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FORD IS MAKING SURE QUALITY IS `JOB ONE’ FOR ITS SUPPLIERS, TOO

SHARE FORD IS MAKING SURE QUALITY IS `JOB ONE’ FOR ITS SUPPLIERS, TOO

A booklet of 20 questions recently arrived at USX Corporation's historic Edgar Thomson Works near Pittsburgh. But they were not part of any game.

The inquiries were from Ford Motor Co., and were very serious ones for any company seeking Ford contracts.They are the initial phase of Ford's Q1 quality control program, and, as such, are an indication of the immense emphasis American automakers, and expecially Ford, now are placing on quality control.

They also are one of the major reasons why today's motor vehicles are so much better than those even of a few years ago, says Danny Atkinson, manager of supplier quality planning on quality control.

They also are one of the major reasons why today's motor vehicles are so much better than those even of a few years ago, says Danny Atkinson, manager of supplier quality planning at Ford.

As always, Ford still specifies what it wants in a product.

"In this case (of steel) our specs specify surface quality, the chemical composition of the steel, the hardness, formability, malleability, all of those metalurgical and functional characteristics that we require in order to accept material - coatings for corrosion controls, the alloy, the thickness length and width of the coil," Atkinson explains.

"But our Q1 strategy goes beyond the specifications," he adds. "What we want now is a supplier who can be quality independent of Ford. We do not want to check all the chemical and metallurgical properties of that coil of steel when it comes to our dock. What we want is for a plant to be so proficient in quality disciplines that we can have high confidence that the coil will be exactly what we want it to be. That's why we evaluate their systems as opposed to their product."

In other words, instead of checking the steel arriving at the assembly plant, Ford checks the supplier's quality control program at the plant where it is made so there's not need to check further. And each plant is checked.

"Q1 goes, not to a total corporation such as USX, but to the specific plant. USX might have another plant somewhere just down the street that doesn't get Q1," Atkinson adds. "Our quality activities are organized on individual manufacturing plants."

"I'd say extensive. Essentially ther is one document we call the Ford Systems Survey and there are 20 questions. There are, of course, lots of sub issues and sub points in each of those because questions are phrased to get a discussion going about the quality system of the supplier.

"It is not a fill-in-the-blanks, true-false quick quiz. It's sent to the plant well in advance so they have plenty of time to answer."

Thus the simple query, "Is statistical process control (SPC) utilized for significant product characteristics and process parameters?" can't be answered with a simple yes, and cheating is discouraged later isth a visity to the plant by Ford quality engineers. The visits average three days in length.

"Frankly, we hope and expect that all this is something which is part of the supplier's everyday practice and that they don't have to do a lot of preparation," Atkinson adds. "We don't want a show and our people generally are able to ascertain whether or not its systematic or just prepared for them." (There also are follow-up visits if a plant gets Q1.)

"Q1 benefits the supplier, too. It reduces scrap and improves through-put, saves them money and improves our quality, so everyone wins," Atkinson adds.

The Ford official emphasizes that Q1 applies to all Ford suppliers, not just steel plants, but adds that the American steel industry has come a long way in just a few years.

"I am no stell expert, but there had been a perception, in the fairly recent past, that American steelmakers were not as good as foreign steelmakers. And it is a clear even to me that American steelmakers have made significant improvements to quality in recent years."

He'll go even further and say the same of the U.S. auto industry in general.

"The whole thing has kind of shaped up significantly, and of course we think we have been a party of that." he says. "It's important to Ford and our customers who expect more of us, but it is important to all American as well."

Surprising perhaps is the time factor kinson is specific that this relatively mass updating has taken place in just "the past few years - the past three, four or five years."