weaknesses that could lead to operational failures. In many cases, these new techniques have been better able to identify problems in advance of full-scale production than previous methods, including MIL Standard tests. Used in conjunction with other quality techniques, such as SPC, HALT and HASS can provide substantial returns on investment.

SPC has advanced beyond its early role as an after-the-fact application of statistics to production and inspection data, when it served primarily as a means of creating a report verifying compliance with customer requirements. Today, SPC can provide opportunities for real-time assessment of manufacturing processes and can enable response to the causes of process variations as they happen. Thus, processes can be adjusted before more nonconforming products are produced. The savings are immediate and quantifiable, not just in direct costs, but also in more timely shipments, improved product quality, and increased customer satisfaction, all of which reflect favorably on SMEs seeking long-term supply chain partnerships.

Participants in a supply chain need a common language to facilitate accurate communication on issues of quality. Because such languages are not universally defined and can vary from chain to chain, quality standards, such as ISO, can be helpful. SMEs may wish to adopt such standards voluntarily.

SME participation in integrated supply chains can facilitate quality improvements through the exchange of ''best practices" among partners, which can enhance understanding and provide examples of proven techniques. More advanced participants in the chain can assist those who are less advanced to adopt and use appropriate quality techniques.

Recommendation. In response to the requirements of integrated supply chains for improved quality, small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises should adopt quality as a competitive strategy and consider implementing techniques, such as six sigma, ISO certification, and statistical process controls, to comply with customer demands, improve overall business performance, and provide a common language for communication on quality issues.

COST AND VALUE

Global bidding on the Internet has forced suppliers in many industries to slash prices dramatically. Costs have always been critical, and in the increasingly global economy it is not unusual for SMEs to find sudden gaps between their prices and the prices of competitors from low-cost areas. The convergence of (1) improvements in high-speed communications, (2) reduced transportation costs, (3) widespread adoption of



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