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This Year in Quality, Part Three

Implementing theories, engaging students, and keeping customers smiling

Published: Monday, December 20, 2010 - 08:23

Beginning Dec. 8 with “This Year in Quality, Part One,” and continuing Dec. 14 with part two, 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 wrap-up will give you some perspective and insight on what next year holds for the quality industry.  

Busting the “lean and Six Sigma are fads” myth

Despite yearly prognostications that Six Sigma, lean Six Sigma, and all their spinoffs are quality fads, quality management distractions du jour, or simply, “rubbish, nonsense, and flim-flam” and are on their way out, the statistically-based quality improvement and waste-reduction programs seem to be alive and well.

However, according to “Lean Crushing Six Sigma as Dominant Force in Continuous Improvement,” more employers may be looking for those with the skill sets that will enable them to help companies at the foundation of their continuous improvement efforts. In other words: lean skills.

In a study produced by The Avery Point Group, a global executive search and recruiting firm, demand for lean talent has surpassed Six Sigma by a substantial margin as the more desired skill set. According to the study, lean talent demand exceeded Six Sigma by almost 35 percent, significantly widening its lead over last year’s results that showed only an 11 percent edge for lean over Six Sigma.

OK, but suppose you still want to improve your marketability, get that Black Belt certificate, and start knocking on doors for a better job, but you already work 50 hours a week and your company doesn’t offer in-house lean, Six Sigma, or any other kind of training? What to do? Learn online, of course.

If you haven’t had enough of staring at a computer screen all day, you can go home, grab a cup of coffee and a stale sandwich, and spend your evenings earning an online certificate in leadership, management, project management, Six Sigma, supply-chain management, and more. According to University Alliance, Six Sigma, leadership, and management are among the key skills to have in an economic recovery.

A publication from University Alliance reveals today’s fastest-growing business topics and how professionals can transform their earning potential with 100-percent online certificate programs from traditional, top-ranked universities such as Villanova University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of San Francisco, and Tulane University.

It might be time to stop watching “Myth Busters,” “Ice Road Truckers,” and “Dirty Jobs” in the evening. Instead, plop down in front your computer and learn the skills you need to get a real job, or at least a better paying one.

If you have ever wondered why your doctor’s office or hospital doesn’t run as efficiently as Starbucks, or at least as well as Midas Muffler, you aren’t alone. Dozens of books on lean and Six Sigma in health care look at just that issue, including Essentials for the Improvement of Healthcare Using Lean & Six Sigma by Dean H. Stamatis; Leading the Lean Healthcare Journey: Driving Culture Change to Increase Value, by Joan Wellman, Patrick Hagan and Dr. Howard Jeffrie; On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry, by Dr. John Toussaint and Roger A. Gerard, Ph.D.; and Applying Lean in Healthcare: A Collection of International Case Studies, by editors Joe Aherne and John Whelton.

So the next time you find yourself waiting in your doctor’s office for 45 minutes (for an appointment they told you to show up 15 minutes early for), consider one of these books for their Christmas present.

3-D companies do a little horse-trading

Companies taking over other companies generally means that a particular segment of the market is getting stronger, and thus becoming more competitive. This year we observed the 3-D measurement market slowly becoming more consolidated.

Right at the start of the year, Hexagon Metrology acquired Mycrona GmbH, a manufacturer of state-of-the-art 3-D multisensor coordinate measuring machines. The move allowed the company to enhance its multisensor vision technology market. By midyear, the Swedish metrology giant announced the purchase of U.S.-based software provider Intergraph Corp. for $2.1 billion. With that, Hexagon was able to add Integraph’s CAD and geospatial intelligence software among its offerings.

As part of its growth strategy, Canadian provider of 3-D applications Creaform also went shopping this year, making two big purchases. In January the company bought InSpeck, a provider of 3-D scanning of the human body. In October it announced the acquisition of Genicad, a Québec City company specializing in engineering, digital and mechanical design, project management, and technical drawing. Over the summer, Creaform opened three new offices overseas.

The big and important announcement in the 3-D metrology market this year was the formation of Nikon Metrology Inc., from the combination of Nikon Instruments Inc.—Nikon’s microscopy and digital imaging arm business—and the former Metris business, which had been acquired by Nikon Corp. in 2009. The company is headquartered in Brighton, Michigan, and will focus specifically on the industrial and manufacturing business markets for precision measuring and industrial microscopy.

Merger and acquisition deals are complex and time-consuming, requiring extensive estimates of synergies and assets. Making all the involved parties satisfied is difficult, so sometimes deals are called off. Such was the case with European management system registrars DNV and Intertek. Merger negotiations between the two were put on hold in May, due to various “complexities.”

Reading, writing—and STEM

Two education-conscious acronyms we’ve seen repeatedly in the news this year are STEM (standing for the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math) and SME, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which has led a year-long crusade to get STEM subjects into U.S. schools and young minds.

The SME Education Foundation, a catalyst for STEM education through its Gateway Academy, helps middle- and high-school students develop these subjects through hands-on, real-world curriculum. This is based on several key concepts, including computer modeling, understanding machine tools and their operation, converting computer-generated geometry into programs to drive CNC machine tools, robotics, and flexible manufacturing systems.

The 4,800 students in 34 states who participated in the gateway program this year will earn higher GPAs as college freshmen, and are five to 10 times more likely to study engineering and technology.

Applauding SME’s effort in the best possible way, the Anderson Corp. Foundation gave $25,000 to the SME Education Foundation to cover the cost of Gateway Academies in Minnesota, New Jersey, and Western Wisconsin, where Andersen has manufacturing facilities and employees. Pretty cool, that. If the holiday giving spirit beckons, readers might consider providing tax-deductible financial support to the foundation’s academic and industry programs. To do so, visit www.smeef.org.

Early this year, in recognition of National Engineers Week, Feb. 14–20, the American Society for Quality (ASQ) invited local middle and high school teachers to bring an ASQ engineer into their classrooms to promote engineering as a career. This was partly in response to an ASQ/Harris Interactive survey showing that 63 percent of students think their teachers aren’t doing a good job of explaining about engineering careers, and 42 percent feel their teachers aren’t good at showing them how science can be used in a career.

A dozen hands-on, museum-quality exhibits created by Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) volunteers helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the laser’s invention during the year-long LaserFest. The touring exhibits allowed students to experience first-hand some of the practical uses for the technology.

Also this year, Honeywell launched its Honeywell Engineer of the Future Scholarship, which not only provides financial assistance to Houston-area students, but also seeks to dispel myths about the engineering field. “The fact is, this planet needs engineers to create and drive new industries that will help to save our environment,” says Honeywell executive Norm Gilsdorf.

Customers’ wants aren’t what they used to be

Because tolerance levels have taken a turn for the worse in this I-want-it-instantly world, wasting your time is considered by some to be a serious offense, and performing what’s perceived as unnecessary actions incites contempt. This way of thinking has changed what it takes to make customers happy and loyal.

When it comes to customer service transactions, forget about the frills and thrills; reducing customer effort is key to managing loyalty, according to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB). Research reported in “Shifting the Loyalty Curve: Mitigating Disloyalty by Reducing Customer Effort” from the Customer Contact Council, a division of the CEB, suggests that it doesn’t pay to exceed customers’ expectations anymore; simply make it easy.

Another major find reported by the Customer Contact Council is that customer satisfaction is a misleading indicator of customer loyalty. Eric Reidenbach explores another channel to that theory in the article, “Growing Market Share through Customer Retention.” Here Reidenbach delves into data that support value being a stronger predictor of loyalty, and that understanding how your customers define value is essential.

Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan take what customers value a step further in their book, Built to Love: Creating Products that Captivate Customers (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010). They’ve found that to really connect with customers, emotions must be generated by the product itself, not simply tacked on through advertising. Built to Love will help you gain loyal, even fanatical customers by going beyond mere efficiency and speaking to their deepest needs and wants.

If all of this is too touchy-feely or just doesn’t relate to your company’s scheme of things, the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) new technical specification, ISO/TS 10004, provides guidance to organizations of any type or size, public or private, for monitoring and measuring customer satisfaction. It is not intended for certification or contractual purposes.

You want facts, you say? We've got facts from several studies by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)—from all-time highs for PCs and consumer electronics (like TVs and Blu-ray disc players), to plunging percentages for hospitals, to beer and cigarettes and soap.

However you measure satisfied, loyal customers, one fact is certain: They spend money—and economic recovery is highly dependent on consumer spending. We’ll be sure to keep you informed as we see what 2011 brings.

To be continued…

So what does 2011 hold for the quality industry? Whether it’s the consolidation of the 3-D metrology industry, the successful establishment of the social responsibility standard among organizations, the improvement of quality in the health care system, or the new breakthroughs in science and technology, the quality industry is destined to get busy.

Some headlines are worth keeping your eyes on:

• The manufacturing sector is expected to completely bounce back during the next two years, especially in states with low taxes and diverse manufacturing base, according to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

• President Barak Obama is set to take a closer look at the proposals submitted by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCFRR), among which the elimination of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program is included.

• Electronic waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. By 2014, it is expected to reach $13 billion. It is up to manufacturers to migrate to nontoxic materials and to better manage material life cycles. Organizations should give particular attention to regulatory trends and manufacturer responsibility in waste management.

• Measurement units may get a drastic revamp in October, during the General Conference on Weights and Measures, when the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) will vote on a revision of the system of units. The new SI, which would be based on seven constants of nature, would enable researchers around the world to express the results of measurements at new levels of consistency and accuracy. See the possible changes to the SI here.


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For 40 years Quality Digest has been the go-to source for all things quality. Our newsletter, Quality Digest, 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.