World standards the yardstick for all-round success
Consumers and buyers are no longer satisfied with borderline quality, according to John Lo, chairman of the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Association and the Hong Kong Standards and Testing Centre.
'They're demanding higher quality and better value,' he said.
Hong Kong, which first jumped on the quality bandwagon in the 1950s and 1960s, has a head start on the rest of China.
Since many large companies in the mainland are Hong Kong-owned and managed, the SAR is expected to play a major role in China's quality movement.
'Unfortunately, there are still many companies in China at the early stages of the quality movement - maybe because they haven't been exposed to outside practices.' Mr Lo said.
'They will have to take concrete steps towards quality system management.
'Hong Kong's role will be quite significant in that a lot of the larger manufacturers in China are Hong Kong-owned and, when they move into China, they bring Hong Kong quality practices with them and their subcontractors are required to meet their standards.
'So the spin-off effect is quite significant. It snowballs, especially as managers switch jobs.' The quality movement in the 1950s and 1960s began with inspection, which entailed salvage, sorting, grading, corrective action and the identification of sources that did not conform.
'It proved to be ineffective, since we could not inspect quality into our products, so it evolved to the next stage, which was quality control' Mr Lo said. 'Quality control was set up in the 1970s and focused more an management.' At this stage, quality manuals were developed, there was process performance data, self-inspection, basic quality planning, the use of statistics and paperwork controls.
Companies started moving away from quality control in the late 1970s and early 1980s and towards quality assurance, which emphasised a more systematic approach to quality management.
Quality systems were developed, there was advanced quality planning, the use of quality costs, the involvement of non-production operations, failure mode and effects analysis, and statistical process control.
'There were systems to assure that the things you planned to do actually happened and that the demands of customers and the marketplace were met. This was a more scientific approach to quality control,' Mr Lo said.
'A lot of manufacturers today are still very much in the first, second or third stages of the quality assurance movement.
'Some companies have not yet captured modern management technology, which we call Total Quality Management (TQM),' he said.
TQM encompasses the whole company. 'This requires a lot of commitment from top management. It is a top-down approach. It's an entire quality culture which is inculcated from the very top to the lowest level of the organisation. Everyone thinks, plans and works towards realising the company's quality goals,' Mr Lo said.
Quality management also helps to reduce costs.
'The bottom line is TQM helps a company to be cost-effective. It eliminates non-conformance, rework and product recalls.
'Beyond TQM is the move towards a Lean Operation Approach whereby all operations will be carried out in a cost-effective manner,' Mr Lo said.
'Management is moving towards stewardship. This means a more transparent operation and company-wide ownership of responsibility.' ISO 9000 has been widely hailed but Mr Lo warned it was just the beginning and not an end in itself.
'It is a stepping stone, the platform from which to launch companies into TQM,' he said. 'It has all the fundamental elements to carry out TQM.' According to Mr Lo, quality is an on-going process.
'Companies must search for continuous improvement,' he said.
ISO certification 'certifies that a company has adopted a sound quality management system but it has to continue to maintain the system', he said.