Too many processors spend far too much time trying to second-guess their customers' requirements, when one of the best ways to find out what customers need is to ask them. It's called communication. Unfortunately, processors and original equipment manufacturers oftentreat each other like they have the plague, only getting face-to-face when the processor wants a price increase or the customer wants a price decrease or gets a box of bad parts. (I once heard a molder say that he knew his customers were happy with their parts if they didn't call for six months: the old ``No news is good news'' syndrome.)
When the two parties do get together, each often is surprised to discover that the other had different expectations for the relationship.
Sometimes a large OEM such as Ford or IBM will tell their suppliers about a new quality program or material requirements planning program being implemented, then outline ways in which the processor can come into compliance. But that's a rare exception.
Often, OEMs don't know what they want any more than processors do. So, they both jump on a buzzword bandwagon. About 12 years ago when statistical quality control became the way to ensure good parts, molders were SQC-ing everything from flower pots to medical components, without any thought of whether or not the customer really needed the costly procedure.
Now, it's ISO 9000. Everyone, it seems, wants this international quality-system certification, as if that automatically will ensure customer satisfaction.
For some OEMs, ISO might mean something. Others might not care one way or the other.
One molder I spoke with told me a story that exemplifies this. About eight years ago, when statistical process control was the rage, he visited a customer seeking additional work. The OEM's senior purchasing guy told the molder that another molder the company used was doing something really great for them.
The purchasing guy took the molder to the warehouse and showed him that every box of parts coming in from this other molder contained an SPC chart.
``That's great,'' this molder said, looking at the chart. ``What do you do with the information?''
``Oh, we don't do anything with it,'' the purchasing agent replied. ``There's no one here that understands it.''
Well, I always did say, if you can't grab 'em with quality, price and delivery, baffle 'em with bull...
Working together, a processor and OEM should assess and evaluate each others' capabilities and requirements on a regular basis, matching them up to find out what each needs to do for the other.
It's called communication.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent based in Phoenix.