Finding and dealing with defects is nobody’s favorite part of manufacturing, exporting or importing products — and yet it’s an essential job that comes with the territory. Replacing an order here and there is one thing. But what about addressing wide scale defects after mass manufacturing? That’s another beast entirely, and avoiding it requires a proactive mind set and a systemic approach.
If you’d like to help your business prevent quality defects in your products instead of fixing them after the fact and dealing with the reputational fallout, here are several techniques you can begin implementing today.
1. Take a Closer Look at Your Suppliers’ Credentials
You know not to choose a product or part supplier lightly. But how closely have you looked?
Any company that deals with the supply chain should spend time learning about and understanding the relevant certifications and whether the supplier has met the requirements. One prime example is the ISO 9001 family of certifications. ISO 9001 provides requirements for factory quality management systems.
It covers the following elements of preventing defects:
- Employee training and ongoing education
- Evaluating sub-suppliers
- Process controls and work quality standards
- Equipment inspections and testing protocols
- Safe handling and protection of parts and products
And there’s lots more, too. Suppliers should be happy to provide proof of their certifications if they’re serious about doing business with you and giving you their best efforts.
2. Negotiate the Right Price, and Be Wary of Low Bids
Everybody knows quality comes at a price. Suppliers and factory managers are incredibly cost-conscious. That means there can be some amount of temptation to substitute lower-cost raw materials, source less expensive alternative parts or cut corners and rush production to save on labor costs.
It’s tempting to find the lowest bid or negotiate a lower rate, but you could be compromising the final quality of the product. Lower prices nearly always come at the expense of product quality and longevity, not to mention a far higher rate of defects. If you’re not already, make sure you’re:
- Getting multiple price quotes to see what median costs are like for the type and quality of product you need.
- Requesting itemized pricing quotes and bills of materials for all parts and sub-components in the product.
- Submit an order forecast, if you can, for bulk purchases of stock materials. Bulk purchasing helps keep costs stable and predictable and lowers the likelihood of a supplier making a substitution to address market price fluctuations.
Know what a reliable product is worth and be wary of suspiciously low bids. Making a bad judgment call this early in the process could leave you with defective or low-quality products that you can’t sell.
3. Request a Sample and Verify Its Quality
Once you have a supplier you think you’ll be happy with, you need to find out whether they have the means to follow through on their promises. Request a sample product — sometimes called a “golden sample” — so you can evaluate the product and the supplier based on the following criteria:
- The quality of the materials and parts used
- How closely they follow product specifications and tolerances
- Whether the product functions and performs according to expectations
- Implementation of branding and the design of the packaging and artwork
The golden sample process lets you know which manufacturers “walk the talk.” It also allows you to give any feedback required to take a product that’s 90% of the way there to a product that satisfies 100% of your criteria and your customers’ expectations.
4. Create a Quality Manual/QC Checklist
Disappointed customers aren’t the only potential consequences of product defects. There are several reasons a company might get sued for a product liability issue, including the following.
- Negligence: The customer suffered an injury due to a lack of “reasonable care” for their well-being.
- Breach of warranty: The product didn’t live up to the manufacturer’s claims and warranty terms.
- Strict liability: The company sold a product in an unreasonably dangerous condition or failed to provide an adequate warning.
Design, manufacturing and marketing defects can all land companies in a substantial amount of reputational trouble and even ruin them financially.
For this reason, you need a quality manual, also referred to as a QC checklist. A checklist for a relatively simple product might be anywhere from three to 10 pages long, while more complex products will have lengthier requirements.
Think of this document as a constant resource for your factory staff or industry partners. Your quality manual should contain all the following information, along with anything else you don’t want to leave to chance:
- Detailed specifications for the finished product and all sub-assemblies
- Tolerance limits for determining quality defects
- Requirements and steps for inspecting products and performing quality control sampling
- Specifications for shipping cartons and retail packaging — crucial for avoiding further issues while in transit
Some of the most avoidable product defects arise because of miscommunications between partners in a supply chain. Developing a QC checklist for in-house products, or to send along to your suppliers, is an ideal way to avoid defective products and wasted time and materials.
5. Perform Preventive or Predictive Maintenance to Your Equipment
Maybe you’re not dealing with suppliers as often, but instead, producing products or materials in house. How can you go about upholding a world-class commitment to product quality and keep defects to a minimum?
A vital step to take is to create ongoing preventive maintenance programs or invest in predictive maintenance technologies. Keeping the machines on your factory floor clean and in good repair ensures that they’ll keep churning out products that meet your performance expectations and quality promises.
Plus, machine downtime is expensive for your company. Recent research from Aberdeen suggests that one hour of equipment downtime costs $260,000 per hour, on average, across all business verticals, which amounts to a 60% increase since 2014.
One of the primary benefits of bringing the Internet of Things into manufacturing is the chance to turn preventive maintenance into predictive maintenance. Monitoring machine performance metrics lets staff respond to issues quickly, during planned downtime, before they result in defects or bring the production line to a complete standstill.
Adopt a Zero-Defect Policy Today
Companies that adopt a zero-defect policy aren’t trying to rewrite the rules of physical reality. There’s still an understanding that mistakes and quality lapses can happen. But it’s also better to uncover these issues in house than to wait for your customer to find them.
Adopting a zero-defect policy is something of a symbolic gesture — but it represents a cultural commitment to ongoing improvements. Your suppliers and employees need tools and support to identify and fix issues in real time. Instead of a decree about an unattainable quality metric, your zero-defect policy becomes, instead, a promise to find new ways to support your staff and help them get better at their jobs over time.
This cultural mindset, along with the other practical steps we’ve explored here, should get you well on your way to substantially fewer product defects and a more profitable company.
By: Scott Huntington, BOSS contributor