with quality deficiencies weaken the entire chain and, unless they improve, are vulnerable to being phased out.

Supply chain integration requires that quality be more than a set of abstract standards. Quality must be a systemic way of doing business that is instilled in all participants in the chain. Quality has become critical in supply chains using just-in-time manufacturing with low inventory levels because they have very few buffers to protect against quality failures.

SMEs should not consider quality only as a requirement for continued supply chain participation, but as a strategic capability. SMEs that adopt quality as a competitive strategy are finding that they are better able to weather cyclical swings in their businesses and that their product costs are lower. Thus, SMEs may reap benefits by exceeding the quality levels required by supply chains.

Most integrated supply chains require that participants have a carefully reasoned and executed quality plan that includes concerted efforts to provide levels of quality appropriate to the market being served. Proficient problem identification and problem solving capabilities are fundamental elements of the quality plan. Although six sigma and other quality programs may be of strategic benefit, they can be expensive to implement. Thus, SMEs must carefully target and prioritize improvements in terms of their effect on the company's operational and financial goals, as well as overall business objectives. Delivering a quality product requires, at a minimum, well established and well documented manufacturing processes and controls that meet impartial standards and customer requirements. Six-sigma is one such standard, but other, less exacting standards may be adequate. SMEs are increasingly being required to identify, capture, analyze, and act on process data in conformance with SPC. Many of these requirements are based on quality standards, such as ISO-9000, QS-9000, and ISO-14000.

SMEs should discuss with their supply chain partners how quality improvements can affect the overall performance of the supply chain. Together, the partners should identify and prioritize SME actions that will have the greatest impact on overall supply chain quality, cost, and cycle time and determine how these actions will translate into increased competitiveness and profitability for the SME.

Properly implemented quality procedures can reduce rework, scrap, testing, and inspection and improve on-time deliveries. The result can be substantial savings and fewer schedule variances. For example, in the development and pilot production phases of new electronic products, two new quality techniques, highly-accelerated life testing (HALT) and highly-accelerated stress screening (HASS) have yielded substantial benefits. Although they are somewhat expensive, these techniques have been shown to be effective in debugging new products and identifying

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