Twenty four years ago I took on my first kaizen event at a Copeland plant in North Carolina. We didn’t know it was to be called a ‘kaizen event’ and had no way of knowing that we were using what would be called a ‘value stream map’. We were just making it up as we went along using Shingo’s original green book as a guide. The target of our efforts was a machining and sub-assembly process that fed a refrigeration compressor assembly line. By the time we finished we improved a lot of things, but I clearly recall the first and biggest opportunity was to fix the quality inspection process. There was no real quality problem – just a waste of a days inventory, lots of floor space and some material handling time due to holding up production until an inspector could get around to sampling some of the output.
The lesson learned was that, not only is it impossible to inspect quality into a product, the mere act of inspecting can often undermine quality and drive an extraordinary amount of waste by serving as a bottleneck in the flow.
The Obama administration has been a regulatory and waste inducing train wreck for American manufacturing. The history has been one of a gang that never passes up an opportunity to burden manufacturing with another regulation, and to do everything and anything it can to render CPR to the dysfunctional carcass of organized labor. That makes it all the more surprising – pleasanty shocking actually – to learn that the USDA plans to reduce its inspection of poultry lines, and enable the poultry companies to speed up the flow.
“Under the proposal, production lines would be allowed to move 25% faster, while the government would cut by as much as 75% the number of line inspectors eyeing chicken bodies for defects before the carcasses are packaged for consumption.”
It is the same thing as my old Copeland experience. Inspecting is a huge drag on flow and cost with no realistic prospect of assuring quality. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there are 1.2 million incidents of salmonella illness each year. Unlike other food-borne illnesses, the incidence of salmonella has risen 10% in recent years. When Consumer Reports tested 382 broiler chickens bought from grocery stores in 2009, 14% were found to contain salmonella.” The Who’s Who roster of leftist wackos – Food and Water Watch, Food Integrity Campaign for the Government Accountability Project – opposing the change see this as proof of the need for more inspection. In fact, it is rock solid evidence of what people who understand quality well know: Inspection does not assure quality. Quality can only be assured by controlling it at the source.
The whole episode is also proof of how little the bleaters about food quality really know about quality control. That’s the problem with having passionate people with no idea of what they are doing being given access to lots of money.
It doesn’t end with ignorance of quality control, however. These folks rant about private sector apathy for consumer safety. I am as vocal a critic of publicly traded company mismanagement as you can find anywhere – but even the most short sighted CEO knows that poisoning customers is not good business. And they are painfully aware of the hord of bottom feeding lawyers just waiting to catch them peddling poison food.
Just what the food companies are up against is evidenced by the position of the United Food and Commercial Worker’s International Union. They want to keep the quality inspectors on the job in order to keep the lines slowed in the interest of worker safety. There is some curious logic. If safety is a real concern, I suggest they call OSHA, but to bog down production with quality inspectors for the sake of reducing carpal tunnel syndrome is just plain dumb.
Make no mistake, I am not saying chicken is safe. I don’t have a clue. All I know about the subject is that chicken and I have always got along just fine. What I am saying is that inspection doesn’t make it better. It doesn’t make anything better. It only adds cost. Quality can only come from controlling it at a well designed source. The USDA data proved the point. Good or bad, “In testing its relaxed rules at 20 chicken slaughterhouses and five turkey plants, the USDA found little difference with conventional plants in the instances of salmonella and other pathogens.”