Quality Products International

The Cost of product and design flaws

by on Jul.17, 2010, under China Manufacturing Blog, China QC Inspection Blog, General News

The news has been full of incidents relating to design or manufacturing flaws lately.  The most visible and long lasting of these has been the supposed design flaw in the new iPhone 4 from Apple.   There have also been some expensive and embarrassing recalls of promotional drinking glasses from McDonalds in their Happy Meals Shrek promotions.

Both of these events show how much damage a small slip can create.  In the case of the Apple problems this has been exacerbated by the response the company chose to take.  In both cases a more stringent approach to quality may have highlighted the problem before it became an issue.  Notice I said ‘may have’,  a quality inspection regime is not fool proof, though input of third party Quality Assurance specialists can certainly help!

In Apple’s case I am sure that they very stringent quality checks in place.  It is not in their interests or style to deliver a faulty product.  The fact that a simple cover that insulates the antenna from the electric effects of skin contact may have been what masked the condition.  Most people including the engineers on the testing panel would try to protect the device they are using, the bumper covers are easy to use,  install, and have been around for the other iPhones for some time.  It is impossible to cover all the bases.

While we already knew about it, the official AppleCare response is sad news. Like Gizmodo reader and former RF engineer for HP Medical products Gordon Cook said in a recent email: “Wrapping a metal antenna around a phone is simply asking for trouble, and Apple may in fact have realized too late that they had a real can of worms, so chose to release what they had instead of enduring a lengthy shipping delay. Now, after millions of phones shipped, and given the alternatives, screwing with the software is the only realistic way of fixing this, even if it’s mostly cosmetic.”

AppleCare: The iPhone 4 Update Won’t Solve the Antenna Problem, Gizmodo

But cosmetic fixes will not stop the problem from happening. Apple should provide with a real fix to a design problem that ruins what could have been the best smartphone experience out there, bar none. And if they can’t fix the units currently in the market, they should fix their manufacturing so this doesn’t happen and at least provide with a free solution, like free bumpers or cases.

This case has more to do with the response than the original fault but it does show that even very stringent test can fail to pick up a problem.  The fact remains that without those test and checks the problems will magnify and cause more problems.

The McDonalds issue was more straight forward. It seems that the company involved in manufacturing the promotional glassware was not aware of the heavy metal content in the ingredients used to make them.  In this economy and social environment it behooves the manufacturer and / or the seller to make sure of the products that are being sold.  The incidence of lead and other heavy metals in pigments, dyes,  and paints means that it is prudent to check for their presence, especially in toys for young children and containers designed to contain food or other consumable products.  Was this checked for?  Yes it was. The problem arose when it was not checked against a newer standard being implemented.

“It could have been any glass company,” said Ron Biagi, an executive with Arc International, which made the glasses. “We all do the same thing using materials from the same suppliers.”

McDonald’s said the U.S.-made glasses met federal guidelines for cadmium under testing conducted by a CPSC-approved lab. CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, however, said the glasses fall short of standards for the toxic metal that the agency is in the process of developing.

McDonald’s Recall: ‘Shrek’ Glasses Contain Toxic Metal Cadmium, The Huntington Post

There has also been talk lately of complex chemical compounds such as thalates being a problem.  These thalates are used in all sorts of soft plastics including many food packaging products.  The minefield of chemical and safety restrictions in different product categories is expanding exponentially every day.  A comprehensive and regular test for standards compliance should be part of every manufacturer’s arsenal.  Not only will regular tests and inspections reduce the chance of suffering a product recall or bad press on a quality issue but will also give the manufacturer’s customers peace of mind that the products they are buying have been tested and continue to be tested for compliance with the relevant safety standards and regulations.

For any quality assurance, quality inspection or audit needs please contact QPI Ltd

Author M. Charlin

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