REV: JANUARY 31, 2002
STEVEN C. WHEELWRIGHT H. KENT BOWEN
Process Control at Polaroid (A)
"Quality was not supposed to go down when we introduced Project Greenlight," noted Bud Rolfs, the manager heading Polaroid's first attempt at operator-based statistical process control (SPC). Although the project's plan was based on sound statistical theories, the data told a different story and people throughout the organization were increasingly concerned. Project Greenlight had recently been implemented at the R2 plant which manufactured instant film, and was intended to cut costs while maintaining and even improving product quality. Selling the idea of operator-based control had been difficult, requiring education of both upper management and hourly staff. Now it appeared that all the work might have been for naught. By August 1985, with Project Greenlight nearing completion of its implementation phase, audits conducted by quality control (QC) of R2's film showed defect rates 10 times higher than their historical level. At the same time, defect rates measured by production operators had declined to half of their historical level. This information passed quickly through the ranks at R2, where many people already felt that the Greenlight project team had sacrificed quality in order to save money. Rolfs believed that these results were not indicative of lower quality, but verifying that position and convincing plant personnel and upper management of it would be a challenge. Moreover, the Greenlight team still had to convince all R2 personnel that quality products came from processes that were "in control and capable," not from "tweaking" machines to produce an acceptable product. Almost everyone in the plant was accustomed to a volume philosophy wherein machine utilization was top priority. Changing that mindset was proving to be especially difficult.
In 1985, as throughout its history, Polaroid's main line of business was instant photography. The Consumer Photography Division and the Technical and Industrial Division each accounted for approximately 40% of Polaroid revenues in 1984. Both divisions' sales of instant cameras and film were down in 1984, mostly due to the impact of a strong U.S. dollar on overseas sales and earnings. (International sales accounted for 40% of Polaroid's $1.3 billion in revenues and 60% of its profits.) Exhibit 1 shows selected financial data. Edwin H. Land, Polaroid's founder, revolutionized the photographic industry in 1948 with the development of the Polaroid camera. Since that time, Polaroid had led the instant photography market. By the mid-1970s, it offered two basic types of instant film: peel-apart and integral (see ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ This case was prepared by Professors Steven Wheelwright and H. Kent Bowen. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management.
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Process Control at Polaroid (A)
Exhibit 2). Both film types used similar technologies: opening the camera's shutter produced an image on a film negative; then, as the film was removed from the camera, a chemical reagent was activated which developed the image onto the photographic...