Production issues, and what can be done about them

During the manufacturing process, there are many production issues that can occur: poor quality, long lead times, high on-hand inventory, supply chain interruptions, etc. These things all affect the product you’re putting out there, which in turn affects the public’s perception of your brand.

The big 4

The most common problems tend to fit into four categories:

  1. Quality problems: High defect rate, high return rate and poor quality.
  2. Output problem: Long lead time, unreasonable production schedule, high inventory rate, supply chain interruption.
  3. Cost problem: Low efficiency, idle people or machines.
  4. Management problem: Potential safety hazard, bad working conditions.

Real world production problems

One great example of how a major quality problem can really cause problems down the line, recently happened to one of my clients in the UK. It was a wood product, but the moisture content of the wood was never tested. In addition, the product was not packed well for a wood product. So, when the goods arrived in the very damp climate of Britain, they began to mold quickly and the damage was irreversible. All the inventory had to be destroyed.

All that needed to happen was a closer eye on the details, and the whole situation could have been avoided with a plan to manage for the high moisture content of the wood.

They needed to be 100% clear on what their raw materials were comprised of, and what would need to happen to keep the product in retail-ready condition. Neither of these things happened and the whole production run was a loss.

What you can do

Quality control is exactly that: maintaining control over the level of quality you’re turning out. It’s important to be on good terms with your factory, because communication is key and because you really want them to understand exactly what it is you are looking for.

Identify the main problems

In the example above with the wood, it would have been helpful if it had been considered that moisture content in their raw materials would play a role in the overall quality of the final product. As the client of the factory, it is your job to tell them how you expect your products made, in the most finite detail you’re able to get to. It is up to you to consider these details and to convey them to the factory. And to hold them accountable for making it right.

Never forget that the factory will always try to please you… they will always say “yes”, even when they may have trouble meeting your request. So you must be extremely specific… say exactly what the moisture content of the wood needs to be, for example. When they send you a sample, have that sample tested. Make sure the craftsmanship where you want it to be. Make sure the factory understands. This is you providing strong, clear communication, staying on good terms with your factory, and keeping a firm grip on your quality standards.

They may also choose to provide other options if they can’t meet your criteria, such as including desiccant packs into the shipping boxes.

Dig into the details

Keeping with our wood example, the problem was the moisture content of the wood, and having failed to consider that. What other details need to be considered now? Perhaps the type of wood, how it was cured, and how it is stored at the factory are some points to look closer at. Do certain types of wood retain moisture more so than others? Can the wood be sealed after it is cured? It is possible to store the wood in a cool, dry location? Packaging and storage are two other key ways a wood product may be affected. Consider desiccant packets (such as silica) inside the packaging to keep moisture levels low even when your products are sitting in a warehouse waiting to be shipped.

Identify the root cause

Yes, it could be said that the root cause is moisture content of the wood. But the SOURCING of the wood, and the lack of direction around exactly what TYPE of wood was required, is the real root cause.

Corrective Action Plan time!

Now that we know what the problem was, it’s time to implement a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) to make sure it doesn’t happen going forward. Specify the right wood, source the right wood, test the sample, proceed only when testing is satisfactory.

Do -> Check -> Action -> Standardize

Do. Your first production run didn’t go so well. You did it, but it needed to be better.

Check. You learned that the materials sourced, were inappropriate for the intended use of the product.

Action. You took the time to investigate, and get right at the root cause.

Standardize. Now that you know what you didn’t know before, you can standardize the sourcing process for all your wood, and the raw materials of other products you manufacture.

Work smarter, not harder

I can see how it might seem like a lot of extra work, and very nitpicky too. It does get easier, but your first production run is bound to hand you some problems. So by taking a long look at what went wrong, and how it will be avoided in the future, you are saving yourself a lot of frustration down the road.

The more products you manufacture, the better you will get when it comes to spotting potential problems and heading them off. But you’ll be doing yourself a favor to always be looking at things with a critical eye, looking for ways to streamline without cutting corners, and taking an honest assessment when something goes wrong.

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