New edge for rising standards
By JOHN SERJEANT
QUALITY promotion began 15 years ago when the Government was asked to build up infrastructure for industry.
After much talk, a unit was set up which established a standards and calibration laboratory linked to the National Physics Laboratory in Britain.
It launched a scheme to accredit testing laboratories to international standards, and gathered product standards from 36 countries for the sort of goods Hong Kong could produce.
In 1988, consultants were asked to produce a study on what else could be done, and the Government accepted its recommendation to undertake promotion of quality management systems such as ISO 9000 and Total Quality Management (TQM).
As a result, the Industry Department's Quality Assurance Unit was established in 1989, and, the following year the then-governor, Sir David Wilson, inaugurated a quality awareness campaign.
A substantial amount of promotion has taken place since then.
Seminars have been held, newsletters published and distributed, a video has been produced, and the head of the unit, Richard Chan, talks about quality to companies.
''The quality awareness campaign has been running for over four years and we decided it should be replaced by a quality promotion programme,'' said Mr Chan.
''We thought of the idea of a Quality Week, simultaneously, to conclude the campaign and launch the programme.'' ''What we are proposing, is to continue quality promotion and application of management systems to get more people involved.
''We need a new quality culture here.'' Mr Chan believes as the standard of living rises in Hong Kong, people will demand higher standards from the products they use.
This, in turn, will be reflected in the products they themselves manufacture and the service they offer.
He readily admits this theory is not proven yet, but cites Sweden and Japan as countries that appear to support it.
Mr Chan is pushing hard to get TQM practised more widely in Hong Kong.
''ISO 9000 is very visible - there is a framework to build on, and an exam to pass - but TQM is only a method of management and cannot be assessed.
''The demand for ISO 9000 often comes from the customer, but TQM can only come from senior management.'' Mr Chan pointed out that, even with enthusiastic management, TQM required training and time for implementation.
As an example, managers may need to learn the theory behind statistical control, convert it for use on their own company's production line, interpret the results and then use those results to improve quality.
''TQM is not foolproof - it is a tool that can help, but if it is not used properly it will not be any use,'' he said.
''We still have a long way to go, because quality itself is never perfect.
''Even in the past four years we have not been able to do enough, and, now, as many companies have manufacturing branches in China, we have a lot more work to do across the border.'' Unfortunately, not every company considers quality is necessary and small companies consider it expensive.
Mr Chan's view is quality must be in every item, although to a different degree.
''Even low-cost products need a quality management system - for example disposable wooden chopsticks are liable to splinter and can come in different lengths if attention is not paid to the quality.''