CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Keywords: Quality control
Our theme for this issue is real-time quality control. This may well be a misnomer. It implies that you somehow measure quality as products are manufactured and instantly use this information to improve or maintain the quality of what you are making. This may sound fine on paper but in practice the seeds of good quality are sown when the product and the processes that create it are first designed.
However, even the best designed systems need continuous monitoring to keep everything running smoothly. Temperatures and humidity will drift up and down with changes in the weather and as production levels fluctuate. Drill bits wear down or break, injection mould tooling warms up, adhesives lose their grip and people can lose their concentration.
Quality control is often considered to be just the rejection of faulty parts and this is indeed part of the story, but a faulty part should not be considered as waste but instead it should be viewed as a valuable source of lessons. Why is it faulty? When did the fault occur? How could it have been prevented?
I often think that one of the most potentially valuable departments in a company is the complaints department and in fact this can tell you more about a company and its responsibility to its customers than any amount of marketing propaganda. A happy customer is of course a major business asset but a complaining customer can be even more valuable. If you pay someone to test your products you expect quite a hefty bill for these consultancy services and the feedback from a dissatisfied customer should be regarded as five star advice.
Of course you cannot please all of the people all of the time, and one person's favourite feature may be another's annoying gimmick, but companies that consider a certain percentage of complaints as “acceptable” and whose response is limited to a nicely crafted apology and a total refund are largely missing the point.
The global economy in which we now live is throwing ever greater challenges at our manufacturing companies. How do you compete with companies where the labour costs are a tenth or less of your own? Do you move your manufacturing overseas and accept the resultant high transport costs and problems in communication? Resting on your laurels in the mistaken belief that your customers are loyal is not a long- term option. Neither is the assumption that your quality is better. When I was young there was a perception that products from Japan were of poor quality and “plasticky”. These days they are showing us how to make cars and we fill our houses with their reliable low cost electronic gizmos.
In a competitive market the usual knee-jerk reaction is to strive to reduce costs, but while inefficiency needs to be eliminated it is ultimately only by improving quality that a company can remain profitable. It is the bottom line that matters – the top line shows how hard you are working but the bottom line shows how smart you are working.