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The many faces of quality.

There is no single definition of quality. Making a good fabric, operating Complicated machinery with ease or providing a uniform fiber supply all fall under the quality umbrella. Yet, having a good relationship with customers and suppliers and providing valuable technical support and easily accessible customer service also come under the heading of quality.

The nonwovens industry has come of age in all of these categories, if the raw materials, machinery and roll goods manufacturers Nonwovens Industry surveyed are any indication. There has been a growing awareness of the need for and dedication to quality in all facets of the nonwovens business.

Computerized controls for equipment are becoming more sophisticated, monitoring faster machines with split second timing and preventing large quantities of material from becoming unacceptable. Supplier programs and cooperative agreements between customers abound, with more stringent regulations being placed on production and products. While cost still remains a priority, more companies are willing to invest in what could very well be their stake in the future.

Man vs. Machine

While quality control improvements have been seen in more sophisticated automation, statistical process controls, microprocessors and programmable logic controls, all that is quality is not tangible and certainly not measured in the performance of one machine or control panel.

Nonwovens companies have diversified in planning how they handle quality. No one has targeted a single area as the answer to providing better quality products to their customers; mOst companies are concentrating on several areas of improvement.

"Quality must be insured at several different levels," said Philip Riddle, vice president of Batson Yarn and Fabrics Machinery, Greenville, SC, U.S. representative of equipment manufacturer Dr. Ernst Fehrer, Linz, Austria. You must ask, Do suppliers A, B and C have the same quality levels?"' he said. "The quality thinking must start before the equipment and materials get to the producer's door and he starts making the product."

Likewise, hot melt application equipment supplier Nordson, Norcross, GA, also has more than equipment automation on its quality agenda. Quality at Nordson is divided into two distinct areas," said john Raterman, nonwoven business group manager. "First, we demand quality from our vendors and from our manufacturing departments to enable us to accommodate our customers' demands for quality products. Secondly, we are also working on designing statistical process control compatibility into our equipment," he said.

David McKinnon, business director at fiber supplier Hoechst Celanese, Charlotte, NC, agreed. "The customer is buying performance at his plant. We are not just selling products that meet specifications. We need to ask What do you expect in terms of your performance and product properties? What is important to you?"'

Overall, the sense in the industry is that quality has become more important and defining what their customers want or expect is the logical path to take. "While quality control has always been important, it has grown in significance recently," said John Majewski, manufacturing support manager for latex and hydrophilics, BFGoodrich, Cleveland, OH. "The importance of a truly uniform product has developed over the past three or four years."

The Supplier Connection

As the industry grows more conscious of the need for quality in its supplier and customer interactions, it must work to overcome certain difficulties, industry barriers such as increased costs and the overall secretive nature of the nonwovens business. In order to be able to meet customer needs with quality products, openness and trust must become an inherent part of supplier/customer relationships and this is one hurdle the industry appears to be overcoming. Preferred supplier programs are quickly becoming the norm, as companies work to develop closer relationships with their customers and suppliers to provide a guaranteed quality product every time.

Hoechst Celanese has developed a preferred supplier program that goes beyond traditional quality control. "We can make a product that meets the agreed specification, but while this is a necessary condition, it is not nearly enough," said Mr. McKinnon.

While Hoechst Celanese does do statistically designed testing programs that measure product quality, conformance to customer specifications is only part of the answer. We need to spend time with the customer to make sure our specifications describe a product that will give him the result that is desired," he said. "Our quality policy states that we will work with customers to provide products and service that meet or exceed their expectations."

Another raw materials supplier, BFGoodrich, is also concentrating on its quality programs. "Back in the early 1980's we did a complete overhaul of our quality effort with consultant Phil Crosby, whose definition of quality is meeting customer requirements," said Mr. Majewski. "We now have a stronger sense of being close to our customers, defining quality in customer terms."

Goodrich has also organized a three phase effort with its suppliers. The first phase, already completed, involved a total overhaul of all raw material specifications. The second and third phases, currently underway, include asking suppliers for control charts and getting a better handle on their process controls as well as auditing suppliers' plants.

Plant audits and Phil Crosby also help define the quality program at Air Products & Chemicals, Allentown, PA, a supplier of resins and emulsions. "The Phil Crosby quality process is the core of our philosophy and all the employees are trained in its use," said Rex Noel, emulsions product manager. Air Products also has an extensive quality program, started in 1982, with its suppliers, including questionnaires, plant audits and SQC charting.

At the other end of the spectrum, "some of our customers are also involved in questionnaires and plant audits," said Mr. Noel. "They examine our technical services, quality of distribution and customer service in addition to the product itself."

With all this work being done on certified supplier programs, cooperation remains the key. "We need to establish a strong linkage between our product properties and their performance," said Mr. McKinnon. "We are encouraged by current changes in the nonwovens industry, which has historically been secretive. Customers are becoming more open about their needs and their processes, allowing us to work more closely and better meet their needs while maintaining their confidential information. The customer must give the supplier a clear description of expectations as well as feedback on actual product performance. Many companies are moving past traditional quality control and into open dialogue with an emphasis on total quality management."

Mr. Majewski, of BFGoodrich, agreed that the industry is beginning to open up. "It's like a snowball running downhill," he said. "The closer we are to our customers, the better working relationship we can develop with their R&D and people on the floor. It's the face to face relationship that really makes the difference; it's critical in cementing the business to find out what they want."

Quality At The Equipment Level

While certified supplier relationships are an important part of developing better quality, on-line quality control systems still head the list in importance. In today's nonwovens industry, almost all equipment has some type of computerized automation. just how far companies have gone varies according to cost constraints and the actual needs of the equipment being automated. The consensus is that controls are moving quickly toward more sophisticated, higher quality systems.

"Microprocessors are quickly becoming outdated," said Fritz Buehning, vice president-sales, Accurate Products, Hillside, NJ, a producer of melt blown equipment. "Programmable logic controls are 'now.' We need on-line gauges."

Nordson is also working on keeping its machinery on par with quality control developments. "Our intent is to develop diagnostics within Nordson systems that will allow process control verification of the customer's production line for consistent product quality," said Mr. Raterman.

Dr. Ernst Fehrer is concentrating on continuing quality at the R&D and manufacturing levels. "Fehrer has invested heavily in R&D for innovative new ideas and it has also invested heavily in computer controlled machining centers," said Mr. Riddle, of Batson. "The machines are made under precise conditions with quality components and are test run and rechecked before shipping.

One company that made a big leap into quality control in the past two years by implementing a real time process control system was roll goods producer Reemay, Old Hickory, TN. Director of process control systems Rick Ferencz said that reports on the system have been extremely favorable. "A machine can make good products, bad products and a gray area of products that we are not sure meet standards," said Mr. Ferencz. "The biggest impact so far with this system has been the narrowing of this gray area. We have also given the manufacturers real time feedback, with faster results for quicker modification and reduced waste."

Another company heavily involved in quality control at the machinery level is Mercer Corp., Hendersonville, TN, a manufacturer of hot melt application equipment. "Two avenues of quality control are followed at Mercer," said Dennis Mercer, vice president-marketing and international sales. "Programmable logic controls are used to monitor multiple functions for adhesives machinery. Our customers can now more accurately measure parameters such as pump speed, temperature and pressure.

The second avenue," he continued, "is a pneumatic control unit with a microprocessor. This controls adhesive air temperature, allowing for more flexibility." While Mr. Mercer said that the trend is towards monitoring more accurately as the converting is performed, the priority is still cost containment.

The Priority Of The Purse

As long as the priority remains cost containment, the struggle between value and cost will continue in terms of quality control. Because measurable results of an investment in quality control are often difficult to discern, justifying the investment is harder than when purchasing an actual, tangible product. In spite of this, the nonwovens industry continues to move forward in its quest for quality

Michael Donnelly, business manager-Sontara, DuPont, Wilmington, DE, commented on this value versus cost relationship. "This is going to sort people in the coming years," he said. "The industry has been technologydriven for years. Now it's going to be distinguished by overall quality. We are not selling price, we are selling value."

Mr. Noel, of Air Products, agreed. "While measurable results are hard to define quantitatively, we are absolutely convinced it does pay off," he said. "If you focus on certain physical parameters, you can get a reduction in variability anywhere from 25-80%."

There appears to be an increasing awareness of this savings as well, leading to increasing demand. "When you know more about what's going on with your process through monitors and controls, you can control costs and efficiency," said Mr. Mercer. "As margins get squeezed, there isn't as much room for error, particularly in the diaper industry where there is such a proliferation of features available on so many diapers. The emphasis now is on manufacturing a diaper with all of these features at a competitive cost."

Nordson is also convinced that the results are worth the cost. "We design hardware for the lowest cost of quality operating equipment, not necessarily the lowest cost. The two do not always overlap," said Mr. Raterman. "Today, with the issue of waste and landfills becoming so critical, reducing the amount of scrap is also important. The sophistication required for this kind of result is definitely the way to go for the future."

"We must drive harder and faster into automation," said Mr. Ferencz, of Reemay. "These are the good old days. We must seize the moment and put these programs into effect now."

Quality can never be emphasized too much, added Jean Paul Jaussaud, national

sales manager for Honeycomb Systems, Biddeford, ME, a supplier of drying and bonding equipment for the nonwovens industry. "I think people are willing to pay more to get higher quality levels," he said. "More and more companies are realizing that there is also a cost for non-quality. If you don't make a quality product, you lose business. In the end, the cost becomes a benefit, not a detriment."

The problems of keeping up with increased competition and more stringent quality requirements must also be considered. "As time passes, quality will become more and more important to nonwovens companies," said Mr. Riddle. "Now that machines are moving faster, you must catch the defect sooner. The penalties are recycling costs or off-quality materials that must be sold at lower prices."

"This is not a new quality awareness," said Mr. Jaussaud. "Maybe people are talking about it more and becoming less shy about demanding higher quality. This may be a sign of a maturing industry. There is more competition, so customers don't have to put up with inferior products."

Top U.S. Roll Goods Producer On The Cutting Edge Of Quality

Quality starts at the top, so the saying goes. That appears to hold true in the nonwovens industry. A brand new quality program was introduced last month in DuPont's Fibers Dept., which encompasses top U.S. producer DuPont's nonwovens business (in its Industrial Div.) as well as three other divisions, Floor Coverings, Textiles and Composites.

While the new program is by no means the company's first brush with quality systems, it does entail a new way of looking at quality and at the company itself. "DuPont has had a fairly elaborate and disciplined program for five to six years now," said Carl Munro, director of quality management for the fibers department, "taking key thoughts from quality gurus worldwide." It is now in the transition stage, putting into place the adoption of Malcolm Baldrige's award criteria for quality.

The Malcolm Baldrige criteria promotes an awareness of quality as an increasingly important element in competitiveness, an understanding of the requirements for quality excellence and a sharing of information on successful quality strategies and on the benefits derived from the implementation of these strategies. The program has seven distinct categories: leadership, information and analysis, strategic quality planning, human resource utilization, quality assurance of products and services, quality results and the most important, customer satisfaction.

"We think this represents a good way to define activities," said Mr. Munro. "Adding how to's make quality an entire process and a good way to manage business. There are 33 subcategories and 192 criteria within the seven broad categories, giving us a very sophisticated framework to work with."

Mr. Munro emphasized the importance of customer satisfaction, the most important category within the Malcolm Baldrige framework and important for DuPont as well. For our customers we want strategic meaningful partnerships that value each other's purpose or meaning for being,- he said. "We start from this base and look at how Malcolm Baldrige would interface with this; it speaks well for DuPont to have that kind of orientation.

The program was introduced to the department Feb. 20 and will incorporate a series of employee seminars through the next year and a half, to be implemented on a worldwide basis. The department's purpose statement says simply, "We are committed to partnerships to make a better world.- The four principal stakeholders-and no single one is more important than any other, said Mr. Munro-are 'DuPonters,' customers, society and stockholders.

From a nonwoven roll goods perspective, this framework is a means of measuring how you're doing, said Michael Donnelly, business manager-Sontara. "The extensive quality program embraces all elements of the business." Mr. Donnelly stressed that this is not something new at DuPont, but rather a step forward. "We have been driving quality for the past five years; this recent program is just an acceleration of this drive,- he said. -We are driving strategically, using this is a unification. We work with a wide customer base and we are selling value, not just price."
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Title Annotation:includes related article; quality control in the nonwoven fabrics industry
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Words:2581
Previous Article:Put more power behind your nonwovens sales: a guide to navigating the nonwovens business in the 1990's.
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