An entertaining discussion so far. Let me add a little to the discussion. I
think I may have some qualifications that are unique here - I co-author a
pretty popular manufacturing textbook, and quality is part of Chapter 16. ;)
The modern concept of quality is pretty advanced, but remember that the WWII
generation did not benefit from the ideas of Deming or Taguchi. The engineers
at the time did have some tools like control charts and the like (but not
often), and nothing like six sigma or anything. They didn't need it. The key
to manufacturing in the 1940s was production, not quality. (An emphasis that
persisted well into the 1970s.) All countries tried hard to mass produce
goods. No one tried to have quality programs like we think of them today. So
at the very beginning we have to recognize that we're imposing our worldview,
and quality expectations we have didn't exist at the time.
Production in the 1940s was *hard*. No CNC machine tools, no computer
controls, no continuous casters, limited polymer and ceramics options, etc.
(Parsons didn't do his work until the 1950s. Ernst and Merchant were 1950's
too. Vinodagrova was 1949. Manufacturing science was not developed. Don't
take for granted that everyone knew how to mass produce products, even what
we'd call low quality products.)
The other problem is that people are confusing quality with performance or
cutting-edge technology. Performance is easier to quantify (which plane was
faster, which tank had better armor, etc.). Arguing which designs are
technically advanced is fun, but not related to manufacturing quality.
Reliability could be quantified statistically (but no one here is trying to
do so, only reporting on heresay that probably relates more to performance).
Also, quality is more than just reliability or the number of defects
produced. A high quality product is one that (Taguchi philosophy):
e Delights the customer
e Is available in the quantities desired when needed
e Is low-cost
e Functions reliably from birth to death
e Has no variation in its performance (all members of a population should
function well, not some great and others badly).
e Is robust (not sensitive to the surrounding environment)
e Is upgradeable
e Looks good
If you think about your favorite products, they probably satisfy more of
these requirements than your less-favored products. But a Porsche 911 and a
Honda Accord can both be classified as high quality, which makes sense. Hey,
Taguchi is a sharp guy.
It is rare that a product (or weapons system) fulfills all of these
requirements. Some weapons were better than others. For example, the German
jet fighters certainly delighted the pilots, but were never available in the
quantities desired when needed. The Sherman tanks arguably fit the definition
better, even if they didn't compete with Tigers (when they functioned) in 1:1
Maybe the original query didn't really intend to discuss manufacturing
quality. Maybe I'm reading too much into this. But I think people are talking
about technology when the question was about quality.
As for WWII production on a national basis, I think it would be really
fascinating if some historian tried to analyze this. Apply methods like the
loss function, quality function development, house of quality, etc., to
whatever data can be found. I think such data may not exist anymore, but it
would be fascinating if the data could be found. Right now, we just can give
(entertaining) arguments about what we think was coolest.
I suspect that the highest quality weapons system was the atomic bomb; it
fulfilled just about all of the quality requirements. But the sample space is
small; hard to have confidence in the reliability statistics. ;)
My hunch, though, is that by modern standards, quality for every country was
abysmal. Just think of your favorite WWII tank - which of these did it
satisfy? Now think of the M-1. Maybe it's not cheap enough, but it does
better than the WWII era tanks at fulfilling all of the quality criterion.
Personally, I'd love to keep reading opinions about quality in WWII. I of
course can't force you to restrict your definition, I'm just hoping that some
of you can think of quality as we understand it today to make your posts that
much more enjoyable to me.
Thanks in advance, and Best Regards,
Steven R. Schmid
Post by David Thornley
Post by mrbill
Russia equipment was generally crude but they produced lots of it. If
a T-34 broke down there were 5 more to replace it. Soviet quality
(probably never great) suffered by the huge disruption and massive
Another thing to consider is the Soviet attitude.
In the Soviet Union, a tank only had to last six months. If, by accident,
it survived that long, it could always be replaced. The Soviets were
pretty ruthless in their design, to try to make functional weapons and
vehicles and such with minimum resources.
Of course, the quota system characteristic of crude centrally planned
economies didn't help. If a factory was tasked with producing five
hundred trucks, then five hundred trucks would be produced, whether of
usable quality or not.
Post by mrbill
German quality has always been excellent but it took a nose dive as the
war went on. In particular, employing slave labour with a vested
interest in sabotaging the production had a profound affect on quality.
Much of the quality was excessive. An engineer friend of mine looked
over German equipment, and found that much of it was of the highest
standards, with a good many resources used to give them a very nice,
but militarily useless, finish. (US manufacturing came between German
and Soviet in this regard, and as the US had more and better tools to
begin with, the US could produce somewhat higher-quality stuff without
undue labor or expense.)
Of course, some things were low-quality to start with. German torpedos
had serious problems early in the war, and Bismarck fired apparently
low-quality shells. She hit Prince of Wales something like ten times
without a full shell detonation.
Post by mrbill
Il Duce had no business sending men off to fight with the equipment
they had. It's a bit surprising to me as Italian machine tool equipment
is top notch at present.
Some Italian weapons were ridiculous, some well-designed. Most of it,
in 1940, was obsolescent at best. Late war Italian fighters, with German
engines, were excellent.
Italy was waging war beyond its means, and when quantity goes up too
much, quality suffers.
Post by mrbill
Until the 60s the Japanese had a reputation for horrible quality. As
their supply lines were cut and their cities bombed their quality could
only become worse. I suspect that few aircraft even came close to the
performance figures typically cited.
The Japanese had other problems.
The honorable thing to do was to fight; specifically, to attack. This
meant that manufacturing war materiel was not a particularly honorable
or highly thought-of activity. Any attempt at mass-production would
generally be undermined by feature change requests from the front.
After all, if the warriors want something, the mere workers should
It wasn't until well after WWII that the Japanese finally realized
that making things could be important.
David H. Thornley | If you want my opinion, ask.
http://www.thornley.net/~thornley/david/ | O-