Simulating the Complexity of Quality Control

By Milligan, Glenn W.; Zink, Sharon L. et al. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), February 1993 | Go to article overview

Simulating the Complexity of Quality Control


Milligan, Glenn W., Zink, Sharon L., Barkhi, Reza, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Colleges of business face many challenges as they prepare students for leadership roles in U.S. and multinational companies. Not least of these is the difficulty of conveying the complexity of actually running a business--an experience for which textbooks and classroom activities often provide only a poor approximation.

Although all business instructors face this dilemma, it is particularly acute for those who teach manufacturing process control and quality improvement. University classrooms are not the ideal environment in which to learn manufacturing. The exercises in quality control textbooks do not adequately represent the potential difficulty of "bringing the process under control" in an actual manufacturing situation. Furthermore, traditional classroom teaching methods and materials do not encourage the development of the problem-solving and teambuilding skills that are essential in the modern business and manufacturing worlds.

At Ohio State University's College of Business, we have developed an integrated teaching case which solves some of these limitations in our quality management course. The case consists of two companion parts: an extended written case .and a computer simulation. These materials were designed not only to introduce students to a variety of manufacturing process control and improvement strategies, but to foster the development of problem-solving and teambuilding skills as well.

The software simulates a computer integrated manufacturing system at ZBM PCB Inc., a fictitious company that makes printed circuit boards (PCBs). The simulation is supported by a 13,000-word document detailing the company's structure, finances, employees, and manufacturing and distribution activities. Although the simulation is simple to use and explore, the process makes little sense without the background information presented in the written case.

As students read the document, they learn that ZBM PCB Inc. manufactures a variety of electronic and electrical equipment, but that printed circuit boards account for the majority of product sales. About half the orders received by the PCB division are for the full range of PCB services, which includes layout and artwork, production of the etched circuit boards, and the subsequent creation of a PCB by assembling components onto the etched boards.

The particular assembly line described in the case has been perversely nicknamed "the Sunshine System," because its location far back in the building guarantees that no daylight ever reaches it. This is also one of the oldest operating lines in the plant. It first went into operation in 1967 and has been successfully upgraded over time.

Currently, the production line employs 10 people full time. The written case develops the personalities of the management and line employees. They all work well together and frequently socialize off the job. The individuals have varying degrees of skill and technical competency. They are generally dedicated workers attempting to facilitate system operation.

The Sunshine line's fabrication process consists of a sequence of nine manufacturing steps. Details of inventory, preprocessing, circuit etching, postetching, solder mask and circuit image application, component installation, wave soldering, inspection and testing, and packaging and shipping are all described at length in the written document.

* Encouraging Teamwork

The extensive technical information presented about the production process encourages team activities. So many specifications are presented that most individuals cannot read the case in one sitting. No one individual would be able to synthesize the material without several days of extensive study and outlining. With more than 100 control or measurable variables included in the case, the ability of one person to successfully manage the process is rather limited. Thus, there is a natural inclination for students to collaborate with their teammates. …

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