author of Kaizen Event Fieldbook (SME, 2009), received  the Shingo Prize Research and Professional Publications Award.

Subir Chowdhury, an SAE Fellow, CEO of ASI Consulting Group LLC and founder of Global Quality Awareness, had an award named after him. SAE International recognizes Chowdhury’s contributions to the quality and engineering professions. The award honors those in the mobility industry who promote innovation and quality in mobility engineering, design, and manufacture.

In October, Don Dewar—the face behind quality circles, and founder and president of Quality Digest—received a lifetime achievement award for introducing quality circles and many other employee-involvement techniques to the United States.

After 13 years, Lean Enterprise Institute founder James P. Womack, the man who coined the term “lean production” stepped down. The CEO was succeeded by John Y. Shook.

The quality industry also lamented the loss of two great leaders. Stan Marash, STAT-A-MATRIX founder and former Quality Digest columnist died in January. David C. Crosby, the zero defects guru, passed away in November. They will be missed.

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Quality Digest

For 33 years Quality Digest has been the go-to source for all things quality. With more than 40,000 opted-in subscribers, our newsletter, Quality Digest Daily, shares expert commentary and relevant industry resources to assist our readers in their quest for continuous improvement. Our website includes every column and article from the newsletter since May 2009 as well as back issues of Quality Digest magazine to August 1995. We are committed to promoting a view wherein quality is not a niche, but an integral part of every phase of manufacturing and services.