by Gerard Fonte
In The Trenches
The Business of Electronics Through Practical Design and Lessons Learned
In The Trenches
A Primer on Quality
Quality and quality control are
important to the success of
any product. Designing and
producing a quality product is not accidental. In this column, we will examine
those factors that are necessary for
creating and manufacturing a quality
product. We will also briefly touch on
the ISO 9000 quality standards.
Quality, or its lack, means different things to different people. This is
not surprising. People are not all the
same. For example, parents think that
their children’s music is toneless noise.
Children think Mozart “eats dead
rats.” We will strictly define quality as
“something that meets well-defined,
objective standards or specifications.”
Of course, these standards and
specifications may be easy or hard to
achieve. Worse, similar products may
have vastly different specifications.
This means that a product that
performs poorly may actually have
better quality. Here’s how.
Suppose there are two manufacturers that make stereo amplifiers. One
manufacturer specifies 1% distortion.
The other specifies 0.001% distortion.
It’s clear that the manufacturer of the
1% distortion amplifier has a much
easier task in terms of design and production. It is also clear that it is a “lower
quality” amplifier in terms of performance. He should have very little trouble
in making a product that consistently
meets the 1% distortion specification.
Conversely, it’s hard to design and
produce an amplifier with 0.001%
distortion. This manufacturer is very
likely to see many more instances
where the product fails to meet that
standard of performance. By this
measure, it is a “lower quality” amplifier.
The point of this is to show that
“quality” has a different meaning from
the common use of the word. My
personal preference is to use the term
“reliability” instead of quality. It seems
to be a better description. However, I
doubt that all the quality control departments are going to change their names
soon. Therefore, the definition of quality
remains, “a product that meets objective standards or specifications.”
Arguably, the most important
aspect in achieving quality is attitude.
If you have great pride in your
work, you will automatically strive for
a quality product. You will want to do
the best that you can. You will see
your product as a reflection of yourself — and no one wants to look bad.
On the other hand, if a company
president announces a wage freeze
while accepting a huge bonus for
increased profits, you may not care
much about quality. You may just go
through the motions with little concern
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