Ford management was like a loosely knit pact among warring gangs. There was a never ending power struggle between production and quality control. When sales were strong, the only sin was not making quota, production managers were the unquestioned masters of the universe, and quality control managers were swept aside like crumbled potato chips from last night’s party.
But eventually the push for high production caused a rise in warranty defects. When a transmission failed before 12,000 miles or 12 months, Ford had to pay for repairs. That was the only REAL quality standard at Ford Motor Company: the level of warranty defects. When they went up, power shifted from production management to quality control management.
It was easy to tell when that power shift occurred. Quality Control supervisors strutted around like a bunch of cocky Adolph Hitlers after the fall of Paris. There was a new spring in their step. People actually paid attention when they wrote defect tags. They were actually somebody again.
Of course the problem was most of the parts produced did not meet specs, because Ford would not properly reapair machines, and bought the lowest price components on the market. Quality control inspectors tagged up basket after basket of parts, and they were hauled to the “Graveyard of rejected parts.” Machines were shut down and repaired. Men were called in on overtime to cull through junk components purchased from the lowest cost vendor. Soon warranty defects began to improve. Pressure began to increase for more production. That was when power shifted back to production managers.
Before long the front office was screaming for more production. But how could more be produced if machines were shut down to be properly repaired, and half the purchased components were culled out as bad parts?Easy. Engineering Deviations.
When production was needed, and only rejected parts were available, engineering was instructed to “rewrite” what is a good part and what is a “bad part.” All of a sudden, the Graveyard of Rejected Parts were no longer bad, reject tags were pulled off, and the show went on. Quality control managers reverted back to looking liked whipped puppies. They had been castrated. Again. After all, it would be months before warranty defects rose again, pressure would come down to build better quality, and their power base would be restored.
There were times when it almost came to blows. The most outrageous near rumble that I experienced was in department 258, Torque Converters. Actually, the problem was in department 285, Cover Plates. The 4 studs were out of square on the cover plates. When the cover plates were welded into the torque converter, the studs did not match up with the holes to be assembled into the finished transmission. This caused vibrations in the transmission, and was a major defect.
QC isolated the problem. The stud squareness gage in 285 could not be found. It was later learned that the inspector had thrown it down the scrap chute. What was the point of gaging squareness, he said, because when he rejected cover plates, they were used anyway. So he did not bother to check squareness, pitched the gage, put his feet up leaned back, and read his Playboy. Sometimes he made a makeshift bed out of discarded cardboard, put it on top of a commode, latched the door on the stall, and grabbed a few zzzz’s in the men’s room.
Back to 258, where QC and production were eyeball to eyeball over torque converters with out of square cover plates. QC said I am going to reject the whole batch. Production said you CAN’T reject the whole batch, or assembly will go down. If assembly goes down, four Ford plants in four states goes down. Oh yeh? Watch me, said QC, as he wrote reject tags.
Bets were taken on who would throw the first blow. Most bet on QC because he was taller, younger, and more athletic, while production was a short, fat, old guy with a bulging vein in his forehead, shaking with anger, and red faced. I bet on QC. Lost the money. They never actually came to blows.
Production told me to shut the whole f%^*# department down and send the people home. We were not going to run bad converters. I did. Fifteen minutes later my manager came running down the aisle, waving a piece of paper, screaming for me to run to the parking lot and get my people back. We had an engineering deviation. The converters had turned from bad converters that would cause transmission vibration to good converters with the stroke of a pen.
I ran as fast as I could to the parking lot. But I could only get half my people back. The rest had already driven off Ford property. I had a letter of reprimand placed in my file for failure to run fast enough to get all my people back on the job. But I had a file of my own that Ford was not aware of.
My file contained copies of reject tags that had been overridden because of the need for production from departments all over the plant. It also contained copies of engineering deviations that mysteriously changed bad parts into good parts with the stroke of a pen. I also made a copy of the report that detailed the missing stud squareness gage in department 285, where out of square cover plates had been run for an unknown period of time.
It was just another shift at the Sharonville Transmission Plant. And another additon to my massive files on quality standards at Ford Motor Company.