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Quality Circles Work

by Marc A. Gattoni

In October 2005, the Warehouse Rangers, a multidisciplinary team of five Yazaki employees at its NACOM Corp. plant in Griffin, Georgia, stood on stage at the company’s North American headquarters to accept an award for winning Yazaki’s Quality Control Circle competition. QC circles (also called quality circles) are groups of employees who meet to discuss problems and solutions for their workplace.

The Warehouse Rangers produced cost savings of $95,000 per year by finding ways to eliminate waste and duplication in the company’s processes. Using fishbone diagrams and shikumi, a Japanese form of mapping process flow to identify muda (waste), the team achieved a 40 percent reduction in the time required to receive a part into the warehouse. One solution the team implemented was to install printers to print labels that identified parts and allowed for product traceability, reducing the time employees spent manually writing the labels. The team also developed a system where all urgent parts are placed on an orange pallet for greater visibility. These improvements reduced the area’s labor requirements from six to three employees, allowing manpower to be redistributed to other areas in the warehouse. The duration of the project was six months, with employees working one hour per week.

QC circles have been around since the 1960s. By creating a series of competitions and providing the incentive of rewards, Yazaki has tailored the methodology to address its needs. Yazaki’s five-step process is as follows:

1: Create a competition with several tiers that continuously builds upon itself. Yazaki originally held the competition only in Japan. Competitions are now held in each plant, and then throughout North America. In this way, plants can see each other’s work and duplicate good ideas.

2. Develop clear-cut guidelines for the teams to follow. Yazaki requires its QC circles to complete eleven steps, beginning with the formation of a team and ending with lessons learned and future plans. After the team is formed, the group analyzes the present situation by brainstorming for areas team members feel can be improved. Next they complete a priority matrix using the top five ideas from their brainstorming process. Each team member votes on the issues they will address based on importance, urgency, solvability and controllability. A theme is selected and a target is then set. The team creates an activity timetable identifying when each step will be accomplished. It then analyzes the primary factors of the problems, plans countermeasures for the problems, implements as many countermeasures as possible and analyzes the results. The last step before lessons learned and future planning is very important. The team must determine if there is any way to standardize its solutions across different areas of its own plants and other facilities. The goal is to always get it right.

3. Make it a learning experience. People have the opportunity to learn Power Point, presentation skills and research methods. This is not only a nice change from their everyday activities but also provides employees with valuable skills. In addition, they become part of the solution to problems that they encounter in their work environments, which enables them to improve their own efficiency.

4. Create a budget and organize logistics. Organizing the logistics of the competition may prove to be the most time-consuming aspect of implementing QC circles in the beginning. After a couple of years of repeating the process, it becomes easier and quicker to manage.

5. Provide publicity, high recognition and rewards. The high importance placed on QC circle activities leads to a more enriching experience for participants and drives the interests of nonparticipants to become involved in future competitions. Yazaki organizes original equipment manufacturer plant tours, award luncheons and dinners, and the distribution of press releases announcing winners to local media and industry trade publications. Winners also earn the opportunity to take home the “Best of the Best” trophy and bragging rights for the next 12 months, not to mention an all-expense-paid trip to compete in the international competition in Japan.

 

The best people to come up with improvements are those working the job every day. Often, the simplest solutions create the most cost savings or cost avoidance. Implementing QC circles is a low-cost initiative to improve quality within the plant, across the region and globally. It is also an excellent way to motivate employees at the manufacturing plants to drive higher levels of quality and efficiency that will benefit not only operations but customers as well. Imagine employees at all levels of the organization engaged, motivated and involved in improving the company’s bottom line. This is the potential that QC circles promise and deliver.

About the author
Marc A. Gattoni is the director of quality warranty for the electronics and instrumentation business unit for Yazaki, North America. He has a bachelor’s degree in applied science, electrical engineering, from Siena Heights University.