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Process control at Polaroid

Polaroid’s R2 factory at Waltham, Massachusetts manufactures integral film. Project Greenlight, an initiative to make quality control process more effective, has been introduced at the R2 building of Polaroid during the first six months of 1985. The Project aims to reduce quality-monitoring costs while maintaining or even improving upon the present level of product quality. The conceptualizers of the Project, George Murray and Joe O Leary, hoped to devise a method to make quality control process more effective, beyond merely reducing the number of samples taken.

Project Greenlight had three key elements.  Statistical process control principles would be adopted: processes in control and capable of producing within specifications would produce more consistent quality. Production operators would be given the process control tools that the process-engineering technicians had been using and, in conjunction with sampling, would be expected to make disposition decisions themselves. Quality control auditors would concentrate on training operators and operationalizing specifications on new products.

Project Greenlight is an effort to shift the film production plant from a traditional Quality Control inspection mentality to a worker based process control mentality. Responsibility for quality control was now placed more with the production operators and less with the QC auditors. The idea was to standardize processes

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so that the defects could be identified at the nascent stage, i.e. by detecting variability in the process, and thus correctional measures could be taken early on. Thus a machine operating outside the control limits could be stopped immediately and maintenance or recalibration of the machine could be undertaken.

Project Greenlight was implemented with a view to stop operators from “tweaking” (adjusting) machines based on their judgment by standardizing procedures. However, post implementation there were some operational and organizational issues that came to light. The Quality Control auditors did not trust the Operators in honestly identifying and reporting defectives. They believed that since the operators were primarily concerned with high yield, they would overlook defects in the products.

A similar feeling was also predominant amongst the operators with regards to their neighbours. This concern was reflected in the rise in defective rate (from 1% to 10%) identified by the Quality Control auditors whereas the defective rate reported by the assembly operators fell from 1% to 0.5%. The types of defects and proportions identified by the QC auditors and the assembly operators also varied. The process engineering section leader, Bud Rolfs believed that the assembly operators were sampling and testing more units than they were recording and were adjusting machines based on these unrecorded data, i.e. “tweaking” of machines based on personal judgment still existed.v

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