Over my career, one of the trends emerging is the challenge between building quality products and company profits. Validation & Test has been treated as a necessary “evil”. From one end of the spectrum, companies that focus on quality will do their due diligence of creating a test strategy that ensures only quality products are shipped to customers. However, the cost of this due diligence has come under the scrutiny as an area that could help improve company profits. Reducing the cost of test is not a new area. With technology changes, test methodologies have to be re-evaluated periodically to keep up with validation/test challenges. However, validation & test must continue to be a priority. Ultimately, product quality will drive the success or failure of any organization.
Outsourcing the manufacturing to the highly competitive Asia market has resulted in minimal profit margins realized from this market. The goal to reduce overheard has pushed a “good enough” strategy for validation and testing of products before they’re shipped to customers. This strategy is based on the minimal efforts required to get a product shipped and accepted by a customer.
The challenge of inferior products is when is it discovered and who pays the cost. The Original Engineering Manufacturer (OEM) is focused on a good design and functionality of an initial prototype. The Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) is focused on getting the design at an acceptable level to be ready for manufacturing. Since manufacturing is where vendors are paid, the expression “boards out the door” is used to emphasize that shipping products for the manufacturer is key to profitability. The Contract Manufacturer (CM) is focused on building high volumes of the product at a minimal cost. Each of these entities sometimes has apposing care-abouts or priorities and product quality takes a hit.
With multiple companies involved in getting our products to market, it’s not always clear who owns the problem of building an inferior product and what is the resolution. In some cases, each entity (OEM/ODM/CM) can achieve their individual objectives without achieving the ultimate goal of building a good product.
I agree that the cost of validation and test should be scrutinized. “Over-testing” can drive up the cost of building a product. When engineering focuses too much on identifying rare faults in production, the result is additional testing that is unnecessary the majority of the time. However, what I have seen is the pendulum swinging to the extreme of “good enough” validation & test strategy which impacts product quality.
One idea to consider: is there a need in the industry for Product Quality Mediation? Have we fully explored the balance between “good enough” and “over-testing” to find the optimal strategy for delivering good quality products to customers at an acceptable cost? This balance will ultimately determine the product brand and customer satisfaction. Outsourcing is here to stay. However, as with all collaborations or partnerships, it must be win-win. There is a balance between profit and quality, but ultimately, quality must be a priority over profits for a sustaining long-term business success.