How to Achieve Quality in Home Furnishing
And Manufacturing in General
How many times in our career have we heard the following comments: “Well, we just lost XYZ account because you ignorant people in manufacturing couldn’t produce a quality product”. From a Sales Manager,” That isn’t what our customer wanted.” From an employee, “Don’t chew me out for that, I made it the way Old John showed me how to do it.” From Order Entry, “Hey Production Manager, I know we haven’t made this style in 5 years, but a major customer of XYZ retailer, just relocated to a new house and wants this old product replicated. Can we do it?” From a Product Development Manager, “What the heck! You’re telling me that all the samples were sold at the market and already delivered to a customer!!! How the heck can we remember what we made, how we made it, and what styles we need to develop if we don’t even remember what we shipped?”
If you have worked in manufacturing and/or in Product Development, you have heard these comments and more. No matter your position or title, more than likely, you have been reprimanded at some point in time about quality. The prime reason is that there is no industry wide definition of quality. Today, for the most part, quality is in the eye of the beholder.
It costs money to obtain quality, but not only money, you might need a completely new focus in engineering, marketing, and in production. One of my favorite companies solved the quality definition problem a long time ago and has become the fastest growing and most profitable company in the furniture industry that does not also retail products.
First on your quality program punch list is that there are certain basics that must be defined and developed by each company. For instance, the welts on cushions are straight and match across the product. Seams are always 3/8”, Seat suspension is always done in this manner with this pattern. Frames are always square. Joints in frames are always glued in this manner using this glue. And on it goes. These are the basic manufacturing methods that define your company. These basic items are documented by written instructions and normally the methods are demonstrated by video. The video, if it has voice instructions, must be available translated into all the nationalities in your plants that do not have a good command of the English language, or what ever the main language in your country. So much for the very basics.
Next comes the product definition.
Normally, your Sales and/or Marketing Manager will be working with others outside the company to come up with ideas that will be added to the product mix and be sold in enough quantity to be profitable for the company. The product idea will be given a prototype ID number or name. This idea will be sent to the engineering manager to have a 3D sketch developed of the product either black & white or in color as is desired by the Sales/Marketing people to use to work with their outside contacts. This sketch can be all the way up to full size with special detail highlighted.
This process will go back and forth until both engineering and Sales/Marketing have an agreement that the sketch is close to what they desire.
If the communication is such that a firm example is required such as a finish color, comfort of a mattress, or pitch and suspension of a product, then a representative of exactly what is desired is constructed and agreed upon.
Next a 3D model is printed in Engineering and sent to Sales/Marketing for final review. A final agreement is made along with written detail of what is expected of the product. In upholstery engineering, this would be how soft the padding will be, how firm the seat and back are, how much pitch should be in the back, of course, the dimensions are listed, any packaging that is different from the norm is listed, any special hardware desired such as legs, colors, wood type, finish, hardware, covering desired, buttons, decorative nails, etc. This package goes to engineering.
The final 3D frame deign is made which will include joints, fasteners, padding support such as cardboard, added to the drawing, padding material is specified as to density (firm to soft), seat support is drawn in, (most of this final drawings consist of layers). The layers together make the final prototype 3 D design.
The prototype full Bill of Material is developed and goes to cost accounting to insure the product can be manufactured at the required cost to obtain the required profit and selling price.
Once the final drawing with all component parts is designed, the product is then unwrapped by layer on a computer.
The cover patterns go to the cover design engineer, then sent digitally to manufacturing cutting, padding, cushions, back fill then goes to the padding vendor, the frame design, checked by the frame engineer, goes by parts detail to manufacturing CNCs to cut the frame. The bill of materials goes to purchasing to ensure all component parts are in inventory for the initial production.
At the first assembly videos are made of sewing for the product, frame assembly, and other areas that might cause questions in production or slow production to get information about the methods used to make the assembly go quickly.
A great job done in engineering is when you can bring a novice from outside the company and have them productive in assembly job in 10 days. This means that all the critical decision are made in Engineering, and ABSOLUTELY NOT ON THE PRODUCTION LINE. If the front of the arm is to be pleated, the pleat folds are marked in the cutting pattern. The pull on an arm or back should be pulled down to a pre marked spot on the pattern such as a small hole or notch. All padding arrives precut to specifications so there is no judgement as to how much or little fill or width and length of a pattern of padding foam, etc.
When I go into a plant and see rolls of any support material, padding materials, sheets of cardboard etc. on an assembly line, I know there is a quality problem in the plant. Not only a quality problem, buy a lack of true cost, a lack of assembly efficiency, a lack of leadership in developing a true engineered product, and on it goes.
A great engineered product by a great engineering team is defined by the fact there is no scissors in the assembly area. If any cutting or change or simply putting rolls of foam or fiber in assembly signifies that that company is doomed to failure due to poor quality and no accurate costs of assembly.
It is a fact that if assembly people are only adding value by performing pure assembly by putting an engineered part in place on a product without having to go find anything, or go ask someone how to do something will yield a profitable company with high quality.
In addition, the same product can be made 10 years apart and achieve a mirror image. Fire and/or flood will not destroy the company if everything is digitized and stored in a digital cloud somewhere.
So there you have a definition of quality.
QUALITY IN MANUFACTURING IS THE EXACT ADHERENCE TO SPECIFICATION – PERIOD.
Who is responsible for quality in a manufacturing plant?
1. The CEO, COO must ensure their operation conforms to best practice.
2. The Sales/Marketing Manager must provide accurate communication with focused definitions of what the customer expects in a continuous received specified product for a given purchased price.
3. Manufacturing Managers must demand accurate detailed specifications and ensure those specifications are met within their production.