THE preconception that Asian production is inferior is now totally out-dated with the increasing commitment to quality management by Asian manufacturers, said the managing director of AST Asia Pacific, Philip Wong. ''The quality of manufacturing coming out of this part of the world has made great strides. In fact, it is not the geographical factor which dictates a product's quality but, rather, the quality policy within the worldwide operation,'' he said. The United States-based AST, whose sales of personal computers and peripherals generated revenue of US$944.1 million last year, is a firm believer in quality standards and is committed to quality assurance policy throughout its worldwide manufacturing operations in the US, Hongkong and Taiwan. Its manufacturing operations in Hongkong have recently gained registration to the ISO 9001 standards, following a comprehensive assessment by the Hongkong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA). With plants in Kwai Chung and Tuen Mun producing more than 160,000 units of computer systems annually, AST's total quality management systems have been recognised. The company won the 1990 Industry Department Quality Award and the Quality Certificate of Merits in 1991 and 1992. The Hongkong facility, which employs over 1,500 workers, manufactures 80 per cent of its products for the US and European markets and 20 per cent for Asia. ''At AST, quality is our first consideration and the ISO 9001 certification represents an important milestone for our quality assurance,'' said Mr Wong. Backing Mr Wong's emphasis on quality, Billie Lui, the managing director of AST's Hongkong regional manufacturing headquarters, said more than 15 per cent of the Hongkong facility's workers were engaged in full-time quality control, performing outgoingaudits, in-process audits, on-site quality control, and post-installation evaluations. ''The reason we can produce good quality is because of a driving force from our management and because of a continual employee education programme that stresses the importance of quality,'' he said. ''At AST, quality is defined as: quality of design; quality of manufacturing; quality of performance; and quality of service. All operating departments are accountable for quality as products are designed, manufactured and delivered,'' said Mr Lui. AST's quality management system in Hongkong, which is consistent with the corporate quality system, is planned and implemented through a dedicated quality assurance department. The department reports directly to the managing director of the company and also to the vice-president of corporate quality assurance. The system includes a supplier qualification programme; incoming material inspection procedures; product work-in-process inspection/test; product out-going and out-of-box quality audit; manufacturing procedure adherence control; testing equipment/software control; statistical quality/process control; and component failure analysis and corrective action programme. ''We put a great deal of emphasis on design and built-in quality, and our quality standards are also compliant with the applicable regulatory requirements on the product,'' said Mr Lui. ''Regular quality audits are carried out internally every quarter and on a corporate level twice a year. ''We believe a successful quality management system is a team effort and requires a great deal of employee involvement. ''So far, we have been very successful in instilling quality-consciousness in employees by organising regular seminars to explain the quality concept and workmanship standard, and by holding regular weekly meetings to review and discuss quality problems and solutions,'' he said. ''The most important key to manufacturing quality is the commitment of management. ''Then comes the implementation of quality control measure: a plan, procedures, the control of design discipline, the control of materials flow and the control of supplier channels. ''Certainly, in the past, Asian manufacturing has earned a reputation for shoddy workmanship and cheapness,'' Mr Lui said. ''It has taken time to overcome this perception and some people may still not be convinced. ''However, there can be no doubt that much of the high technology manufacturing that is going on in Asian countries today is equal in quality to that produced by any other country.'' Looking from the marketing perspective, Mr Wong said: ''With around 25 per cent share of Hongkong's desktop and notebook personal computer (PC) market, AST sees its product and support quality as its key competitive advantage. ''With part of our manufacturing operations in Asia, quicker response times and better service and support for customers in this part of the world can be assured.'' Mr Wong said that the most important thing was to support the market. ''The Asia-Pacific region is a fast growing market with lots of potential for growth. AST is very committed to this region.'' Mr Wong added the ISO 9001 certification was a strategic step for AST to maintain its leadership in a highly competitive market place. ''As the world is moving towards a common and standardised quality concept, we will soon see customers demanding the achievement of certain quality benchmarks before making a purchase decision on PCs. ''It's essential that AST stays at the forefront in both technological and quality achievements in anticipation of the future market force and purchase pattern,'' he said.