Six Sigma SPC - Statistical Process Control

ASQ's Quality Progress Article Quality Gets An 'F' FORD and Firestone Fiasco
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These articles are from the Six Sigma SPC Newsletter and other publications. All articles written by Jim Winings
This is from my newsletter Aug/Sept/Oct 2001

ASQ, (American Society for Quality www.asq.org) publishes a magazine that you get with your membership. In the October 2001 issue, there is an article by R. W. Hoyer about the FORD and Firestone fiasco called, Why Quality Gets an 'F'. And while I agree with what Hoyer says, there are some issues not touched upon. This may be an issue of not enough article space for Hoyer to explain in more detail.

Hoyer indicates that companies these days hire too many younger people and the lessons of the past are lost. We keep seeing the same mistakes over and over again because the old seasoned professionals that have seen some problems before are gone, and the younger employees have not seen them and don't even know they exist. I agree that this could be a problem, but on the proverbial flip side of the coin, without fresh ideas, there are no innovations. Some young talent needs to be incorporated into the business in order to get fresh ideas. Now what percentage of young vs. old is another issue to consider, but be assured that the companies that can strike the perfect balance will achieve better quality in the end.

Based on my research, which includes CNN, 20/20, DateLine, CNBC, and other similar sources to include interviews from local TV stations and talking to the actual employees making the tires at Firestone, I have drawn the following conclusions. It's not one error but many, made by both companies that compounded into a REALLY BIG MESS. For what its worth, here is my take on it. And there are some degrees of freedom for how I see it.

  • FORD designs Explorer with tire specifications. Hands specifications to Firestone. Firestone says we can build that tire for $x each. FORD agrees and Firestone starts building them. FORD Explorer hasn't come off the line yet.
  • FORD discovers that they have a potential 'roll-over' problem. The need to keep this quite is a high priority. FORD evaluates Firestone tires at 26PSI. 6PSI from original specification. FORD thinks this will be OK. The Explorer will ride smoother and also lower tire pressure will help potential 'roll-over' problem due to the sidewall of tire taking some stress. Firestone is unaware of the specification changes. Because of a 3 sigma design margin, 6PSI may be too much to deviate from original specifications.
  • Firestone has labor strike.
  • Non-Union labor can't meet production schedule. Short cuts in processes is found to aid in production schedule.
  • Supplier material can't get across picket line. Some 'in-house' rejected material and 'out of date' material is used to meet production schedule. Now the 3 sigma design margin is much too little of a design margin to produce an acceptable, reliable product.
  • Reports of problems starts hitting FORD
  • Strike is over.
  • Short cuts in process are left in to processes to increase production to make up for loss of profits at union table. These short cuts are NOT compatible with FORD's new specification of 26PSI that Firestone is still unaware of. This includes 'awling' bubble holes out of tires.
  • Some short cuts may have been incorporated World Wide at Firestone to increases profits.
  • Supplier of raw rubber to Firestone and perhaps others, supplies rejected material. Inferior product is purchased by Firestone to keep profit margin the same as pre-strike conditions. To meet production schedule, material is 'waived' into production.
  • Fallout from material starts coming back to haunt Firestone. On top of past failures at Firestone, continuing failures raise red flags by governments and watch-dog groups.
    On top of everything else, some end users do not check tire pressure adding to the problem.
  • Law suites starts, et. al

Based on my 11 years of experience of a Fortune 25 company, etc. I can see all of this being feasible. Of course we will never really know all the events that occurred.

Perhaps if a Six Sigma program using a design margin of 4.5 sigma was in place, at least some of the failures, sometimes cause by an external failure, would not have occurred. Of course hindsight is 20/20. Adding to the mess, apparently both FORD and Firestone are QS9000 and ISO9000 qualified and do 'self audits'. I do not believe in 'self audits'. It is like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house. It is like letting airlines be in charge of security. This concept creates a monetary conflict.

I would be interested in seeing some data on, in how many of the accidents were the Explorers loaded or overloaded with cargo, as well as, what was the mean weight and mean tire pressure. If the Explorers were heavy with weight, it would cause the tires to heat up and depending on the tire pressure, could directly contribute to the accidents. While we know that the problem mostly, if not exclusively, happened in warmer regions, I would also like to know what the mean road temperature was. I really like to reverse engineer failures in a failure analysis project.

Would it not be ironic if the strike, largely and directly contributed to the failures? That the people that went on strike ultimately, while trying to better their own and their children's lives, actually only ended up in insuring the closure and layoffs of facilities and undermining their net objectives?

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