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GM’s Gary West: To Achieve Zero Defects, Address Your Silos

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More than 400 automotive quality professionals attended the 2017 AIAG Quality Summit on September 19-20, 2017, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan, leaving very few seats in the general addresses and standing-room only in many of the most popular breakout sessions. This level of participation — supported by over 40 exhibitors and sponsors — made this year’s Quality Summit one of the most engaging and valuable quality events in recent years.

Gary L. West, executive director of global supplier quality & development for General Motors, kicked off the event with an energetic discussion on “Driving Toward a Zero Defects Culture.” West, who has managed GM’s quality operations around the globe in places like Korea, Mexico, China, Egypt, and Uzbekistan, shared his takeaways from the cultures he was exposed to and how working in various plants around the world opened his eyes to different ways of thinking.

But the focus of his presentation was the necessary components to achieving zero defects. West pointed out that striving for a defect-free vision in today’s complex global regulatory environment — coupled with the fact that vehicles are more connected, more technically sophisticated, and more complex than ever before — is made even more challenging because vehicles operate with higher degrees of system integration and interdependence.

“A zero-defect mentality is not about perfection,” he said. “It is a new way of thinking about defects that allows organizations to stop treating symptoms and start solving systemic issues. When your goal is zero defects, it sets a standard against which all your processes can be assessed. But it’s really about continually striving to work better.”

West quoted a statistic from Timothy J. Clark’s Success Through Quality, which estimates that the cost of poor quality for an average company is about 20 percent of sales. West applied that statistic to an automotive operation and said, “A 20 percent cost of poor quality implies that during one day of each five-day workweek, the entire company spends its time and effort making scrap. Think about that.”

West acknowledged that the auto industry benefits from a significant number of mature engineering quality tools and processes, and yet, defects still get through. “A significant part of the reason is silos or insufficient connectivity and collaboration,” he said. “It’s the mindset in some companies where certain departments don’t want to share information with others in the same company.”

To address silos, West told the audience that you must recognize the areas where silos exist. Silos can exist across quality tools (e.g., DFMEA and PFMEA), across functions (e.g., process engineering and mechanical engineering), across systems (e.g., body and electrical), across vehicle features and components, and across the supply chain.

“Defect elimination depends on a deep understanding and collaboration at the connections where these silos exist,” he said. “It also requires joint ownership.”

GM, he said, is changing to a 360-degree approach to enhancing connections and collaborations. The approach includes:

  • Systems engineering —connecting vehicle functions to subsystems and components
  • Quality chain — connecting functional departments, quality tools, and organizations along the vehicle development process
  • Component readiness valves — multi-functional check-in to assess rigor and status at key milestones.

“Connectivity across the quality tools and functions — including suppliers — is key,” he said.

Also key to approaching zero defects is systems thinking, West said. “It’s a focused awareness of wholes and how the parts within those wholes interrelate. It’s thinking about a system as a combination of system elements. And it means that activities and deliverables must change across product development. It means systems thinking for all,” he said.

West pointed out that on average, for every vehicle sold there is one vehicle recalled for a potential safety defect. His message to automotive leadership is that there is a significant need for a defect-free culture in the auto industry, and that GM’s engineering team is committed to owning and driving the changes needed to drive it.

“Today’s customers want their products unique and personalized, which results in an endless combination of components and options,” he said. “And on top of that, these customers are demanding zero defects. That means product quality has to be at the highest level ever. Good enough is no longer good enough.”

The best approach to meet the demand? “Have quality built in every step that is required to build each part, and put controls in place to ensure all processes are completed successfully,” West advised the Quality Summit participants. “By understanding the quality chain roadmap that each part needs to follow, and where each part is on the roadmap at all times, you simplify mistake proofing and problem solving.

“It’s like when a GPS system knows where you’re headed and immediately corrects you if you make a wrong turn,” he continued. “A built-in quality system manages every individual part through the entire value stream. The quality system knows the required manufacturing roadmap and will immediately see when a wrong turn is made, and immediately triggers notifications and actions to minimize waste and maximize quality.

“As we implement a quality chain methodology and strengthen our standard work, we will be preventing defects instead of fixing defects,” West concluded.

Carla Kalogeridis is AIAG e-news editor.



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