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Total Quality Management in Industrial Metal Cutting

September 1, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


For most industrial metal-cutting organizations, continuous improvement is a top priority. Case in point: two of the three organizations in our case study of top performers listed continuous improvement as an imperative operational strategy and best practice, and three other companies interviewed by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) confirmed it as a key goal.

“Continual improvement is critical to our business,” Barry Grider, operations manager at Standard Locknut, tells LIT. “We must improve in everything we do to keep a leg up on our competition and to generate new business opportunities.”

Although there are many tools companies can use to achieve continuous improvement, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma typically get the most lip service. One approach that has strong roots but hasn’t received as much attention in recent years is total quality management (TQM).

According to the American Society of Quality (ASQ), TQM is the name for the philosophy of a broad and systemic approach to managing organizational quality. iSixSigma.com  defines it as “the culture, attitude and organization of a company that strives to provide customers with products and services that satisfy their needs.” The goal of TQM is to get every department—from manufacturing and marketing to the supply chain—to value quality and continually strive to perform processes right the first time (i.e., zero defects).

Some say TQM’s origins date back to the 1940s and 1950s; however, the management approach gained the most attention in the 1980s and early 1990s. Over the years, TQM principles and processes have evolved, helping to create quality standards such as the ISO 9000 series and quality award programs such as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Although many believe that the philosophy will continue to evolve with each generation, below is a basic overview of the key principles of TQM and the benefits it can offer companies today.

Key Principles
The key principles of TQM, as defined by ASQ, are as follows:

Like Six Sigma, TQM is a quality improvement system aimed at meeting customer needs. However, the two approaches differ in focus, scope, and application. An article from Chron describes three key differences between TQM and Six Sigma:

  1. TQM concentrates on individual departments and more specific quantitative goals, but its ultimate focus is customer satisfaction. The path that takes the business toward that final goal is secondary. Six Sigma, however, aims at continuous improvements and is self-propelled.
  2. TQM is run by the quality control department and professionals who specialize on quality improvements, usually, for their entire career. Six Sigma projects, on the other hand, are managed by “black belts” who have gone through formal training and typically return to their previous jobs after a few years.
  3. TQM pursues “soft” objectives such as customer satisfaction and long-term strategic excellence that are harder to boil down to a single figure, whereas Six Sigma is often driven by a focus on cutting costs and tends to work best if it has specific financial goals.

For an interesting debate on the virtues of total quality management (TQM) vs. Six Sigma, check out this archived article from Quality Digest.

Implementation and Benefits
Like any improvement strategy, TQM implementation will vary based on an organization’s culture, goals, and management philosophy. In fact, ASQ says there is “no one solution to every situation” and describes five different implementation strategies here.

Regardless of the specifics of a company’s TQM strategy, an article from Inc. suggests that all successful TQM implementations require the following three elements:

When implemented successfully, the benefits of TQM range from higher profitability and productivity to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. (You can read a few case studies of successful implementations here and here.)

Quality First
In the end, TQM is about putting quality and customers first to achieve long-term success. If quality and customer satisfaction are the top focuses at your company, odds are you are already applying some of the founding principles of TQM. To read more about how to make TQM a formal strategy, check out ASQ’s resource page.