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How Do You Define Quality?

June 18, 2013
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How do you know if a product is quality or not? Why should quality be considered when purchasing? Quality is defined as the state of being free from defects, or deficiencies. Quality is often correlated with price; however, this doesn’t have to be the case. If an inexpensive item meets your needs and expectations then it has passed your test for quality.
I have been in the scale industry for 23 years. I have been called in many times to help a customer determine the proper scale for their application. In order to quote the correct product, I have had to dig deep into the weeds to find what the customer really needed. This process often identified areas of concern that the customer wasn’t aware of.
    A while back, I had a food manufacturer ask me to quote them some scales for checking the pre-packaged weight of their product. After a site visit, and talking to production and quality control, I made several determinations:
1. The maximum product weight was 1.5kg and minimum was 500g.
2. The minimum required tolerance was +/- 0.5g.
3. The scales needed to be easy to clean.
4. The scales were subject to intermittent water spray.
5. The customer wasn’t connected to a data collection system, but wanted the ability to connect at a later date.
    I quoted a 3kg wash down, stainless steel bench scale that read by 0.1g. After presenting the quote, I was contacted by the customer and told that my quoted price was too high. The purchasing manager had found the same scales on-line, for a third of the price I had quoted, and purchased them. I asked the purchasing manager where he was getting them from since he was paying 40% less than my cost for them. He wouldn’t tell me but he did have me install them.
    Guess what? They weren’t the same scales I had quoted. The only thing that matched was the capacity and resolution. I had quoted an entire stainless steel wash down scale and these were plastic with a small stainless pan. They weren’t waterproof, or even water resistant, and they couldn’t connect to a data collection system.
    This customer purchased eight scales. By the end of the year they had replaced all of them at least once and several twice. Since water damage wasn’t covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, and most of the damage was water related, they had to pay for them. Then at the beginning of the new fiscal year the quality control department installed the new data collection software. All eight scales had to be replaced with the scales I had quoted originally.
    I had quoted quality scales that matched the customer’s needs. After a year in use the customer was convinced that the scales they had purchased were junk. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with the quality of the scales purchased, except that they were in the wrong environment.  In the long run, the customer spent more money on trouble calls, repairs, and replacements than they would have if they had purchased the equipment I had originally quoted.
    If you don’t know what you need, and you bring in an expert to help define your needs and requirements, trust the expert. If you aren’t sure that the expert is correct, question them, and determine how and where they got their data. Most scale companies won’t charge you for this expert advice, but they do expect to have a strong chance of getting the order. Sometimes quality can be a low cost import, but it has to meet your needs and requirements.
    After-sale service is also important when helping define quality. If I had quoted the wrong scale in the example above and sold the customer the same scale they purchased. I would have honored the implied warranty. Not every scale company will do this, so know whom you are purchasing from and their warranty policies.
    Take the time and effort necessary to find out your current as well as future needs. Bring in experts, and listen to them. Quality in a product is determined by you and your specific needs and expectations.
    Lucian Stacy started working in the scale industry as an automation technician for CCI Scales, 23 years ago. He then became the operations manager of his own company, Left Coast Scales LLC. Stacy currently holds the position of technical support specialist for Sartorius Industrial Weighing.

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