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Quality of Building Equipment and Materials

Seeking Good Quality Building Materials

In the building industry it is very important to check the quality of the materais, equipment and fittings that we are using. Manufacturers seeking to maximise their profit margins are constantly seeking the right balance between providing high quality and producing to the right price. As worldwide competition increases this is becoming increasingly difficult and unfortunately finding materials of high quality is becoming increasingly difficult. Here we look at the issues we need to be aware of when buying materials, equipment or fittings and some of the tricks used by manufacturers and suppliers we need to avoid to protect ourselves.

The Balance Between Quality and Price

Quality - it affects everything we buy and everything we have done for us. It is the difference between a limousine and a runabout, between a delicious meal and a stomach upset and, in the case of an earthquake, between a beautiful villa and a pile of rubble.

There was a time when I believed that when you bought something the manufacturer would try to provide you with the best quality of product possible. I soon learned otherwise. They might have started out honest but as manufacturing companies grew, amalgamated, got taken over and the boards that manage them became further and further removed from the core of their businesses the emphasis shifted further and further from customer satisfaction towards profit.

Manufacturers live or die by their quality

It seems that one day large corporations decided that the customer to be satisfied was in fact the "shareholder", the product to be manufactured was "profit" and the quality was "lots of it", the poor hopeful actually buying the goods was left at the bottom of the food chain, the person to be harvested for whatever wealth (or anything else) that could be extracted from his or her scrawny little hand.

Of course we must not generalise, there are many levels of integrity and there are many, many serious manufacturers who know that in the long term they will live or die by their reputation for high quality products. Sadly these days there are a growing number of manufacturers that seem to be working to a very short term agenda, they want to make as much money as possible, right now and tomorrow never comes does it?

Offshore manufacturing requires strong quality control

As we all know for many years manufacturers have been moving their operations to developing countries where labour is cheap, this works well as long as strong management and quality control is maintained. Apple products, for example, are manufactured in China for a company that has to maintain a reputation for high quality products and long term reliability. Apple has been having challenges with this arrangement but clearly, with the right management, China can produce high quality goods.

Unfortunately, however, there are many products from developing countries that appear to have been made with the sole aim of seduction. All too often they are designed to look "just persuading enough" for someone to be tempted to buy them with scant regard for that age old quality requirement "fitness for purpose." They often perform poorly, break down easily, only have short lifespans and, when you do want to repair them, spare parts are simply not available.

Seeking cheaper manufacturing costs and higher profits

In recent years companies in search of higher profits have moved much of the world's manufacturing to countries such as China seduced by lower manufacturing costs. America has been particularly keen to follow this trend and, not surprisingly, manufacturing industries in America have been in serious decline. Recently, however, this trend has started to reverse and a number of American companies are taking manufacturing back to America. Why has this happened?

Chinese manufacturing is having a hard time and certainly the financial crisis and increasing employee pay demands have played a significant part however I suggest that it is the inevitable tendency of greedy manufacturers to keeping shaving costs and the resulting loss of quality that is also a major cause of China's manufacturing woes.

We have to remember that China and other developing nations are relatively new players in international manufacturing and perhaps one of the important learning processes they have to go through is gaining the understanding that long term survival and success depends on winning the trust of customers and building a reputation for quality products.

Years ago a similar situation was faced by Japan; a country that, when it first ventured onto the world markets for manufactured goods, produced levels of quality that drew sniggers of mirth and derision from around the world. Over the years Japan learned and improved, it took commitment and time but they succeeded and these days Japan is highly respected for the quality of the goods it produces.

Why am I regaling you with all this?

It is important to seek out good quality

We live in a world where avoiding substandard quality is an increasingly difficult challenge and this has important ramifications for us all as we select the items we need to keep our lives running smoothly. It isn't such a big deal if a wheel falls off little Johnnie's truck but when lead paint is used on children's toys or melamine is added to milk this is a far more serious matter that kills people.

Around our homes there are many items we buy expecting long term reliable service. If we buy a water pump or an air conditioner we are quite right to expect many, many years of faultless operation. We need these items to work out of sight out of mind, day in and day out. With markets filled with brands we have never heard of careful selection of high quality products is more important than ever these days.

Low quality stainless steel

Stainless steel is a case in point. All around us we see stainless steel components such as door hinges and window catches that are rusting. This is because, firstly, real stainless steel (the sort that doesn't rust) requires the addition of minerals that increase the cost of the steel and secondly real stainless steel is very hard and more expensive to machine. If you buy stainless steel components made, for example, in Germany they will cost more but you will get high quality from a nation that has a hard won reputation to maintain and is unlikely to risk that reputation by cheating the customer and selling rubbish.

Copying trade names

Of course we all know the dodgy supplier's trick of confusing potential customers by choosing a trade name similar to a respected product or company. In the case of voltage stabilisers, for example, Japanese made units are highly regarded but you will find that good products tend to be hidden amongst numerous far inferior products from other countries that are marketed under names that are mysteriously similar to the established Japanese brands.

Poor quality LED lighting

Let us consider LED lights. In recent years the market has been flooded with cheaply made Chinese LED lights. Most have very poor light output, often poor light colour and they tend to blow easily. There are, in fact, some very good ones around but trying to find them amongst the rubbish can be difficult. A good LED light should last 10 to 20 years as long as their electrical power supply is stable. Seek out reputable brands.

Poor quality solar water heaters

Recently I have come across a number of solar water heaters that have failed. Trying to solve the problems has been difficult and in the end owners have thrown them away and gone back to electric heaters. Very upsetting when they bought these products in good faith.

The heaters in question are chinese made glass tube solar water heaters. The common fault is that a valve inside the unit fails, the valve controls the flow of water into the heater tank and when it fails it blocks off the water supply. I have heard of many attempts to get inside the units to repair or replace the valves but never known anyone actually succeed.

Owners of these heaters have tried calling the suppliers without success, even the supplier's own technicians have been unable to solve the problems.

I sense that there is in fact a defined policy that is spreading through manufacturing in general, "we are not interested in maintaining, we want to sell another." This has probably been the case for years but not so vigorously applied as it is now.

Extra care is needed when buying manufactured goods these days

For your own sake take care. When buying a product don't take it on face value, do a bit of research. It is easy to collect a product code number and look it up on the internet. Look for a specification sheet or an operational manual. If the English is bad perhaps you should beware.

Find out where the product was made. If it is was made in China, India or OomiGooliland have a careful look at the quality, international brand names usually signify international quality control standards but don't take this for granted. Is that Rolex watch you bought on the beach yesterday still running?

Ask the supplier if he or she is able to maintain the product and it is also a good idea to check the availability of spare parts.

Some would remember that a few years ago there was a sudden influx of chinese made "Charley Davidson" chopper style motor cycles. There were a number of different brands but they all seemed to suffer the same problems ‐ parts were not available and this is the kiss of death to a product such as motor cycle. The distributors seem to have vanished and, not surprisingly, it is rare to see any of those bikes around any more.

It is good to know that manufacturers who produce bad products tend to get their comeuppance in the end but not until they have taken advantage of a lot of people along the way.

We live in a commercial jungle, take care.

Copyright © Phil Wilson October 2012
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