To pursue quality is to aspire to perfection. But the quest for perfection is unending. No matter how good you make something, it can always be made better. The ideal of perfection is humbling but not defeating.
For, although perfection can never be attained, excellence can be. We can set high standards and strive to meet them. In manufacturing, tolerances represent these standards of excellence as applied to workpieces, for example. Measurement allows us to determine if those standards of excellence have been met. When they are, it is reason to be proud. Yet there is no room for haughtiness—tolerances may be even tighter the next time.
The pursuit of excellence is what gives manufacturing the potential to gratify the human soul. When the work is worthwhile and when it is done well, the effort is satisfying and fulfilling. It is truly creative. Many workers, however, are deprived of a share in the vision of the finished product's goodness and integrity. They see only certain parts and those parts may not be associated in any clear way with what the finished goods are good for.
There can be no imagining how the end product might save a life, win a war, ease a burden, transport great loads, or spread good news. This sightlessness is the cruelest aspect of the mechanized factory and the starkest contrast with the craftsman's workshop or the artist's studio. The craftsman is enlivened by, and the artist driven by, the prospect of bringing into being some good thing—a sturdy but graceful chair perhaps, or a heroic statue. The image of these workpieces pleases the mind's eye even before a single tool has touched the raw material.
To some extent, moving inspection responsibilities to the shop floor returns a degree of control to those who actually handle the tools or run the machines. At least satisfaction can be derived from seeing that tolerances are kept or that specs are met. That may make a job tolerable, even welcome, but how can it nourish the individual's humanity? What is the excellence that the worker experiences and enjoys?
Manufacturing in this country has made great strides in revamping its approaches to quality assurance. Product excellence and "Made In America" go together as never before. The next great quality initiative must be to assure that achieving excellence in the factory or shop truly uplifts the characters of those committed to the effort.