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Defects, Recalls, and Quality Assurance

By Terrance Malkinson

During the first three months of 2014, General Motors (GM) recalled 2.6 million of its small cars of various models due to faulty ignition switches, which could shut off the engine during driving, while at the same time preventing airbags from inflating. On 31 March, GM announced it was going to recall more than 1.5 million more cars, of six different models, due to faulty power steering. The total number of cars recalled during 2014 as of 1 April, is 6.26 million. Recalls are not unique to GM or to the automotive industry. Other automobile manufacturers and industries have also issued recalls.  Engineering and manufacturing defects are more than just an annoyance people have been seriously injured and deaths have resulted. Even more serious is that defects are often known by the company for many months and in some cases years prior to being disclosed to regulators and the public, and a recall is declared.

In the case of the ignition switch failure, the switch indent plunger, which is designed to provide enough torque, or pressure, to keep the ignition from accidentally turning off, did not supply enough torque. This defect, like many others, is inexcusable, as the body of knowledge to design, manufacture and test a fault-free component exists.  Why is this happening? There are many possibilities, most of which, in this author’s opinion, distill down to irresponsible business practices of maximizing profitability, and the dumbing down of the workplace.

Engineers, because of their training and professionalism, must be returned to positions of leadership and given the authority to ensure that quality is a mandatory and non-negotiable priority throughout every process in every business sector.  Check out John Platt’s June Career Focus article Quality Assurance Engineering and the IEEE quality assurance technical navigator.

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Here are some of the things going on in and around the community:

  • Claudio Fernandez-Araoz provides his opinion on employee recruitment suggesting that in today’s competitive business environment organizations must place less emphasis on whether an applicant has current skills but rather whether they have the potential to quickly learn new skills as they emerge. [&21st Century Talent Spotting. Harvard Business Review. 92(6):46-56. June, 2014. www.hbr.org]. As the author suggests geopolitics, business, industries, and jobs are changing so rapidly that it is impossible to predict the competencies needed for even the near future let alone long-term.  The author provides five markers of applicant potential that you should use when evaluating potential employees and leaders.

  • The University of Calgary has the opportunity to lead research breakthroughs into some of the biggest medical challenges of this generation thanks to $200 million in combined support from alumnus Geoffrey Cumming, an international businessman and leveraged with an additional $100M by the Government of Alberta. The funds will be used to further medical research and innovation at the University of Calgary particularly in the two priority areas of brain and mental health; and infections, inflammation and chronic diseases. By recruiting outstanding scientists and students, and providing them with the best technology and resources to make medical breakthroughs, the donor hopes his gift will help improve health and wellness for everyone.

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  • Robert Merton believes that our approach to saving for retirement is all wrong and that we need to think about monthly income, not net pension worth.  [The Crisis in Retirement Planning. Harvard Business Review 93(7/8):42-50. July-August, 2014]. With the shift away from employer-sponsored pension plans to defined contribution plans responsibility is now transferred to the employee. In the authors opinion, the goal should be to secure a desired future income rather than focussing on maximizing the capital value of your savings.

  • Calgary International Airport Authority’s $2B redevelopment program is progressing well.  An expanded international terminal facility, a new 14,000 ft. parallel runway (the longest in Canada) with associated taxiways, a new central de-icing facility, a new control tower (the tallest in Canada), and a new Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System, which integrates surface multilateration are all in place. The three-year construction has included; more than two million person hours, an average of 420 workers on site each day, and 7.5 million cubic meters of earth being moved, and 100% utilization of LED lighting for the runway and taxiways . Calgary is in competition with airports in Vancouver, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Denver to become a hub for transatlantic and transpacific travel.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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