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Session 1547


Ratan Kumar & Bill Watt
Department of Engineering Technology
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203.

Zero Quality Control (ZQC) is a quality control approach for achieving zero defects. ZQC is
based on the principle that defects are prevented by controlling the performance of a process so
that it cannot produce defects, even when a mistake is made by the machine or a human operator.
This is done by combining four basic elements1 : i)source inspection ii) 100 percent inspection
iii) immediate feedback and iv) use of poka-yoke (mistake-proofing) devices. ZQC is widely
gaining popularity in the industry. It is well established in Japan and its practice is catching on in
USA. At the department of mechanical and manufacturing engineering technology at the
University of North Texas, we strongly feel that this important tool needs to be addressed in our
Quality Control class. A plan has been made to cater to this desire, and strategies have been
made to incorporate it in other classes as well.

Shigeo Shingo2 is credited with starting the Zero Quality Control (ZQC) quality system. He was
a leading proponent of statistical process control in Japanese manufacturing in the 1950s, but
became frustrated with the statistical approach as he realized that it would never reduce product
defects to zero. Statistical sampling implies that some products to go untested, with the result
that some rate of defects would always reach the customer. ZQC tries to achieve zero defects in
all products. This helps in maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty, in reducing the cost
associated with scrap, rework and downtime, and in attaining a companys ability to adopt lean
production methods with smaller inventories.
The majority of the defects that arise inside a factory3 originate in four Ms (Materials,
Machinery, Manpower, Methods) and one I (Information). However most of the defects can be
traced to the people involved in the above sources. Simple mistakes are the most common cause
of defects, and they are the hardest to prevent. Since the goal of ZQC is to prevent all defects,
these simple mistakes must be caught first. ZQC does not point fingers after the mistake has been
made or hassles people to perform better next time. Instead it uses devices to keep errors from
ever turning into defects in the first place. It talks about mistake-proofing the process and not
fool-proofing it. ZQC uses control function that ensures that the necessary conditions are
present to make good products.
The traditional quality improvement cycle1 is Plan, DO, Check (figure 1a).This cycle catches
and corrects defects after they occur, but it cant make sure that work is done according to plan

in the first place. The ZQC approach integrates the Check and Do stages. This gives instant
feedback so problems can be corrected before defects happen.






Figure 1a): Traditional Quality Improvement Cycle1

Figure 1b) ZQC1


The ZQC system clearly recognizes that to err is human. It is letting the errors turning into
defects that causes the problem. ZQC prevents defects by integrating Check and Act stages of the
quality improvement cycle as shown in Figure 1b. It does it by combining four basic elements:
1. It uses source inspection to catch errors before they become defects. There are three basic
approaches to the inspection of products: judgement inspection, informative inspection and
source inspection. In judgement inspection, a person or machine simply compares the
product with a standard, discovers items that dont conform and rejects them as defects.
However it does not prevent the defect from occurring as this type of inspection generally
takes place at the end of the process. On the other hand informative inspection focuses on the
defect-producing process of a problem so that the problem can be corrected. Statistical
Quality Control (SQC), successive checks and self-checks are examples of informative
inspection. SQC relies on sample rather than checking every unit. As a result it cannot ensure
that every product is good. In successive check (Figure 2), people in the next process inspect
the units that are passed on to them and there is a delay in the detection of mistake. In selfchecks (Figure 2) the operator or assembler checks his/her own work afterwards for defects.
It gives a quicker feedback but cannot catch all defects. Source inspection (Figure 3) catches
errors and gives feedback about them, before further processing can take place, so that the
errors do not turn into defects. This is the integration of Check and Act stages that was
discussed earlier. This inspection is done by humans as well as by poka-yoke devices, which
will be discussed later. An example of source inspection might be using a switch that halts
the equipment if a part is fed in upside down, or a pin that physically prevents the insertion of
a workpiece the wrong way.

Figure 2. Successive Checks and Self-Checks inspection process1

Figure 3. Source inspection keeps errors from turning into defects.1

2. The second unique element of the ZQC system is that it does a source inspection on every
single product i.e. a 100 percent inspection. This is different from SQC, which presupposes
that a certain level of defects is unavoidable. This is inconsistent with the goal of zero
defects. Poka-yoke devices can be used to perform 100 percent inspection on all products at
different phases of production.
3. The third element of ZQC is quick feedback so that errors can be corrected right away.
Traditional inspection methods come short in doing this. The reason is traditional techniques
happen after the process when errors have already turned into defects. In some situations
they may not even tell the process that a bad product was made. When they do inform the
process, time has already passed and either the process has churned out more defects, or the
conditions that caused the initial defect no longer exist and cant be learned from. In ZQC the
inspection is carried out by a system that signals the operator or assembly person about
mistakes and machine errors before they become defects.
4. The fourth element that is unique to and the most important part of ZQC are the use of
mistake-proofing systems called poka-yoke. Rather than relying on operators to catch their
own errors or of those of the previous process, ZQC uses poka-yoke devices installed in the
machine to do source inspection and give quick feedback 100 percent of the time. Since this
is the heart of ZQC process, it is being discussed in more detail.

Poka-yoke is Japanese for mistake-proofing. These devices are used either to prevent the special
causes that result in defects, or to inexpensively inspect each item that is produced to determine
whether it is acceptable or defective. A poka-yoke device is any mechanism that either prevents a
mistake from being made or makes the mistake obvious at a
glance. It is used to carry out 100 percent inspection and provides immediate feedback and action
when errors or defects occur. However as Shingo2 himself mentions, these system are a means
and not an end. Simply putting in such devices does not eliminate defects. It has to be supported
by successive checks and self-checks.
Various examples of poka-yoke system can be had from reference 1,2 and 3. Jon Grout4
maintains an elaborate page on this subject matter. Ricard, L.J.5, described an example of a pokayoke device at General Motors (GM). "We have an operation which involves welding nuts into a
sheet metal panel. These weld nuts will be used to attach parts to the car later in the process.
When the operator loads the panel, the weld nuts are fed automatically underneath the panel, the
machine cycles, and the weld nuts are welded to the panel. You must remember these nuts are
fed automatically and out of sight of the operator, so if the equipment jams or misfeeds and there
is no part loaded, the machine will still cycle. Therefore, we have some probability of failure of
the process. An error of this nature is sometimes not detected until we actually have the car
welded together and are about to attach a part where there is not a nut for the bolt to fit into. This
sometimes results in a major repair or rework activity." "To correct this problem, we simply
drilled a hole through the electrode that holds the nut that is attached to the panel in the welding
operation. We put a wire through the hole in the electrode, insulating it away from the electrode
so as it passes throughit will only make contact with the weld nut. Since the weld nut is metal, it
conducts electricity and with the nut present, current will flow through, allowing the machine to
complete its cycle. If a nut is not present, there will be no current flow. We try to control the
process so that the machine will actually remain idle unless there is a nut in place."
Figure 4 shows some examples of poka-yoke devices employed for defect prevention and

Figure 4. Poka-Yoke devices.


Although the concepts of ZQC can be taught in the Quality Assurance course, that is required of
every mechanical student, its practice can be initiated in several courses. The idea of detecting or
preventing mistakes early on lends itself not only to the laboratory classes but to some classroom
lectures as well. Currently the students of mechanical engineering technology at the University
of North Texas take about eleven technical courses that have a laboratory attached to them. The
course were it can be first initiated is the first manufacturing course encountered viz.
Manufacturing Processes and Materials. Here the students are introduced to conventional
manufacturing tools, equipment and processes. Many of the equipment used are equipped with
poka-yoke devices but there are many areas were mistake proofing can be further extended
specially for teaching purposes. Similarly during the manufacturing process there are several
steps eg. heat treatment, hot and cold forming, chip removal technique etc., that can benefit by
introducing poka-yoke techniques.
Implementing ZQC in the theory class is another challenge, but automating the process can go a
long way in meeting this task. For example let us look at the machine design class. The students
frequently encounter situations where they have to look up values from various tables or graphs,
convert from one unit to another, select an appropriate material etc. These are some perennial
sources of errors and even for students who perfectly understand the theory it leads to incorrect
answers. Even during the process of number crunching in the calculator, errors occur if the
students are not careful. This is so common that we often see the student enter the numbers
several times to check the answer. These are some classical cases of human error in the design
area and leads to erroneous results. Automating the process on a computer can eliminate some of
these inconvenient activities. A program can be built so that: a) the user can correctly get values
from specific graphs or tables, b) unit conversion can be done, c) selection of materials can be
had by proper query and d) some hints are provided alongway. As compared to a calculator,
computers have a much better display and it vastly reduces the error during number entry. Also
since the user enters the values in a tested code, his answers are more reliable than by entering
mathematical variables in a calculator. A properly coded computer program can instantly discard
some wrong data as well. Although several design software are currently there to automate the
process, yet they tend to overlook certain small things that can make the design process flawless.
In the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at the University of North Texas we have
embarked on the ides of creating some these tools so that the design value entries can be made
correct. The tool for unit conversion is complete and it recognizes any combination of the
approximately 500 built-in SI, metric, English, and historical measures. Some of its other
features are:

Uses a natural language interface for expressing measurements. For

example, converting from "10 cups" to "liters" returns 2.37.
Measurements can be preceded by any of 50 known prefixes.
Measurements are known by their common names, abbreviations, acronyms,
and synonyms. For example, "kilometers per hour" can be entered as
"KPH", "km/hr", "kmeters/hour", "kilometers per hour", etc.
Understands any combination of the known units and/or prefixes. For
example, converting "45 ft*lbs/second^2" (a measure of force) to
"newtons" returns 6.22.

Returns the remaining units when the units being converted do not
represent the same type of physical measurement. For example,
converting "12 joules" (a measure of energy) to "newtons" (a measure
of force) returns "12 meters" (a measure of length).
Other tools are being currently designed keeping in mind the students of mechanical design.
ZQC, an important quality tool, is used to achieve zero defects. It combines steps that helps one
to either detect or prevent an error before it becomes a mistake. There are four basic features that
can be attributed to this method. Although it has been used in the manufacturing areas, its use in
a class room setting has not been tested. The mechanical engineering technology program at the
University of North Texas wants the students to be exposed to this powerful tool. They plan to
introduce it in several manufacturing courses and its use in the design courses has just begun. A
software tool to convert units has been completed and has some attractive features. Several such
small tools are being envisioned that would make number retrieval and processing error free. In
turn this would make the design calculation, either by hand or by some other software, less prone
to human error, and which would capture the spirit of ZQC.
1. Productivity Press; Mistake Proofing for operators; Portland, Oregon.
2. Shingo, Shigeo; Zero Quality Control: Source Inspection and the Poka-Yoke system;
Productivity Press, Portland, Oregon.
3. Hirano, Hiroyuki; Poka-Yoke: Mistake Proofing for Zero Defects, PHP Institute Inc., New
4. Grout, J.R. , Edwin L. Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX .
5. Ricard, L.J., "GM's just-in-time operating philosophy", in: Y.K. Shetty and V.M. Buehler,
(Eds.)., Quality, Productivity and Innovation. Elsevier Science
Publishing, New York.

RATAN KUMAR obtained a BME in Mechanical Engineering from Jadavpur University (India), ME in Nuclear
Engineering from the University of Florida and doctorate in Nuclear/Mechanical Engineering from University of
Florida. He has worked as a Mechanical Engineer for three years and since 1992 has taught at American Technical
Institute and currently at the University of North Texas.
GEORGE W. WATT obtained a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wyoming, MS From the
Air Force Institute of Technology in Aerospace Engineering, and doctorate in Metallurgical Engineering from Ohio
State University. He spent 23 years in the US Air Force and has taught at Utah State University and currently at the
University of North Texas since leaving the USAF in 1985.