Tainted toys: when compliance to design and quality standards for outsourced materials comes into question.THINK IT'S TOUGH in the electronics industry? Just be glad you're not in the toy business, specifically Mattel Inc. Mattel may not seem like a poster child for what could happen within our "high-tech" electronics industry as they derive the lions share of their profit from the ever "low-tech" Barbie, but we all should be paying close attention to both what has happened to a couple of Mattel's "low-tech" products and how they handle the resulting brouhaha.
As I think everyone knows, like most companies in the electronics industry, some of the toys that Mattel creates and markets are manufactured overseas, specifically in China. Over the summer, it was discovered that some of these toys have paint that contains enough lead to make them potentially harmful to young children. When I heard the much sensationalized reports, the first thing that came to mind was that we, in the electronics industry, are not the only ones who face RoHS-like environmentally driven product liability problems.
In the early 1970s I had a part-time job in a paint store. The big issue at that time was removing lead from paint, which just about every known company had accomplished at the expense of paint coverage and trueness of colors. I had thought that all lead was removed from not just paint but inks and dies decades ago; so such a revelation that any modern manufacturing company could still be using paint containing lead seemed far fetched. Knowing how cost-conscious companies in manufacturing savvy China are, all I could imagine was that some clever engineer had found a way to make paint go a little bit farther and, therefore, save some money.
The reality is we will never know why paint with a high lead content was used on the Mattel toys, but I will bet a dollar to donuts donuts - (Obsolete) A collective noun for any set of memory bits. This usage is extremely archaic and may no longer be live jargon; it dates from the days of ferrite core memories in which each bit was implemented by a doughnut-shaped magnetic flip-flop. that, with all the planning and contingencies a large, world-class company like Mattel goes through when having a product manufactured, no one ever imagined that something as dumb as the use of paint with lead in it would be used on toys nor the resulting safety, financial and public relations public relations, activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most nightmare that would result.
This shifted my thoughts to the second aspect of this story: knowing what you are receiving versus what you think you have purchased. Our industry has, for years, worked diligently to develop and utilize standards so that product quality could be assured for all within the supply chain. Good, well thought out standards protect the manufacturer as well as the customer. Historically, our industry has been made up of companies who took quality more seriously than costs and has taken to heart providing a product that, companies believed, was fabricated fab·ri·cate
tr.v. fab·ri·cat·ed, fab·ri·cat·ing, fab·ri·cates
1. To make; create.
2. To construct by combining or assembling diverse, typically standardized parts: to the industry's high standards. In recent years, the Years, The
the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]
See : Time IPC (1) (InterProcess Communication) The exchange of data between one program and another either within the same computer or over a network. It implies a protocol that guarantees a response to a request. , the predominant standards organization A standards organization, also sometimes referred to as a standards body, a standards development organization or SDO (depending on what is being referenced), is any entity whose primary activities are developing, coordinating, promulgating, revising, amending, for our industry, has taken considerable heat for having promoted standards to emerging manufacturing markets in Asia, most particularly China. That being said, everyone has assumed that each company, regardless of global location, engaged in our industry would by desire or market necessity have the integrity to build to the certified product standard. Obviously, in the Mattel situation, it appears that this may not have been the case, and making such an assumption may require some reexamination re·ex·am·ine also re-ex·am·ine
tr.v. re·ex·am·ined, re·ex·am·in·ing, re·ex·am·ines
1. To examine again or anew; review.
2. Law To question (a witness) again after cross-examination. .
On this point, I started thinking--or more accurately worrying--about all the "what ifs" ... What if the solder mask An insulating pattern applied to a printed circuit board that exposes only the areas to be soldered. contains lead like the paint used on Mattel's toys?; what if the laminate laminate,
n a thin slice of porcelain or plastic fabricated in a dental lab, which is cemented to the front of the teeth to cover gaps, whiten stained teeth, or reshape chipped or broken teeth. used has substandard resin?; what if any of the documentation is fudged so product appears to have met specifications?. My "what-if" list kept getting longer and longer, and some of the "what ifs" seemed pretty far-fetched. But then again, I bet that if someone at Mattel had said "What if they use paint with lead in it?" everyone would have said that, too, seemed pretty far-fetched.
One of the lessons from the Mattel fiasco is that you can't assume anything. Due diligence Research; analysis; your homework. This term has caught on in all industries, because it sounds so "wired." Who would want to do analysis or research when they can do due diligence. See wired. is required especially when you outsource any or all of your manufacturing processes. No detail is too small, and continual review of the product, processes and people involved in producing your product is essential. A few years ago most North American North American
named after North America.
North American blastomycosis
see North American blastomycosis.
North American cattle tick
see boophilusannulatus. companies were skeptical of partnering, brokering or joint venturing with any foreign company. While in recent years that skepticism has pretty much vanished, we all still need to keep a watchful eye on our partner, regardless of where the company is located, to ensure that we receive the product or service per the specifications expected. Dumb stuff can and will happen. Even the most basic products--I could argue probably most often the most basic products--cannot be taken for granted Adj. 1. taken for granted - evident without proof or argument; "an axiomatic truth"; "we hold these truths to be self-evident"
obvious - easily perceived by the senses or grasped by the mind; "obvious errors" . Quality standards need to be checked, and material and workmanship need to be evaluated; assumptions cannot replace verification.
So why should we in electronics pay close attention to Mattel? Well, for two fundamental reasons. First, stuff happens. And the farther away you are from where your product is manufactured, the more you need to make sure you know exactly what you are getting. Second, environmental risk is prevalent everywhere. You don't have to be in the electronics industry to be impacted by the lead-flee challenge. As Mattel works its way through these issues, we should pay attention to what it does. It may provide a good lession for us to follow.
PETER BIGELOW is president and CEO (1) (Chief Executive Officer) The highest individual in command of an organization. Typically the president of the company, the CEO reports to the Chairman of the Board. of IMI IMI International Masonry Institute (Washington, DC)
IMI Israel Military Industries
IMI Institute of the Motor Industry
IMI International Market Insight
IMI Imposto Municipal Sobre Imóveis (Portugal) (imipcb.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.