In the year 1991, Dr Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister of India, introduced economic reforms that ushered in the era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. A whole new set of policies on international trade and investment, tax reforms and deregulation were introduced.
As the Indian industries opened up to scrutinising foreign investors, the quality of products manufactured across all sectors became very crucial to the Indian companies. It soon became clear that in order to survive in an open market and meet the customers’ expectations, they had to manufacture quality products. That is when the relevance and importance of quality testing departments first emerged.
Quality testing in electronics has since then become a common practice. From personal computers to home appliances, car components and industrial electronics, quality testing is part of every manufacturing business. Before any product is sold, it is required to undergo testing and quality control. It is the quality testing professionals who carry out these tests and approve of a product’s compliance to set quality standards.
According to Anil Bali, vice president, Deki Electronics, “The role of quality testing professionals is to assure product quality by strictly adhering to the standardised organisational norm. They must ensure that the desired product quality is maintained during the product’s processing stage as well as at the time of its final release. They are also responsible for carrying out the Six Sigma activity in the Six Sigma activities in a company combine the use of quality management techniques with statistical data to identify the causes of defects in a product and remove the defects.
Quality testing professionals are required to constantly analyse the data available to them, and compile test results to make recommendations to product developers and quality assurance professionals in order to better the “Quality testing professionals do online inspection of processes and monitor incoming material. They are also responsible for inspection of the outgoing products from the factory. The key focus is to prevent defective products from going to customers, and control and prevent defects in the process,” says N.P. Manjunath, senior general manager, Hical Technologies.
Where to begin
Quality management and testing techniques are offered as optional modules in all graduate-level engineering courses. Lately, a few
“Based on their products and processes, companies have specific requirements for quality testing professionals and hire accordingly.”
— N.P. Manjunath, senior general manager, Hical Technologies
universities have started offering postgraduate degree courses specifically in quality management and testing techniques through distance learning programmes. The Indian Institute of Quality Management (IIQM), Jaipur, under the Standardised, Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) directorate has been conducting a two-year distance-learning postgraduate programme in quality management in collaboration with Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, since 1998. Nearly a thousand candidates have passed out till date from the institute that works under the Department of Information Technology, Government of India, informs A.K. Malik, director, Indian Institute of Quality Management (IIQM). The eligibility criterion is the same as applicable to any other management course, Malik adds.
Who should opt for it
Candidates who wish to pursue quality testing as profession should have a quantitative, analytical aptitude.
“One must have full knowledge of the process and product, as well as quality tools.”
— Anil Bali, vice president, Deki Electronics
They should be able to reason mathematical problems, and, at the same time, must be observant to pick a quality related issue and brainstorm over it to find its fix.
However, quality testing is not so simple. People who wish to pursue it also need to be technically sound and equipped with a host of knowledge on test and measurement equipment, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), data analysis methods and engineering models.
“Generally, a quality testing professional in an electronics manufacturing company is required to prevent non-conforming raw materials from going to the shop floor, prevent dispatch of non-conforming products to the customers, and develop and implement innovative approaches to improve yields by use of quality tools like Six Sigma (reduction of defects) and DOE (design of experiments). Thus one must have full knowledge of the process and product, as well as quality tools like seven tools of quality control, DOE and Six Sigma, standards and measurement systems. A successful candidate must also have experience of working on standards like ISO 9001:2008 and TS 16949,” says Bali.
Not to forget the soft skills
Quality testing is not restricted to the technical aspects of testing and quality management alone. Over the years, the profession has grown much beyond its immediate scope. Quality testing professionals in any industry today are expected to be able to communicate effectively the need of maintaining quality standards in an organisation on an ongoing basis. They are in charge of constantly negotiating with and making their peers and seniors understand how important it is to meet customer satisfaction and deliver quality products. So managerial skills are as important as technical qualifications.
“A candidate fit for this field would be someone who is not only able to apply knowledge and technical skills appropriately but also has the personal attributes of a good auditor,” adds Malik.
Based on their products and processes, companies have specific requirements for quality testing professionals and hire accordingly. If there are 25-30 people working on a particular product line, there has to be one quality inspector for the in-process, says Manjunath. For instance, Noida-based Deki Electronics, which offers film capacitor solutions, has a team of three final inspectors to monitor quality—one executive, one senior manager and one person at the post of a general manager.
“The average salary of a fresh recruit is between Rs 120,000 per annum and Rs 200,000 per annum,” informs Bali.
“A candidate fit for this field would be someone who is not only able to apply knowledge and technical skills appropriately but also has the personal attributes of a good auditor.”
— A.K. Malik, director, Indian Institute of Quality Management (IIQM)
Quality management is very similar to any other management course, says Malik. “And students generally get placed in the quality department of any manufacturing/service industry. Salary package in this field is almost the same as applicable to other fields of management,” he adds.
Like most careers, training is important for career advancement in the field of quality testing too. In fact, successful quality management and testing professionals are known to have under-gone on-the-job trainings consistently in their careers. They need to equip themselves with the latest happenings in certifications and accreditations schemes and also keep abreast of the latest quality management standards and requirements.
Most companies prefer to train their employees while they work on a particular product line. “We provide training on processes, products, measurement systems, quality tools, documentation, etc. The main advantage of having employees trained in-house is that we can transfer our own expertise and knowledge of customer-specific requirements directly to the employees,” says Bali.
Standardised, Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate, under government of India’s Department of Information Technology, conducts a number of training programmes for quality testing professionals in the country.
“Training programmes are much sought after by the industry, and having them on their CVs gives candidates an added advantage.”
— G.C. Saxena, director, STQC Directorate
“Training programmes are much sought after by the industry, and having them on their CVs gives candidates an added advantage,” says G.C. Saxena, director, STQC Directorate.
What the future beholds
There is little doubt that the field of quality management and testing will continue to grow and become popular in the industry. Concepts such as Six Sigma (reduction in defects), JIT (just in time) and lean manufacturing have further cemented the role of a quality tester in a company. Product quality is the main focus now. Many customers have learnt and started demanding from their suppliers improved product quality so that they can reduce the cost of ensuring quality in their own operations as well as ensure good productivity, says Bali.
“Candidates must look at those areas of the organisations which have scope for improvement and take up quality improvement projects for improving the quality of product or service, reducing the defects or wastage and minimising the cost of quality, leading to more productivity/profitability and satisfaction of all the stakeholders of the organisation,” advises Malik.
A few experts believe that aerospace and medical sectors are going to be hot grounds for quality testing professionals in the near future. And as said earlier, it is no longer sufficient to be well versed with technical information alone; a successful quality and testing professional must have a formal technical education, should be willing to undergo training sessions at regular intervals and must constantly brush-up his soft skill sets.
As the Indian electronics manufacturing industry is becoming obsessed with quality products that could compete globally, proficient quality testing professionals have much to look forward to in the years to come.