Zero Defects

Zero Defects
March 28, 2018

In the days of World War II aircraft design and production, minor defects were tolerated in order to speed production lines and put planes into service faster. The defects could be addressed during routine repair and maintenance. But as the space age dawned, complex, multi-stage rockets did not return to the hangar for repairs. The rockets that would carry satellites—and later, human beings—into orbit offered only one chance to get it right. One defect would be one too many.

It was at the Martin Company’s Orlando plant that a far-reaching and influential program would be born: Zero Defects, the granddaddy of nearly every quality control program in the world.

One of the plant’s first jobs was the production of the first Pershing missile for the United States Army. Philip Crosby was the quality control manager on the Pershing missile program, and he established the four principles of Zero Defects:

  1. Quality is conformance to requirements,
  2. Defect prevention is preferable to quality inspection and correction,
  3. Zero Defects is the quality standard, and
  4. Quality is measured in monetary terms—the Price of Nonconformance.

Put simply, it’s better to do it right the first time than to have to correct mistakes later. Crosby’s standards were credited with a 25 percent reduction in the Pershing missile program’s overall rejection rate and a 30 percent reduction in scrap costs. Zero Defects meant a better product, produced more economically.

The Martin Company offered Zero Defects freely to all other aerospace companies and, years later, it was adopted by automobile manufacturers around the world.

Zero Defects was the guiding principle behind Martin Marietta’s work on the Titan rocket series, which propelled NASA’s Gemini astronauts into orbit over ten months in 1965 and 1966. The end result was a program that launched ten manned missions and had a 100 percent success rate—a feat unmatched in space travel before or since.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Crosby, Philip. Crosby’s 14 Steps to Improvement. American Society for Quality, Dec. 2005.
  • Gunston, Bill. Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World’s Rockets and Missiles.
  • Halpin, James F. Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.
  • Harwood, William B. Raise Heaven and Earth. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  • Distinguished by Whole-Systems Thinking and Action