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Need for Standardization in Pakistan

by Engr. Khaled Qayum

Bible narrates a very interesting story. It talks of people who lived in an area the Bible calls Babble in times of the Prophet Abraham. According to Bible these people were very vile and proud in their ways. They had just learnt the way to bake clay bricks and through these they had come to know how to construct tall towers, which was high technology of the time and they were truly amazed by it. They figured, if they could build high enough towers, they could talk to God.

They started indulging in these ventures. As expected it called upon the wrath of God, WHO confounded them and devised an interesting punishment for them. God unleashed upon them a punishment of multitude of tongues. Hence, HE made it so that no one could understand anyone else. All of them would speak but none would comprehend a word of what the other way saying. It could also be called anarchy of languages, where no single language had superior role to play. Results; there was no communication that could take place. Consequently everyone fled from the scene. Perhaps, etymologically the word, to babble, or to make unintelligible noises finds its roots from the same place BABEL where the incident is supposed to have taken place. This story is mentioned in the Book Called Genesis, chapter Moses of Old Testament.

If we consider Pakistan today, one can draw some very interesting comparisons. Pakistan is probably one of the freest countries of the world on the world map today, where one is free to do anything and get away with it. One really enjoys the sense of freedom, once one touches the shores of our great nation, as one is free to do about anything. Pakistanis are a free spirited nation, and this fact becomes crystal clear event through a casual observation. Just look at the traffic of any busy city. Everyone more or less is free to drive his or her conveyance, be it small or large, whichever way his or her heart desires, in the direction his or her heart desires. It does not matter if the road has the capacity or not, if there is a school zone or not. They will make a U-turn when and wherever they will feel like. It matters not, if the road is supposed to be one way or two ways, for these are all minor details to be fretted over by the minor mortals.

Look at our most popular sport, which at the moment happens to be Cricket. An utter sense of unpredictability seems to reign. In fact Pakistan’s cricket team is known to be the most unpredictable team of the entire cricket playing nations. They can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory anytime, anywhere and vice versa. Our players are expected to do anything anytime, including the act of chewing cricket balls as if it was some kind of fruit or vegetable. The same devil may care attitude is reflected in our politics where we are leas bothered about future. We leave everything to Providence, as if HE the Almighty is employed full time or perhaps over time, in managing our affairs.

A common thread which seems to run through the whole culture is a sense of unpredictability, a form of anarchy which is pervasive in the whole society. While talking about traffic the culture of unpredictability is bearable perhaps, when it comes to the sport event admirable, but when it comes to the industry, the culture of unpredictability and anarchy cannot be appreciated. Gurus of Quality Management tell us that there would not be any variation in the quality of products. The customers and clients expect a consistent level of quality from their products and services. Customers abhor anarchy which permeates our society it seems rather unavoidable. This unpredictability need to be changed.

The question arises, why so? What is the important of quality in the industry? An again why the industry?

The answers are simple yet complex. Our economy is no longer agrarian. It is now a mixture of service, manufacturing and agriculture. With the advances in technology the share of agriculture is bound to change.  It will decrease. The share of manufacturing will increase and that will further lead to an increase to in service sector. The role of technology is going to be central. The technology has to be focused on providing solutions for local problems. We cannot work on imported solutions, as the imported solutions cannot work. For one they are expensive, and, secondly they do not work out in the long run.

What is the role of industry; the next question?

The answer is that as a nation, we need to trade. No nation in this world can survive in absence of trade. In order to trade a nation has to have tradable surplus which the others have a desire for. Furthermore, whatever we intend to export, products or services, must be of consistent quality, i.e. it should meet or exceed the expectations of its customers consistently. Hence, the unpredictability which has permeated in our life has to be curtailed.

So, what is the problem?

This takes us back to the original biblical story we started with. We have people who speak in too many tongues, few who can understand and comprehend. We have parts which are imported from a variety of countries, but they do not fit, as they specifications are different. And there is an utter lack of control. There again seems to be some sort of anarchy. The problem being faced in the country lack of standardization, which as an engineer one is confronted with on almost daily basis.

Comparing Pakistan with advanced industrialized nations one notices a lack of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturing) industry. This is a big hurdle. OEM are people who are making small machine parts which feed into the larger machines. These parts are standardized parts and one can buy them off the shelf. The manufacturer publishes the specs in product catalogues and these are available for a variety of OEM manufacturers. This enables the larger machine manufacturer say a washing machine, an air conditioner, or photo copier manufacturer to focus just on the critical parts and design of the machine, while rest of the equipment can be bought off the shelf. This situation in Pakistan reminds me of a conversation I had with a Russian Engineer in early eighties when he described that in spite of enormous resources Soviet industry could not compete with the Western industry. The reason were the same. One they were not allowed to trade with the rest of the world, second, there was non existing OEM industry. As a result if a machine had to be made, the Russian engineers, although they were competent, had to design and manufacture the whole machine from the scratch. This made the costs too prohibitive. Only place where they could compete was defense industry and that too at a very high cost.

What could be the simple examples of current situations in Pakistan? Examples are far too many. Take for example false ceilings which one finds everywhere. The false ceiling tiles are specified in one unit and are imported from one country, whereas, the strips which hold them are specified in another and are imported from another. Consider the locks which are used on our doors, almost all of them are built or imported based on different standards. Consider something as basic as nuts and bolts, even there are different standards prevailing in the country for them. There is no single standard even for nuts and bolts in the country. Imagine the mass confusion it causes each time something has to be built or designed. Life would be so much simpler if they could be specified or standardized to be same and manufactured in large quantities. They would be far cheaper too.  Take a look at steel sheets, which are specified in Kg/feet, i.e. units which do not match at all. So on and so forth. These kind of problems are endemic to the industry in Pakistan. They are basic and need to be addressed.

There is also a need for independent industrial laboratories whose results can be trusted. These are sorely needed today. Just like we have many medical labs who provide trust worthy results. Similar labs are required for the industry. Many a times while using an imported household product such as a steam iron or any other gadget, one notices a sign saying UL printed on the products. It represents the product was tested by Underwriter Lab of the USA and found to trustworthy, i.e. it meets the specifications as advertised by the manufacturer. We need such an institution in this country also to safeguard the interests of our consumers and industry alike.

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