Quality Assurance

Diane Guin is 34, a quality assurance investigator for home and cooperative medical printers. We met at her apartment on Western. She’s a little sunburned.

Her partner, Ant, occasionally joins in the conversation, with one eye on the 7 year old cleaning the snail tank in the next room.

When I tell people that I do Quality Assurance, they almost always get excited because they think it’s like an episode of Biome Fraud. [1]

Like I’m just always slamming open the doors open in skyscrapers and shooting up corporate bosses -- “Bam! You’re headed to the ICC, buddy!”

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t thinking about Biome Fraud at all when I applied for this job. [2]

But the producers I investigate are small time: 99.9% of them are worker owned, cooperatives, or union run. Most all of them make 3D printers designed for the most low level medical equipment, a few complicated enough to make inhalers. Maybe 2 or 3 of them sell bioprinters, but they’re small, mostly for research.

My cases aren’t going to the ICC -- honestly, most of my cases, even the repeat offenders, they’ll get fines, worst case scenario. The job is a lot more about the illusion of investigation than any actual investigation.

Ant: She’s the panopticon for inhaler blueprints.

There’s also a lot more data cleaning than they ever showed on that show.

Still, my job is pretty different from most cooperative or municipal jobs, and it’s a lot different from the day to day of most people who don’t work beyond cooperative duty.

Ant: It’s way cooler than she’s making it sound.

Ant does most of her cooperative work hours in the child care center. She’s also working on a self actualization game about attachment styles for seniors, so overall she’s contributing a lot more to society than I am.

A lot of the times I’m just meeting with people: seeing their processes, touring the facilities, marking off things on my checklists. Technically I work for the state’s bureau of consumer protections, but once I check the boxes it goes out into the zeitgeist: anyone can see the report. [3]

I like the travel: I e-bike to most of the sites I’m investigating, all over the state, and it gives me time to think.

If there is a problem, it’s almost always because of bad management: a new production lead, an older technician who’s checked out. Even some of the private manufacturers are okay, when they have okay management.

Ant: It upsets you sometimes, though. You should talk about that.

That only happened once.

For a while, we weren’t doing any site visits, just to see if we could save some energy -- it made sense. You go to the same factories or labs over and over again, and you have access to all of their data, what’s going to change?

Plus, I was getting tired of the travel -- this was right after that guy in there was born.

But then we got a report from a tiny cooperative out in Vienna, maybe 50 people: something was up with the Epipens they’d made in their new machine. They wouldn’t have even known, maybe for years, except that a young girl, 13-14, had died when her pen didn’t worked and her mother was a medical researcher. She tested the pen and it hadn’t been loaded correctly -- all of the ones they’d produced on this machine, with these blueprints, they were all leaking. Something went wrong in the blueprint process.

It turned out that in spite of all the reports and data we had, the place that made this shipment of machines was sloppy.

So now we do site visits. We’ll always do site visits. For whatever reason, that face to face visit is key to QA.

What happened to the manufacturer?

I don’t think anything. Fines.

We caught it, they’ve never done it again. We’ll triple check their records for eternity. We’re all so suspicious of industry, of anything we can’t make ourselves, but sometimes human error is just human error.

But sometimes you go out to a site, and there’s something really creepy about the place. I’ve been to cooperatives where there’s a guy with a machine gun at every door of the lab, barely any electrical grid but an electrified fence around the street. Real Amazon stuff.

I write it up, mark it on the checklist. It’s a recommend ‘do not buy’. But that’s all I can do.

It used to be that corporations just didn’t care: they’d make whatever, and as long as it sold and they could pay off the courts, they didn’t have to do anything. So they’d just keep making them and selling them, and unless someone big time found out and tried to push it, they’d never be accountable.

That’s not what happens now. But still, most of the time even in those situations nobody’s going to the ICC. They’ve got enough to do.

Ant: That’s dumb.

This is a regulated society. ‘Self sufficiency at community scale’ only goes so far -- I want people who regulate at community scale to do as much as they can, but we can’t do everything. I can’t do everything.

We go to enough meetings already, can you imagine if each person in the cooperative also had to oversee the science, justice, and quality of every single thing the cooperative does? Or that the city or state buys? I do not want to take the “bicycling repair,” e-course and test pedal safety when I get home every night, are you kidding me? We have to specialize sometimes.

Ant: So it’s just not your job?

It’s not. But I hope the ICC keeps doing theirs.


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[1] Biome Fraud was a reality show that ran for 15 years on the IWW streaming channel. It followed a team of consumer agriculture Quality Assurance Managers. Biome Design‘s pilot launched only a few years after some of the worst tragedies in Biome Design, including an outbreak of antibiotic resistant P. aeruginosa that killed over 7,000 people in eastern Nebraska. These incidents sparked the beginning of a massive wave of anti-corporate sentiment in DIY ag and ‘home food supply chain’ production, including a nationwide boycott corporate made consumer agriculture. By the time Biome Fraud went off the air in 2038, at least 3 CEOs implicated in the Nebraska tragedy were facing criminal charges from the International Criminal Court.

[2] Biome Design and Production is now a 90% worker owned industry, with some of the most stringent safety regulations that apply across the American Union. Biome Fraud’s tag line, “You’re Going to the ICC, Boss!” was a punchline in dance parodies, flash mobs, and memes for over 10 years.

[3] “Self Sufficiency at Community Scale” was the rallying cry of the 2030s decentralization movement, a response to innovations in technology as well as the massive wave of political and ecological crises in the 2020s (often referred to as “The Horrors”).

As funding and infrastructure for national services disappeared, major pieces of the international trade supply chain eroded, and the strategic military power of the United States dimmed, municipalities began to fill these service gaps with new agricultural, infrastructure, and engineering technologies designed for access and affordability.

Biomes, small scale automated closed system farms designed to sustain the food, water, and energy needs of 2-40 people, were one of the biggest innovations of this period - though the prototype for the original biome was patented by a major corporation, public outcry in response to the Nebraska plague meant that Biome Design became highly regulated by union, government, and cooperative entities.

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