Why Do So Many Get Quality Wrong?
And what is it that makes things perfect?
You know when you pick something up, that almost orgasmic feeling, when the fit and finish, weight and interaction is, well, just perfect. Maybe it’s the way that the box opened on your new I phone; the box that’s so tight it creates a vacuum. Or it’s the perfect metallic finish on your favourite kitchen appliance that sits centrepiece of your mirror-finished countertop. The one that the light refracts off in the near-perfect way, no tacky mirror finish, it’s like a breath of a god-like being fogging up the surface to completeness.
When you find quality you know, you know that it’s been thought about, it’s been tested, it has been caressed by the hands of someone who cared.
Its no accident.
Engineers have perfected the art of quality. And that’s exactly how I see quality. Its an art form from requirement driven testing.
Whether it’s the sweeping ergonomics of your computer mouse allowing hours of CAD work carpal tunnel free, or the rounded edge finish on your coffee mug that doesn’t cut your cheeks open every time you want a sip, a quality requirement has driven this form.
Like so much in our modern world, we have come to take quality for granted. So much so, that people have become de-sensitised to how much thought, testing and work goes into a product, and how a product gets from the drawing board to you; the consumer. We have become desensitised to the quality process but hypersensitised to the quality of the product.
How do we get the quality that people have come to expect? How do we ensure that when designing products, we mitigate the risks of quality issues and get that near-perfect end product?
It starts at the beginning.
Quality, if not measured and tested in a methodical data-driven method, is subjective; much like art. It’s the interpretation of the component quality in the eyes of the user, which is absolutely fine if we are looking at an object that sole purpose is to sit and not function.
But not great if we are trying to design an industrial kitchen blender.
How do we ensure then, that quality is the fundamental foundation, for not just fit and aesthetics, but function as well?
We need instructions on how the object is to be designed and manufactured; these instructions need to incorporate a vast number of measurable details, including material selection, finish and fit, how it interacts with the components around it, and, possibly the most important, the ability to function and for how long.
Every conceivable instruction you could think of.
These instructions are called standards. Standards are a set of instructions that allow the instructions of design, manufacturing and function out of the subjective guessing world, into the objective realm of assessment.
Have a perfectly written standard that is simple to understand and follow, yet holds enough instructions to design, manufacture and test. You will have the recipe for a product that consumers will accept, and if you are fortunate, love.
Without these instructions or standards, you will be playing guessing games with processes each time you try to replicate the product, and that’s if you are lucky. It may be that your standards are either so poor or don’t have enough information that you never even make it to production.
Quality and standards go hand in hand. Quality; a system or component that meets (or exceeds) a specified value required to make it fit for purpose. It should not get rejected during an inspection, and should not fail prematurely. Standards; the reference of the specified value or instructions to inform to make the product or process fit for purpose.
Which standards are best for me and my product?
A whole host of standards are in existence; for every conceivable process. They can cover materials, fit finish and human interactions. There are standards for the way information is processed in a company and even standards of how companies should act in the environment around them. Standards exist for material selections, manufacturing processes, the environment and how to dispose of items safely and effectively.
If there is something that needs instructions, you can almost be sure that there is a standard for it. The difficulty lies in how to choose the correct standard for you, your company and your product.
Ideally, you want to start from a base of competency. Long before you have a product design, manufacturing assembly and a sales route, you want to ensure that you have a quality way to record, organise and communicate. This is where business standards are a great tool to look at.
The ISO organisation are the official gatekeepers if you like.
These are the ‘Gold Standard’ of standards. But finding the exact standard that applies to your product or you can be a tedious and time-consuming process.
Familiarising yourself with ISO 9001 will give you some great tips on how to organise your structure in your company. ISO 9001 is the standard for a quality management system. It’s the instructions on how to organise your organisation.
If you have read this article this far, you will have no issues with reading through an ISO standard… Let me warn you, it’s dry and can take a bit of tenacity to get through.
How though do we get actual standards for products though? Like most things in the world of online information, it starts with a Google. If you are designing or importing electrical products, then you will usually get pointed towards the European Harmonised Standards.
A harmonised standard is a European standard developed by a recognised European Standards Organisation: CEN, CENELEC, or ETSI. It is created following a request from the European Commission to one of these organisations. Manufacturers, other economic operators, or conformity assessment bodies can use harmonised standards to demonstrate that products, services, or processes comply with relevant EU legislation.
Let’s not digress too much into the details of individual standards here. It’s truly a tedious subject to dissect in full in a single article. But if you are a designer, manufacturer or want to delve into the world of engineering quality, standards are a great place to really get into the grainy details of an engineers day to day life.
And when you think an engineers life couldn’t get any more interesting, there is even a standard for testing electric blankets. You know just in case you were wondering…
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