Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Friday, 19 April 2013

More Thoughts on Manufacturing, The Materials Used and Manpower.

In recent posts, I have mused on all of the above and have on several occasions mentioned my iPod.

Before I begin, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not an iPostle of the late Steve Jobs, although I am an admirer of his (megalomaniac?) vision and his quest for perfection in design and ease of use. Neither am I a slave to designer labels.

Obviously when we buy a prestige product, part of the high price is simply a premium for having this or that logotype on it. This logo, however, is also a seal of quality. When Apple presents a new product, it is staking its whole reputation on it. When Hua Xin Wei (invented name) brings out its latest mp4 player, it is staking very little on it as it has, and probably never will have, a reputation to protect. It will sell this product before moving onto its next which may not even have the same brand name.

Therefore, what does quality matter to such manufacturers? Very little. They will market a product with the same memory capacity as an elegant aluminium-cased iPod at a fraction of the price. It will be made of cheap, fragile plastic with cheap, fragile controls and when it breaks after a few months or the first time you drop it, so what? Chuck it and buy a new one. As the saying goes: "You gets what you pays for". In this case you pay for cheap materials, cheap labour and shoddy workmanship.

I know that my iPod was also assembled in China. Please take note: it was assembled in China. Its most important constituent parts were made in Korea and the US. Its supposedly inflated price is a guarantee of quality and good workmanship. I should imagine that the rejection rate during all steps of quality control is rather high to ensure excellence in the product sold. Another example of such stringent quality control in a premium product is that exercised by Ferrari. Their chassis are made to tolerances of microns and if they do not pass the quality control, they are scrapped - not re-machined, recalibrated or re-assembled. They are scrapped.

Another element to consider is the attitude of the workers themselves. Workers in a factory producing prestige articles will take a greater pride in their work - and will in all probability be paid more. Top-down excellence is a key to good manufacturing. Cheapness per se is not a good thing. Indeed, arch-capitalist Henry Ford well knew this. In 1914 he decided to pay his workers $5/day - double the going rate. This attracted the best and brightest mechanics in Detroit, cut his training costs and reduced the turnover of labour, making the Ford company highly profitable and enabling its workers to buy what they produced - thus creating further demand for its cars.

If your employer treats you with contempt, then you will treat your job with contempt and resentment, slinging the finished product together or offering sloppy service. Remember British Leyland in the 1970s? It was a company riven by politics and class - even prestige cars such as Jaguar and Range Rover were flung together between strikes and teabreaks (the former probably being more frequent than the latter). It was a miracle if your new car actually worked when BL finally deigned to deliver it.

The conclusion? Companies that take pride in their products and workers that take pride in their work produce superior goods or services. In such cases it is definitely worth paying more to ensure that what you're buying will, in the case of goods, give lasting use and satisfaction. 

A final anecdote: At Christmas I lost my Kindle. I found it 2 months later in a bag in the deep freeze (please don't ask!) After a few days of thawing out in the fridge then a further couple of days in the wardrobe, it resumed service with no harm done. A paragon of excellence!

1 comment:

  1. This strikes a chord with me because I bought Tigger's old iPod off her when I was impressed with the quality as compared with that of some other devices we had tried. I use it for specific purposes and for these it performs faultlessly, while the screen, though small, is clear and easy to read.

    Another plus is the service Apple gives. Tigger's iPod did start to misbehave and she booked a session with an Apple "Genius" to sort it out. The only downside is that it takes a week or so to get an appointment but once we were there, we had the full attention of the expert who spared no time or effort in solving the problem (which turned out to be a very unusual one). This was impressive and I came away with a good opinion of Apple and its customer service.

    My iPod experience might suggest that I should buy an iPhone but as my prime use of a mobile is for email and I have several addresses, Blackberry is the only fruit that satisfies me.

    Not that Apple products are perfect. For one thing there is Apple's cavalier attitude in supplying what it thinks you, the user, ought to need and resolutely ignoring what you might think you need. I imagine, because of that, that getting locked into Apple by having only Apple products would be a somewhat claustrophobic experience. There is a feeling that Apple won't add anything that is too challenging technically or might spoil the smooth lines of the design.

    In what they do, though, and in the quality of the hardware - and, as our experience suggests, in standards of customer service - Apple products are excellent. I also think that the need other manufacturers feel to compete with Apple has raised the game of all of them and that there are non-Apple products on the market today that would not be there without Apple. Wittingly or unwittingly, Apple has improved customer choice for all of us.