Quality

Last week in this space we wrote of Secretary of State George Shultz's stress on setting the objective of ''expansion'' for the new year. Today we add the objective of ''quality.''

Quality in man-made goods, yes. But, as noted before, there are opportunities for expanding horizons of thought and experience beyond the economic growth meant by Mr. Shultz. And there are opportunities for quality to be expressed in many ways beyond the car door that shuts like a safe or the computer chip that does what it is supposed to do.

Almost every product is being tested by higher standards as today's so-called quality revolution proceeds. The business goes to suppliers of what is referred to as high repeatable quality.

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How to attain high repeatable quality? Japan, once synonymous with cheap foreign merchandise, has offered some answers. In part it has drawn on the statistical quality control brought to Japan by an American, W. Edwards Deming, whose ideas have more recently gained attention from firms in his own country.

Indeed, US manufacturers of some electronics products (TV sets, semiconductors) have challenged Japanese quality more than many Americans may realize. Quality pays all around, as in the example of a computer printer company: It improved the quality of its printer and sold it at a higher price. When service costs were considered, the quality printer meant lower total outlay for the buyer. Sales went up by four times.

Much of the credit for quality in Japan is given to the attitude of workers. They handle much of the monitoring to which large US firms may assign hundreds of inspectors.

But a recent report from Japan tells of new stress on spreading quality control from the factory floor to the board room. ''Total quality control'' is applied to a company's management, distribution, and even on into the plants of supplier firms. American, European, and Southeast Asian managers are studying the technique. One French visitor noted, ''If we don't do something to match it, we'll be in trouble soon.''

The new drive for quality in the United States is affecting all corporate levels. The American gift for voluntary association has reemerged in groups of small companies joining to improve their quality control through shared expertise they could not afford on their own.

Many American firms, of course, as well as many managers and many workers have always sought quality. But they have sometimes been lonely in the midst of an acceptance of the shoddy, whether in merchandise, services, or attitudes.

Quality of attitude, as any do-it-yourselfer could testify, enhances quality of product. Or byproduct, one might say. Because the quality of the thing produced is often a result of attaining a broader goal, quality of thought.

No limits confine this objective. It is up to individuals how far they want to enrich themselves through information, study, spiritual insight, through the love which demands the effort to see from another's point of view.

The quality of goods is a mere token of the deeper quality revolution that can provide a climate for excellence in every human endeavor.

Quality of personal relationship. Quality of citizenship, local, national, international. Quality of outlook. In sum: quality of life, that noble aspiration which always threatens to be confused with comfortable materialism.

With both expansion and quality on the agenda for 1983, it could be a very good year.

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