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'Quality partnerships' needed for molders, resin suppliers, end users.

The dilemma for some molders of healthcare, electronics/consumer, and packaging products is that of being held accountable to supply its customers with good product, yet having no leverage over resin suppliers to guarantee good material. According to E. Frank Mead, president of Tech Medical, a custom molder in Tempe, Ariz., "It's impossible to improve a process downstream if the variability of the process was put into it upstream."

An attempt to come to terms with this and related quality issues was the recent Partnership Forum, sponsored by the Tech Group (Tech Medical's parent firm) in Tempe in April. The forum brought together representatives from resin suppliers and end users to discuss needs and goals relating to quality and consistency of product. PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY was also invited to listen in.

Tech Group was spurred on to convene the forum by its view that strong partnerships are needed between each link in the chain of supplier, processor, and customer to ensure product quality. Rather than sort out product defects from the previous supplier link in the chain, Mead says, all three parties must work together to push total quality control farther and farther back up the chain to prevent defects.

Market requirements reflecting more stringent demands from customers may outstrip the standards of resin suppliers, said Mead, leaving the molder caught in the middle. For example, Mead said that presence of metals and fines in resin shipments " creates tremendous problems for us." Tech Medical operates two sifters for some incoming materials--one for each kind of impurity.

"Our customers hold us totally accountable for certified ship-to-stock products," said Mead. "Yet they tell us what grade of material to use and from whom we have to buy it. That's illogical. If we're held accountable, our customers need to work closely with us (partnership) in both the selection of the initial materials and the ongoing efforts of continuous improvement across the entire process chain."

Mead would like to see more resin suppliers take financial responsibility for their product. He tells of the frustration of dealing with one resin supplier that refused to take responsibility for over $70,000 of problems caused by product variations and contamination--even though Tech Medical documented inconsistencies in the process from the same batch.

Several major resin suppliers invited to the conference claimed to have instituted in-house product quality improvement programs, although most were rather thin on specifics. One approach that may hold some promise in reducing impurities in resins is on-going development of new polymerization processes that reduce the amount of additives needed to produce polymers, according to one supplier at the meeting.



Total quality control is only possible in a partnership environment that extends from the material supplier to the end user, according to Denes Hunkar, president of Hunkar Laboratories Inc., Cincinnati, who was an invited speaker at the meeting. A fourth link in the quality chain is the machinery manufacturer, he noted.

In an ideal situation, said Hunkar, quality verification or conventional incoming quality control should not be needed, because the proof of quality would be passed along with the product all the way down the manufacturing chain.

For this to become a reality, he says, a system of quality definitions needs to be agreed to by all parties to the transaction. Statistical process-control (SPC) technology exists to implement this through the use of process quality standards by all manufacturers in the chain.

Each manufacturer establishes process quality standards around its segment of the process by proving that certain process parameters affecting quality are kept within acceptable limits, says Hunkar. These limits, in turn, correlate to acceptable quality requirements at the beginning of the next manufacturing cycle.

When process quality standards are agreed to by all parties, manufacturing a quality product becomes simple because no one in the chain passes on any product that did not meet the quality standard while it was made. Hunkar used the term process quality control (PQC) to describe a manufacturing system that requires that no product can be passed along the chain unless all process parameters were maintained between upper and lower quality specification limits (USL/LSL), which are expressed in absolute units of measure.

Key technologies to establishment of PQC include:

* Use of standardized sensor and measurement technology;

* Commonality of accuracy measured against a "gold standard";

* Means to monitor the manufacturing process real time;

* Comparison of the process to the established control standard;

* Segregation of any product that does not meet the standard;

* Recording the process performance as proof of quality;

* Passing these data along to the next user with the product;

* Using a common means of verification.

Benefits of using quality standards as the primary means of quality acceptance include reduced cost of quality at each step, claims Hunkar. It permits lower manufacturing costs and reduced inventories that would otherwise need to be maintained.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:De Gaspari, John
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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