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A Commitment to Quality Can Help Ensure Product Safety when Manufacturing Globally

The manufacturing industry, be it of toys, games and even glass products, is an increasingly global market. Some companies are starting to outsource production to those in China, while others have opened Asian production plants. Concerns over the quality of Chinese-produced products are not new. For many years the country was regarded as being able to produce fast and inexpensive products, and sometimes the resulting quality suffered. In more recent years, the country has proven itself as being capable of producing just as good of a product as any other country. However, in August when more than 18 million Mattel toys that had been made in China were recalled, news reports across the United States questioned China's quality control procedures. Today, as more glass companies begin operating on a global basis, how do they ensure product safety and quality?

St. Louis-based Solutia Inc. recently began production of its Saflex brand PVB at a new plant in Suzhou, China. The location has started producing PVB specifically for China's automotive windshield market, with the ability to add capacity for the architectural market should there be a demand moving forward.

Tim Feast, vice president of business management for Solutia's Saflex business, says when it comes to any type of manufacturing in China there is a range of quality levels.

"With the automotive market that approach to quality control in windshields is no different in China [than anywhere else]," says Feast. "It's a very demanding market with high requirements. An automotive windshield plant, for example, would not be any different than anywhere else. There are other segments, though, where quality is less an issue. Laminated glass for balconies in high-rise construction is significantly less than in other markets. So there is a range of quality."

Feast says that before opening the Suzhou plant Solutia made the decision that it would produce the same high level of quality as any of its other plants.

"To get a quality product you have to go with the best quality production," Feast says. "Within that business [Saflex] we have a global approach to quality and a global standard on quality a standardized process. The same systems are used in every plant."

Vesuvius, which has North American operations in Pittsburgh [and manufacturing in Dillon, S.C.], as well as plants that serve the glass industry in China and France, produces in each region to serve that specific region only. In other words, what the company produces in China is made for its Asian customers only; what's produced in France is for Europe and what's produced in the United States is for North America.

Ren Bartoe, commercial director - Americas for the Vesuvius fused silica division, says, however, that the level of quality at all three plants is identical.

"We implemented a best practices program so that all of our plants use the exact same materials, tools in production, even the same machinery," Bartoe says. "Our goal was to have a global standard for quality." This, he explains, helps ensure that whether the rollers are made in China, North America or France, the quality is the same.

Having this type of global program in place can help companies ensure a high quality product.

"It comes back to having that worldwide process in place at every plant," says Dan Jenkins, director of communications for Solutia. "You have a reporting process to make sure all of your quality requirements are being met."

Feast agrees. "We have the same integrated computer system, same online instrumentation, extensive training we brought some of the employees in China to other plants so that they could learn from employees there," he says. "We have routine product testing worldwide to make sure all of our products are standardized. It comes down to having those procedures in place and adhered to in every plant."

Ultimately, though, it's an investment in quality production materials and equipment that may also help to ensure a high-quality product is the end result.

"When it comes to quality in China, the key aspect is the upfront decision about the type of technology you'll deploy in your plant there," says Feast. "Go for the best equipment, the best training, safety and there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to produce the same quality as anywhere else. But it all has to start with a commitment to being world class."

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