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How good is your quality?

I've known more people who think that their children are brats than foundry bosses who admit to having poor quality. So, if you're the owner/manager of a foundry, you most likely believe you run a quality operation.

While it's natural to think your operation is the best, it isn't necessarily true - not all foundries have the best quality. Every foundryman is happy talking about how bad competitors are, but when it comes to their own foundry, they believe they're doing a quality job.

But if you tell me that you've got good quality, you can expect me to respond with, "How do you know?" Before you even attempt to answer, watch out - it's a trick question. First, you should know how I define quality.

What is Quality?

I've heard about as many definitions of quality as there are quality experts. Perhaps the most famous came from Phil Crosby. His saying that "quality is conformance to specification" was considered gospel by many, but foundrymen who take castings back from customers because they don't "machine right" know that definition doesn't work. I haven't seen "machining right" as part of any specification.

The definition that works best for me is "quality is what the customer perceives it to be." This definition allows for things that don't appear in specifications, like machinability. It also allows for operations that, I believe, have terrible quality - obviously their customers must feel their quality is sufficient.

The only problem with this definition is that it makes quality difficult to measure. You must get into the minds of a foundry's customers to find out what they think, which can be tough. There are many ways to go about it - some are very casual and others are more structured.

To me, it's unfortunate that most foundries rely on informal means to determine what their customers think. The managers get feedback from the salespeople but may discount those that do not match their perception because "the salesperson has an axe to grind." Or the boss may select some customers to visit personally. Naturally, he will choose to visit the customers who are the largest, complain the most or have been customers the longest. None of these will give a good picture of what is felt by customers in general.

Survey Your Customers

The most simple and effective way to determine what your customers are thinking is an annual survey. While simple, this answer won't necessarily be easy. Surveys give good insight only if you carefully design the survey form and interpret the results with even more care.

We've used surveys to evaluate customers' perceptions with a great deal of success, but it was a learning process. Following are a few things that we learned that might shorten the learning process for you:

* Ask for comparison ratings - Instead of asking the customers to rate your quality, ask them to compare your performance to others. There's an old joke about two men running from a bear, and one stops to put on running shoes. The other says, "Why bother? You can't outrun the bear." The first replies, "I only have to outrun you." You only have to be better than your competitors to keep the business. Watch out for this type of thinking. You may be putting on running shoes while your competitor is getting into a car. The survey can show you that the competition isn't gaining on you, but you can bet that if you slack off on your efforts to improve, they'll catch up real quick;

* Keep it simple - Some people won't answer any survey form, but you'll get a much higher return if you keep the survey form simple and short. Try to keep it to one page, and don't expect written answers. People who complete surveys don't seem to mind giving a number rating but rarely answer questions that require writing sentences. Asking for comments at the end is OK but don't expect them;

* Get specific - Design your survey form so that you can ask about specific areas as well as an overall evaluation. If you get a low overall rating because you're sending out late shipments, you don't want to devote all of your attention to reducing customer returns;

* Survey annually - While finding out what the customers are thinking the first time is interesting, the largest benefits come from doing it annually. Some people are tough graders and some easy. By comparing last year's scores to this year's, you get a good picture of what direction your customers think you're going;

* Use a cover letter - The cover letter provides an excellent opportunity to tell your customers what you've been doing for them. If you're making improvements in your operation, let them know, especially if it pertains to something in the survey.

There are some benefits that can be gained by letting an outside organization do the surveying for the foundry, but that's not the important consideration. The important thing is to find out what the customers think before they start pulling their patterns.
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:small foundry management
Comment:How good is your quality?(small foundry management)
Author:Lobenhofer, Roy
Publication:Modern Casting
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Previous Article:Paul Mikkola: commanding the development of technology.
Next Article:Foundrymen discuss nobake molding, robotic handling.

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