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ITC panel debates on cost-of-quality

Posted: 30 Oct 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:International Test Conference? ITC? Dell? IBM? Cisco?

Assessments of the total cost of quality need to take into account reliability, delivery, adherence to requirements, and the quality of the user experience, according to an executive panel at the International Test Conference (ITC), where panelists from IBM, Dell, Cisco and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) debated the shifting priorities for ensuring quality products.

Dell chief technology officer Kevin Kettler pointed to the notebook battery recall as an example of how a company's response to a challenge can affect the cost of quality. "First, we had to decide how and when to announce the problem," said Kettler. "This in not a simple issue, as consumers' perception of a company depends upon both the company's response to an issue and its willingness to make minimally intrusive corrections."

Dell was the first to announce what later mushroomed to Sony's reluctantly announcing that it will replace a 9.6 million notebook PC battery packs that contain certain 2.4Ah and 2.6Ah cells manufactured during the period from August 2003 to February 2006. Kettler added that supply chain management now extends to the vendors' vendors, forcing everyone in the chain to respond to problems.

The laptop maker came away with a lesson: It needed to improve, and thereafter continually update, its monitoring processes in all phases of the organization, including incoming test for "simple" components. It also had to become even more mindful of customer issues to minimize user impact and disruptions. "The cost of quality is something that comes up front," said Kettler.

At the supplier level, the premium is on the speed of problem identification and resolution, said Jim Miller, vice president of manufacturing technology at Cisco. "Customers are demanding higher quality because their own need for better components and systems is increasing at a geometric rate," he said. As voice and video applications raise users' expectations for reliability and availability, Miller said, enterprise customers are demanding service-provider levels of quality.

"Quality is more than just the device; it includes delivery, performance and support efforts," said Jeff VerHeul, corporate vice president for silicon design engineering at AMD. Further, quality expectations vary by market: Server makers have well-defined processes and controls, whereas product turn rates and customer support requirements are higher for consumer electronics companies.

As for the costs of staff and enabling technologies, "management has to look at the tools and technologies as they apply to products that will be shipping in the next two to three years, since the investments in technology and in the knowledge base take time to become entrenched," said Miller.

Calling test an investment, the Cisco exec said the lines between suppliers and the companies they supply are blurring as failure analysis and test data is shared. The test and supply chains are overlapping as suppliers invest in their own new technologies.

"The increased levels of cooperation and collaboration in this partnership relationship are significantly different from the older, arms-length business relationships of the past," Miller said.

John Harris of IBM said test's role is expanding beyond manufacturing to become a data and diagnostics source: "Test results now populate a database that enables data analysis as well as full product history and data."

- Tets Maniwa
EE Times

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