QRQC: how to make Quick Response and Quality Control part of your teamwork?

When you think of lean systems, you’re likely going to think of Toyota’s Just-in-time model, one of the most popular approaches to agile manufacturing developed in the past several decades. But frameworks are never limited to just the one way that a company developed. Throughout the history of lean management, other firms have developed their own internal systems to better address context-specific issues. Nissan is one of these companies, developing their QRQC as part of the lean ecosystem growing in popularity. 

The QRQC or Quick Response Quality Control is meant to be a tool that helps you organize your firm’s response to quality control issues within internal processes. It’s essentially a management approach focused on detecting problems, strategizing methods of solving them, and creating a log of all these different steps to allow other stakeholders to benefit from the finished process. It’s not a technical tool by any means and likely works better in conjunction with other systems in place to better address some of the more granular points like data management and statistical analysis.

Lean Systems and QRQC’s History

QRQC is in an interesting spot when it comes to lean systems as it is one of the more niche frameworks currently available. Publications have yet to fully cover the application of QRQC in different firms beyond its initial development in Nissan and its subsequent spread toward the French markets, covering automotive and aerospace businesses. Still, it might benefit those looking for alternative frameworks within the Lean Ecosystem to better fit their own respective processes.

History of QRQC’s Initial Development

As a design engineer for Nissan, it was Kazuo Kawashima who brought the QRQC to life during his tenure at the company. QRQC’s development is largely attributed to the young Japanese engineer, who had been transferred to different branches around the company and at the time worked in Nissan’s Kyushu plant while managing the manufacturing of key automotive parts (transmission and general assembly) at four Nissan Plants in the Americas. 

It was during this time that Kawashima had begun his work toward what would be the nascent stages of the QRQC’s current model. His focus was on the fractured and at times filtered information that would arrive from management to line assemblers at specific plants he would visit. By the time the key information and strategies were passed, the problem was likely to have been sidelined or grown to another level, requiring even more resources and time to manage. 

At the Kyushu plant, Kawashima observed the “silo” organizational structure that was present in the current operations, which focused on a bureaucratic and hierarchical process in achieving even the most basic resource requests within the plant. This resulted in a lack of peer-to-peer collaboration, which was integral to solving problems closest to where they would occur (known as the Point of Occurrence, or POO). In his view, a manufacturing plant like this should utilize the best and most relevant skills to act with ownership regarding the problem at hand rather than necessitate a top-down approach with approvals and red tape. 

The QRQC model was then developed internally at Nissan, which specific plants utilizing the model to better adapt to issues they find on the manufacturing floor.

Adoption to Different Regions and Industries

It wasn’t too long until even the top leadership within Nissan began to take notice of the improved performances that Kawashima’s plants resulted in. Former CEO Carlos Ghosn looked to the engineer to continue the quality of work he was doing in the selection of the next set of suppliers for Nissan's automotive assembly. As so happens, a supplier that he connected with was French auto parts manufacturer Valeo, which took on Kawashima as the newest addition to their process management team to implement QRQC within the firm in 2002. 

From here, further success with one French automotive caught even more attention from different firms, which necessitated the assistance of a former colleague by the name of Kiichiro Sato to help implement the QRQC structure to better success. Sato made a few changes to the foundational structure, developing the QRCI, or “Quick Response, Continuous Improvement” approach which focuses on a more holistic manufacturing practice. 

Even separate industries apart from automotive benefitted from the QRQC framework, with interest being generated in the aerospace industry, specifically Groupe Safran. While implementation differences abound between the two industries, key concepts still proved to be useful in theory, so QRQC held promise in its application to even more industries beyond automotive.

What is QRQC?

As we’ve touched on briefly, the QRQC is a system of different stages that allow managers and product owners to better respond to issues arising from a production line. As a managerial tool, it’s meant to shed light on both quality and other relevant issues that may arise and affect production as a whole. This means keeping in mind situations around the production line, which can be viewed either on a real-time basis, on specific cycle periods, or on a daily basis, involving a rotating door of different stakeholders. 

Real-time QRQC requires each production manager, operator, or owner, to detect any issues (and potential issues) that can affect the production line, be it on the entire process or on any specific work item. This setup is ideal for those looking to have a response system in place to attack these issues at the point of occurrence and will need frequent quality checkpoints in place to achieve this. Daily or cycle-based QRQC is similar in execution, but will instead provide solutions based on daily check-ins and analysis. 

Also, instead of a hierarchical and management-focused system, the QRQC aims to address the problem by leveraging those closest to the issue itself and are most equipped to deal with it. Essentially, this becomes a grass-roots system, similar to Toyota’s manufacturing, that focuses on worker input and feedback to be escalated upwards toward the operational managers. 

The Goals of QRQC

QRQC’s main goals are similar to other Lean Frameworks that are being utilized in different manufacturing perspectives. First, a key aspect of why QRQC is valuable as it aims to prevent any defective or problematic items move downstream in the production line. Essentially this avoids problems two-fold: avoiding these issues arising in the first place, and if they do, avoiding them affecting the entire process as a result. 

Next, the problems are made much more visible to the entire operational management team, allowing for easier and more adaptive solutions to be developed on the spot, either through real-time or period-based QRQC. Awareness and understanding of the problem is a factor that QRQC attempts to incorporate as well, with each operator being keenly aware of the process in its completion. 

Despite being initially developed for the automotive industry, QRQC is technically applicable to any production line that has a sequence of operations that can be properly identified and standardized. The volume of activities and contexts of the production will still matter in the actual implementation of the QRQC model, but all this necessitates is adjustments to specific structures and the executing aspects of the model. The core concepts should remain fairly standard throughout. 

The Main Six Aspects of QRQC

In an effort to better understand QRQC, you can look toward the Lean Management principles that have guided the different frameworks within the system. As we mentioned, the main goals are to eradicate any possible incident, improve productivity, and make everyone accountable for the production. An additional dimension we haven’t touched on yet is the consumer expectations for the product, which shapes production lines in a similar feedback fashion as well. 

In applying QRQC, it’s important to focus on the key facts and figures that are present in the problem itself. Avoid hypothesizing and generating intangible assumptions as this model works best with actionable data points. A good overarching framework for approaching this can be laid out in six stages:

  1. Identify the problem point of occurrence and begin observations. 
  2. Analyze all the different factors contributing to the issues, both those that keep the problem from occurring further and those that enable it. 
  3. Discuss with stakeholders, both internal and external, regarding actionable data points that can be used in your analysis. 
  4. Deliver a response to the end-user on how this problem will be addressed. 
  5. Keep your information logical and based on pragmatic approaches in addressing root causes. 
  6. Share your findings with others to log your changes and acquire feedback from them. 

The QRQC is essentially a self-checking and critical-thinking intensive procedure that examines issues, factors, and solutions, almost in parallel. Similar to double-loop learning, this model focuses on the deeper causal aspects of the problem in an effort to mitigate their level of occurrence once more.

Applying QRQC

Whether you’re looking to apply a real-time or period-based QRQC system, you’ll want to start with your plant production manager as well as each production touch point that affects the process (such as quality checker and assembly line technicians). Any issues and defects should be reported immediately to the appropriate line manager so that the managerial team can react in a timely and informed way. You can utilize the following steps to better understand the process in execution based on advice by Humanperf, a software management resource:

  1. Data Entry and Information Sharing. Final inspection captures the abnormalities and defects that escaped the production process and the quality checks and enters them into the information system in real-time for communication to all departments.
  2. Preparation of QRQC Meeting. Participants in the QRQC meeting decide what to report at the meeting based on slicing and dicing the data, analyzing and identifying trends from all operations, and final inspection.
  3. The QRQC Meeting. Supervisors and members of the support departments meet for 30 to 40 minutes every morning to (1) share news — including items other than quality — (2) assign responsibility for countermeasures, (3) track the progress of countermeasures, and (4) confirm their effectiveness. They confirm the results for yesterday’s problems and issue instructions for today’s. They document the decisions in forms like the “Quality Improvement Know-how Sheet” or the “Status Report Sheet” for sharing.
  4. Analysis and implementation of countermeasures. Following the directions of the QRQC meeting, the representatives from each department analyze the defects and devise countermeasures. For abnormalities and defects caused by product or process design rather than the production line, a lead time of a week is allowed to define the countermeasures.
  5. Ensuring durable countermeasures. You incorporate them into the work instructions and update other master data as needed.

Limitations of the QRQC Method

As we mentioned previously, the QRQC method will require a lot of tinkering with the systems currently in place and essentially overhauls production to better fit a system of design that can better address problems at the point of occurrence. Without the willingness of the organization at large or the autonomy to approach processes as full owner, it will be difficult to truly materialize the benefits of the QRQC Method. 

What can be helpful, however, are the different dimensions and tactics that the method does use to better address process management issues. Looking toward some of the theoretical aspects of the model and applying it to your business can be helpful without having to overhaul the processes that you’re looking to improve. What’s more, is that these strategies can have “soft versions” where techniques and thinking can be interwoven into the current structures in place. Whatever route you decide to take, remember that the QRQC won’t be the one-stop solution for the entire business but is likely a key tool to use to identify hurdles and solve them along the way. 

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