Ceramic Industry

Inside CI: Don’t Cut Corners on Quality

March 1, 2002
We’ve all had to tighten our belts over the past year as the economy took a nosedive. While most economists are still predicting a recovery by the second half of this year, it’s important that we enhance our gains by making smart decisions inside our plants, so that any continuing cost-cutting initiatives positively affect both our product quality and our bottom line. There is no doubt that leaner, more efficient companies will be better poised to take advantage of an economic rebound, but an inherent risk exists in any cost-cutting initiative: Even small changes can have a big impact on long-term product quality.

Switching to a different raw material simply because “the price is right” can cause a change in the appearance and functionality of the finished product. Likewise, skipping quality assurance steps to save time or manpower can cause quality problems to go unnoticed. Cutting back on research and development efforts might leave your company unprepared for the next technological shift. And pushing suppliers to lower their costs can adversely affect the industry as a whole by forcing supplier to scale back on their own improvement efforts to protect their bottom lines.

But the opposite is also true: Even small changes can have a big positive impact on long-term quality. Implementing the use of a simple tool such as a dynamic rheometer, for example, can help you optimize your manufacturing process for a specific formulation by characterizing the material’s behavior under different processing conditions (see pp. 19-23). Implementing a consistent sieve calibration program can help ensure that your test sieves produce traceable and practical product quality results without a lot of time and effort (see pp. 25-26). Obtaining accurate measurements of the zeta potential of your slip can help you optimize your formulations for the production of high-strength ceramic materials (see pp. 27-30). And implementing programs such as statistical process control (SPC) can allow you to study a set of manufacturing processes, determine levels of inherent variability, find potential correlations and even cause-and-effect relationships between process variables, determine whether or not a process is in “control,” and find ways to improve and optimize processes and minimize variability (see p. 16).

Changes made to improve product quality typically have a side benefit, as well: an improvement to your company’s bottom line. An optimized formulation usually requires less time and energy to produce, allowing your company to save money on manufacturing. A statistical process control program can help you increase manufacturing capacity while reducing manufacturing costs. And a reputation for producing high-quality products can lead to more orders from customers—especially when the economy begins to rebound.

So continue looking for ways to make your company more efficient as you try to weather the back end of this slowdown. Just don’t cut corners on quality—that’s the one aspect of your business that can really help you both now and in the future.