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Ruth Ibarra and the Role of Quality Assurance

Ruth Ibarra was the supervisor of quality inspection in the environmental testing area. She began working in quality assurance (QA) in May of 1984. QA was responsible for certifying that appropriate procedures were followed in the testing of the chips. Because she was constantly in the environmental testing area, Ibarra knew Margaret Goodearl and her supervisor, Donald LaRue well. It was natural, then, for Ibarra and Goodearl to talk with each other regularly about how testing was proceeding.

Every hybrid chip had to come through QA for initial screening tests (e.g., is the paperwork correct? does it correspond to the chip to which it is attached?) before being sealed. If any rework (for instance, resealing the chips) was to be done on the hybrids, they had to pass through QA again for further screening tests where the circuitry of the hybrid was compared to the circuitry of an illustrated model. Finally, QA gave the paperwork of each part the final inspection to verify that they had all been done properly before the hybrids were sent to the customer.

Ruth Ibarra's job in QA was to watch over the proceedings in the environmental testing area. She supervised the QA people who did the initial checks and who did the final checks on the paperwork before the chips left environmental testing. In the process of walking around in among her workers, Ibarra's job was to check on how the tests were being followed in environmental testing. She did not supervise the "girls" in environmental testing, but she was there as an inspector. The main tool she used in her inspections was a close reading of the paperwork that followed each chip as it went through the testing process.

Each chip took about 10 days to get through the entire process of testing. Paperwork called a "lot traveler" traveled through the process with each chip. The lot traveler specified what kind of chip it was, and what tests it should undergo. These lot travelers were the center piece of the whole process. Everything that was to be done to the chips was specified in the lot traveler, and once it was done, needed to be noted on the lot traveler. When the part left the factory, the lot traveler stayed behind as the authoritative record of what had happened to that particular chip. Thus, falsifying a lot traveler was like lying about what tests were being done.

The role of Ibarra and other supervisors was made more difficult by the fact that some chips that were quite similar might have completely different testing routines. For instance, about 2% of the chips being tested were called "proof of design" chips that engineers were working on. These would not be shipped to customers, but were for internal use as the engineers tried out different designs. The engineers occasionally wanted these new designs tested, and so would send the chips down to testing with their own lot travelers specifying the tests they wanted. These would be tested differently, and perhaps with more loose standards than the chips that were being sent to customers.

To make things more difficult still, every day some parts in the testing room would be labeled "hot" by the management. This meant these needed to be rushed through the process ahead of other chips so they did not spend the usual 10 days getting tested. This allowed Hughes to rush the chips out to customers who needed them quickly. Donald LaRue was in charge of seeing that the hot chips got special treatment and went ahead of other chips in the testing process. The chips were still supposed to be given the tests required by the lot traveler, but if they were "in line" for a test with chips that were not "hot" they would go to the front of the line, and sometimes be hand carried from test to test so they could be shipped quickly.

This pressure between doing the tests correctly and getting parts out in a hurry ended up causing tension between Quality Assurance and Environmental Testing. Specifically, it caused tension between Ibarra, in charge of Quality Assurance, and LaRue, in charge of seeing that "hot chips" got shipped as soon as possible. Margaret Goodearl was caught in this tension and sided with Ibarra, in favor of slowing the line down so there were no mistakes in testing. This internal conflict of speed versus quality was the center of the disputes that eventually arose.