This issue highlights the best products of 1999, as judged by independent experts who examined the many entries in our annual Best Products contest. You are the final judge of which is the single best product of the year, and you can make your choice by using the ballot inside this issue.
As you read about the finalists--and as you think about your own products and design process--you'll no doubt ponder just what internal procedures make a product great and of high quality. There are many things, of course, but one certainly is high regard for the customer or end user. Quality consultant Bob Collins has thought about that a lot and his company, Quality Assistance Inc. (Kennebunk, ME), pushes an interesting way to think about ensuring great products: Concentrate on treating internal departments within your own company just like you treat customers.
In other words, design engineers should consider people on the factory floor to be their customers and focus on meeting their needs.
The key, says Collins, is for engineers to initiate the discussion, not manufacturing. Ask not only what the shop floor needs from design, but what problems design causes for the factory with existing processes. The result will be better communications, early identification of problems, shorter cycle times, less scrap, and higher rates of production.
It's an extension of the principles of concurrent engineering, actually. And, says Collins, it can give more meaning to Statistical Process Control. "If you're measuring the wrong process, SPC will do nothing for you," he says.
I saw the Collins system in practice at a recent visit to EADmotors, Eastern Air Devices, Inc. where departments have weekly meetings to go over their needs and actually produce reports and track results. It works. EAD's returns are one-tenth of one percent in an industry where the standard, says Quality Assurance Manager Tim Horton, is eight-tenths of one percent. "This is making us a better company," Horton asserts.
It could work for you too.