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News Digest

This Month in News Digest


Customers Generally Satisfied With Cars, Appliances, Computers


Reconfigurable Machine Tool Promises Enhanced Flexibility


Health Care Quality Rising


JAMA's evaluation




New Law Means Tax Breaks for Machine Purchases


Things Could Be Looking Up for Metrology Market


ASQ to Launch Community Outreach Program


Industry News



Customers Generally Satisfied With Cars, Appliances, Computers

In the current American Customer, Japanese automakers were well in front with high quality and customer satisfaction scores, with European car companies right behind them" notes Jack West, past president o

Satisfaction Index, scores for all four sectors in the manufacturing durables category remained the same: household appliances at 82, automobiles at 80, consumer electronics at 81 and personal computers at 71. The overall ACSI score held steady at 73 (of a possible 100).

This is the third year in a row that the automobile industry matched its record-high score. Since the inception of the ACSI, the industry average has remained between 78 and 80 points. "When the ACSI started in 1994f the American Society for Quality and co-sponsor of the ACSI. "U.S. auto manufacturers trailed both, but today they've pulled just about even with Japanese automakers, and European companies have a narrow lead."

The ACSI score for household appliances remains high and unchanged, much like it has in the nine years since ACSI began. "From a competitive point of view, nobody seems to have an edge," comments Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality Research Center, which compiles and analyzes the ACSI data.

Although the ACSI score for personal computers didn't change from last year, customer satisfaction with PCs is below what it used to be and lags the overall ACSI average, says Fornell. Dell continues to lead the industry at 76, but it's still 5 points lower than two years ago.

In addition to manufacturing durables, this quarter's ACSI looked at Internet business, including Web portals, search engines and news sites. The score for portals has climbed from 63 in 2000 to 65 in 2001 to 68 this year, with every measured portal showing improvement from last year.

Search engines scored 68 overall, with Google leading the pack at 80 points. Ask Jeeves and Alta Vista were well behind at 62 and 61 respectively. "Google has much higher customer loyalty than its competitors because it provides faster delivery speeds and more relevant results than other search engines, receiving about 150 million queries per day," comments Fornell.

Among news and information sites, ABCNews.com topped the list, with MSNBC.com, CNN.com, NYTimes.com and USAToday.com following.

The ACSI is produced through a partnership of the University of Michigan Business School, ASQ and the CFI Group. A complete list of scores can be found at the U-M Business School Web site at www.bus.umich.edu/acsi and ASQ's Web site at www.asq.org.

Reconfigurable Machine Tool Promises Enhanced Flexibility

Engineers at the University of Michigan have created a full-scale reconfigurable machine tool, the first of its kind, according to the NSF Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manu-facturing Systems.

"Instead of building new factories to manufacture a new product or introduce a new technology, companies will build factories for a product family and simply upgrade with new capabilities," says Yoram Koren, director of the ERC/RMS.

Reconfigurable machine tools are machines whose structures can be changed to provide either alternative functionality or upgrade capacity on demand. The RMT can either be returned to its initial form or further modified to provide new functionality.

RMTs are designed around common characteristics of part families, allowing them to create several types of a part. For example, the RMT is capable of cutting cylinder heads for vehicles of any major automobile manufacturer. Theoretically, manufacturers with an RMT can switch from building one type of cylinder head to another within a few hours.

The Arch-Type RMT has three principal axes of motion, and its primary use is for milling and drilling on inclined surfaces of parts made of aluminum. It's also capable of performing contour cuts on inclined surfaces and cutting cast-iron parts under limited performance requirements.

For specifications on the Arch-Type RMT, visit erc.engin.umich.edu.

Health Care Quality Rising

Despite some ills, health care quality is improving, according to a recent report from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

More than 6,000 deaths and 22 million sick days could be avoided if more organizations adopted best practices found at top health care facilities, the report states. However, despite these numbers and growing concern over cost, patient safety and insurance issues, the State of Health Care Quality report has recorded improvements in health care performance during the last few years.

Key measures among various health plans, including Medicaid, Medicare and commercial insurers, have shown progress since 1999. For example, between 2000 and 2001, the percent of patients whose blood pressure was under control rose from 51.5 percent to 55.4 percent, up from 39 percent in 1999. Cholesterol control rates, cervical cancer screenings, asthma medication use, childhood and adolescent immunizations, diabetes care and post-heart attack treatment have all registered similar increases.

The report also concludes that care received through commercial organizations is comparable to care administered by Medicaid and Medicare; e.g., in 2000 the percent of patients who received preventive care after a heart attack was 89.4 percent in commercial organizations, 89.3 percent in Medicare plans and 82.9 percent in the Medicaid program. In fact, Medicaid and Medicare outperformed commercial care in several key measures, including chlamydia screening for women and diabetes care.

NCQA-accredited organizations outperformed those that are not, according to the report. For instance, 57.8 percent of heart attack patients enrolled in accredited organizations had properly controlled cholesterol levels, whereas nonaccredited plans showed 44.1 percent control.

JAMA's evaluation

Shortly after the release of the NCQA's report, the Journal of the American Medical Association released the report, Relationship Between Low Quality-of-Care Scores and HMOs' Subsequent Public Disclosure of Quality-of-Care Scores, which argues that the NCQA's report doesn't accurately reflect the state of health care quality.

Currently, public disclosure of data on quality health maintenance organizations is voluntary. The NCQA lists HMOs' scores in its annual Quality Compass database, which is used by health insurance purchasers and consumers. JAMA contends that HMOs that receive poor scores are likely to withhold their scores the following year.

According to JAMA, of the 329 HMOs that publicly disclosed their scores in 1997, 161 plans (49 percent) withdrew from public disclosure in 1998. Of the 292 HMOs that disclosed their scores in 1998, 67 plans withdrew from public disclosure in 1999. Plans whose scores ranked lowest in quality were more likely to withdraw their scores than high-ranking plans.

"Voluntary reporting of quality data by HMOs is ineffective," the report concludes. "Selective nondisclosure undermines both informed decision making and public accountability. If health plans that refuse to disclose quality data provide inferior care, publicly available data would overstate the average quality of HMO care nationally and result in a distorted picture of how a given plan compares with that average."

The NCQA argues that JAMA's report is based on outdated data and that from 2000 and 2001, only five plans refused to disclose their quality scores.

For more information, visit the NCQA Web site at www.ncqa.org and JAMA at jama.ama-assn.org.

New Law Means Tax Breaks for Machine Purchases

Earlier this year, President George W. Bush signed an economic stimulus bill that contains a new 30-percent expensing allowance for new machine tools and other equipment ordered between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 11, 2004, and placed in service by Dec. 31, 2004.

"This will mean more job opportunities for workers in every part of our country, especially in manufacturing and in high-tech, and for those who work for small businesses," Bush said during the March bill-signing ceremony.

The Joint Tax Committee gave the example of a business that acquired $1 million in equipment this year. The business would be allowed an additional first-year depreciation deduction of $300,000. The remaining $700,000 of the adjusted basis would be recovered this year and subsequent years under the usual depreciation rules.

"The 30-percent expensing allowance has been quite significant in helping to move people to buy now as opposed to waiting," says Jim Mack, vice president of government relations at the Association for Manufacturing Technology, which supported the passage of the bill. "The problem is that no businessperson is going to go out and buy a new machine simply because he got a tax break. Capacity utilization rates are still down, and until they come back up, there aren't going to be a lot of investment decisions."

A main priority for AMT is extending the law past its expiration date. The association believes the bill would ideally include a permanent 30-percent expensing allowance, plus 100-percent expensing of high-productivity equipment, such as sophisticated machine tools, computers, software and semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

"This is a direction that I think a fair number of folks in the administration and in congress would ultimately like to move," notes Mack. "The 30-percent allowance is a step in that general direction."

A fact sheet explaining the bill is available at AMT's Web site at www.mfgtech.org.

Things Could Be Looking Up for Metrology Market

Although it has recorded two consecutive years of declining dimensional metrology equipment sales, the Metrology Automation Association predicts a slight upturn in 2002's third quarter, according to a recent industry outlook survey.

Year-end statistics from MAA show that CMM sales fell 33 percent in 2001, after falling 34 percent in 2000. The CMM market had sales of $169.3 million, with 1,597 units shipped in 2001.

The good news is that respondents to the survey predict a 2-percent gain in the third quarter. "Our data suggests some positive movement in the industry," says Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of MAA. "We're not out of the woods, but it would be an improvement of sorts. We continue to have to take a long-term view on where the CMM business is going."

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce reflects the MAA's findings. Indicating that the nation's economic recovery is weaker than first believed, the Commerce Department found that second quarter output grew at an annualized 1.1 percent compared to the 5-percent growth rate in the first quarter.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta predicts 2- to 3-percent growth in the gross domestic product in the second half of 2002, with more momentum building in 2003.

The MAA collects and reports annual market data based on confidential totals provided by MAA supplier members. Founded in 1999, the MAA is the only trade group in North America organized exclusively to promote the use of metrology automation. Its member companies include metrology equipment manufacturers, end users, research groups and consulting firms. Learn more at www.metrologyautomation.org.

ASQ to Launch Community Outreach Program

As part of its goal to prove the effectiveness of quality at all levels, the American Society for Quality is in the process of creating procedures for the Community Good Works Program, which will provide matching grants and knowledge to local communities involved in improvement efforts.

"The Good Works Program is just one of several initiatives ASQ has launched to highlight the potential of quality to benefit humanity," says Daniel Duhan, vice president of ASQ. "We're in the process of creating implementation policies and procedures and identifying potential pilot projects."

Candidates for grants include not-for-profit, community-based or -serving organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Local government agencies are also acceptable. To qualify for ASQ's pilot program, organizations must:

* Provide a good story on how to improve communities using quality tools

* Provide excellent ASQ volunteer opportunities

* Provide a long-term benefit to the community and ASQ

* Focus on services over products

* Focus on results over techniques

* Have an infrastructure that can support long-term success

Activities involving individuals, for-profit organizations, capital fund drives, endowments, real estate purchases, political activities, lobbying and religious organizations are not eligible.

To recommend a project for the pilot program, e-mail Duhan at daniel_m_ duhan@md.northgrum.com and provide the organization's mission statement, a brief description of the potential project along with the issues to be addressed, the target population, approximate costs, a description of how the project's success will provide evidence of quality's effectiveness and the grant amount.

ASQ's goal is to award the initial matching grants in January 2003.

Industry News

LMI Selcom Expands Laser Measurement Capabilities

LMI Selcom, a developer of noncontact laser measurement solutions, has expanded its capabilities into designing and manufacturing customized sensors for large OEMs.

Typical measurements performed with LMI Selcom's products include oscillation, thickness, contact height, paper-thickness profile, material deformation, width, height, long-range and roller-gap measurement, and 3-D surface scanning.

To learn more, visit www.lmint.com.


Benchmarked Manufacturers Share Insights

Performance measurement is crucial to managing manufacturing performance at factories producing high-tech industrial products, according to a new study by Best Practices LLC.

"Metrics for Excellence in Industrial Equipment Manufacturing" includes information on finished goods inventory turns, works-in-progress inventory turns, manufacturing cycle time, on-time delivery rate and customer lead time. It also contains manufacturers' insights on increasing productivity, boosting inventory turns and cutting lead times.

A report summary is available at www.benchmarkingreports.com/r/r280.htm.

Small Business Gets Lean

The New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has successfully assisted Sisneros Brothers Manufacturing Co., a Belen, New Mexico-based sheet metal fabricating company, in improving product flow and increasing profit margins through lean manufacturing.

The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide assistance to smaller manufacturers in the United States. Learn more at www.mep.nist.gov.

Renishaw Implements PC-DMIS

Renishaw has adopted PC-DMIS measurement and inspection software for its coordinate measuring machines. The company cited benefits to the common platform, including a reduction in code development times, increased cost savings in maintenance and calibration, improved data management and more efficient off-line programming operations. Renishaw will use PC-DMIS's CAD interface to develop part programs from CAD drawings.

PC-DMIS offers data gathering and analysis functions and a configurable graphic user interface. It can be installed on any CMM, regardless of brand. Learn more at www.renishaw.com or www.wilcoxassoc.com