Getting It Right

A China-based American Operation Manger's Perspective on Improving Quality.

SCSG is a group fabricator cooperative with three AISC certified vendors. Our facilities have ISO 9001 Quality Management Certificates, domestic quality certificates, steel structure association plaques, and engineering organization memberships. We have a comprehensive operational manual, and very detailed procedures. We use teams of internal quality monitors and third party inspectors to oversee our AWS fabrication processes.

You may think that says enough about what we do, but it just isn’t so. I have walked the factory floors thousands of times with client quality inspectors. We check fabrication quality, drill-hole locations, web cope radiuses, tack welding, fit-up, and process welding. We check weld access holes, triple-check drawings, inspect galvanizing, take notes, compare thoughts and further dissect our fabrication specifications. At the end of the day settle with a punch-list of quality issues that need to be resolved in order to release the products for shipment. It is this daily punch-list that magnifies quality, or the lack of it.

Real quality control has nothing to do with certificates, stamps or handshakes; it has to do with people. In China, there are no powerful labor unions banding workers together and fighting for key issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions. There are no mediators negotiating work rules, fielding complaints or explaining the rules that govern hiring and firing. There are no booklets promoting worker’s benefits, workplace safety and other policies that would help maintain or improve the conditions of their employment. This lack of organization, especially in the private sector, allows for decreased wages and diminished worker morale over a broad sector.

It is obvious that many sourcing managers perceive a certain quality and value already exists in outsourced commodities instead of this value being added to them through labor; and this is where the effects of labor are misunderstood. Fabricated steel is a product of labor and the finished quality reflects the human social relations embodied in its production and exchange. The steel appears to be very trivial and easily understood, but there it is a social relationship between the steel itself and the men who fabricate it.

As an American working in China, I am faced with the challenging task of implementing procedures, managing quality, and shipping on time. I can do none of this without the support of my workers. Foreign managers have a tough enough time because they are outsiders, but this same difference creates opportunities for change. Taking an interest in the occupational health, welfare, and general well being of my workers goes a long way. Although our workers do not earn the same wage as their western counterparts, we are making efforts to improve working conditions and reduce economic hardships. The strategy to improve quality begins with creating an opportunity for young men and women to share in the dream of acquiring material possessions, building homes, raising families, and pursuing higher education.