Quality is one of our core values. That sounds cliche, but quality has been a main focus since I first started prototyping in the early 90s. How do you make a product that will last? How do you make a product that looks good? How do you make a product so there is no weakest link that will fail early and ruin the function or appearance of the product?
We tackle this in a variety of ways. The meta framework is a series of figurative gates that products have to pass through as they move through our process. The idea being that we are only looking at a few things at each gate so we can really focus on each one. The earlier we are in the process, usually, the more macro those filters are. Conversely, the later in the process we are the more we can focus on small details that really make the difference between a good product and a great product.
Right now we're really focusing on the quality of our Bike Chain Photo Frames because we are in the process of training a new welder. So we're paying close attention at each gate. When we receive the chain sent to us from bike shops, we weed out chain that is so rusty that it won't clean up nice. During welding we look for things you can look for while wearing a welding helmet, like symmetry. The next step after welding is sandblasting and once the frames are blasted they are much cleaner and brighter. So that's really the first time we can start looking at finer details like whether one of the chain plates is loose. We check for fine details one more time during product packaging, and that's when we go through a checklist to make sure it is shipping with all of its component parts. The next person to see it will be the customer, so the job of the person at the last gate is to ensure the frame will look great when it is unpacked.
Because we have so many protocols in place it is rare for us to ship product that doesn't meet our specs, but we are human so it does happen occasionally. That's where I think we really stand out. Instead of ignoring the feedback, dismissing it, or stressing about it, we look for the "system change to prevent recurrence." That's my really awkward phrase for "what changes can we make so that this specific problem can't happen again." This might be as simple as changing the order in which we do assembly or as complex as buying a more expensive piece of equipment or installing better lighting at a workstation. We've instituted hundreds of these changes over the years and they often result in better quality for multiple products, as well as a smoother production flow in general.
Have you had a quality problem with a consumer product that was handled especially well by the company who made it or sold it to you? Especially poorly? We'd love to hear your stories.
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