Commitment to Quality Can Help Ensure Product Safety when Manufacturing
The manufacturing industry, be it of toys, games and even glass
products, is an increasingly global market. Some companies are starting
to outsource production to those in China, while others have opened
Asian production plants. Concerns over the quality of Chinese-produced
products are not new. For many years the country was regarded as
being able to produce fast and inexpensive products, and sometimes
the resulting quality suffered. In more recent years, the country
has proven itself as being capable of producing just as good of
a product as any other country. However, in August when more than
18 million Mattel toys that had been made in China were recalled,
news reports across the United States questioned China's quality
control procedures. Today, as more glass companies begin operating
on a global basis, how do they ensure product safety and quality?
St. Louis-based Solutia Inc. recently began production of its Saflex
brand PVB at a new plant in Suzhou, China. The location has started
producing PVB specifically for China's automotive windshield market,
with the ability to add capacity for the architectural market should
there be a demand moving forward.
Tim Feast, vice president of business management for Solutia's
Saflex business, says when it comes to any type of manufacturing
in China there is a range of quality levels.
"With the automotive market that approach to quality control in
windshields is no different in China [than anywhere else]," says
Feast. "It's a very demanding market with high requirements. An
automotive windshield plant, for example, would not be any different
than anywhere else. There are other segments, though, where quality
is less an issue. Laminated glass for balconies in high-rise construction
is significantly less than in other markets. So there is a range
Feast says that before opening the Suzhou plant Solutia made the
decision that it would produce the same high level of quality as
any of its other plants.
"To get a quality product you have to go with the best quality
production," Feast says. "Within that business [Saflex] we have
a global approach to quality and a global standard on quality …
a standardized process. The same systems are used in every plant."
Vesuvius, which has North American operations in Pittsburgh [and
manufacturing in Dillon, S.C.], as well as plants that serve the
glass industry in China and France, produces in each region to serve
that specific region only. In other words, what the company produces
in China is made for its Asian customers only; what's produced in
France is for Europe and what's produced in the United States is
for North America.
Ren Bartoe, commercial director - Americas for the Vesuvius fused
silica division, says, however, that the level of quality at all
three plants is identical.
"We implemented a best practices program so that all of our plants
use the exact same materials, tools in production, even the same
machinery," Bartoe says. "Our goal was to have a global standard
for quality." This, he explains, helps ensure that whether the rollers
are made in China, North America or France, the quality is the same.
Having this type of global program in place can help companies
ensure a high quality product.
"It comes back to having that worldwide process in place at every
plant," says Dan Jenkins, director of communications for Solutia.
"You have a reporting process to make sure all of your quality requirements
are being met."
Feast agrees. "We have the same integrated computer system, same
online instrumentation, extensive training … we brought some of
the employees in China to other plants so that they could learn
from employees there," he says. "We have routine product testing
worldwide to make sure all of our products are standardized. It
comes down to having those procedures in place and adhered to in
Ultimately, though, it's an investment in quality production materials
and equipment that may also help to ensure a high-quality product
is the end result.
"When it comes to quality in China, the key aspect is the upfront
decision about the type of technology you'll deploy in your plant
there," says Feast. "Go for the best equipment, the best training,
safety … and there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to produce
the same quality as anywhere else. But it all has to start with
a commitment to being world class."
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