Time for a New Level of Industrial Standardization

Aug. 8, 2004
OEM Insight: Upgrade Your Knowledge of International Standards
HOW MUCH overhead is justified to maintain profit? Many argue that if it isn't broken, don't fix it. If that is so, a machine builder might continue offering its old technology and tooling while the rest of industry moves through the 21st Century.

When does a manufacturer retool? When is it prudent to invest in R&D? The equation is different in every company's case.

Some companies don't have a engineering research arm. Most of the engineering effort is spent putting out fires or trying to satisfy regulatory issues. Those companies that still build to outdated 20th Century make-shift standards would best consider re-investment based on current industry standards.

But if you suggest that a company upgrade its understanding of international standards, it likely will balk and shoot to kill the messenger. Nobody wants to spend profits on retooling the engineering and manufacturing knowledge base when things are running smoothly. Most engineers are willing to just let it go, i.e., don't rock the boat.

And there's no guarantee that being certified by "world process-quality standardization agencies" will mean a company will change its culture and accept ideas such as performing self audits, analyzing causes and determining corrective actions for continuous improvement. I've seen a major manufacturer gain its covenanted certification in only seven months and still not know the fundamentals of statistical process control (SPC) or have an active program to analyze failures from the field to aid in determining problem trends.

So if your organization seems to have some of these character flaws, consider a move toward a new level of industrial standardization. A good start is to contact the International Organization for Standardization www.iso.ch and inquire about ISO 9001 certification.

Some of you might remember standards such as MIL-STD-454, General Requirements for Electronic Equipment, Requirement 5,it dealt with general soldering. It was digested and refined to produce a standard that electronic industries in more than 100 countries now meet.

This was not just renaming and copying of a MIL Standard, but a world industry makeover to take into consideration what is important for reliability, while insuring that companies in many countries could meet these standards.

But just saying you meet standards is not enough. Both internal and external audit trails are needed to verify compliance. One has to be willing to show compliance, not just sell compliance over the phone.

The certification plaque on the wall needs to mean more, and it should be taken away if the organization's culture doesn't change.

These are the changes needed to design and build robust equipment. If your company isn't working to at least some of them, then you might not have exposure to reliable design and processing sources. Today as electronics get smaller, equipment is being used in environments that no one would ever have envisioned using electronics. Where there once was a geared-tooth flywheel with a magnetic sensor is now an optical encoder with high-bandwidth, signal-conditioning electronics.

This, however, means equipment needs to survive more extremes of vibration, shock and temperature. If your equipment is being sold for new applications where the operating environment might be marginally hostile, design standards can make the difference between almost surviving a two-year warranty and meeting the customer-specified eight-year life.

So, if the boss really wants to justify product development costs, then perhaps introducing product enhancements to meet industry standards can be justified. The key: someone has to care enough to make a change. And any company that believes this applies only to industries that deal with military applications, then they're probably setting themselves up for a big surprise.

The companies concerned about reliability are not just in the aerospace/defense business. The list also includes many well-known technology companies serving a variety of industries and markets.

There is a clear connection between robust design and survivability. If you don't think you can make a case for that connection, then the best course of action might be to wait until upper management brings up the subject,probably after profits have been affected by customer perception of poor equipment survivability. At that point upper management might want to try and find out why, and may be ready to hear a proposed solution.

But if you really want to understand the values, maybe it's worth it to raise the topic to management. What's the worst that can really happen anyway?

  About the Author

Rod Bronson is a consulting engineer to the motion control industry, having worked in design and manufacturing since 1981 for Litton Industries, Delco Electronics, and BEI Technologies. For more information, contact him at [email protected].