Interview with the Quality Control Department that underpins Thinky products’ “safety and security”
December 18, 2019｜Topic
Cumulative shipments of the Thinky Mixer have topped 38,000 units and been sold in more than 60 countries around the world. For customers to use the Thinky Mixer safely and securely, we have a Quality Control Department (QCD) in place. QCD is in charge of an extensive range of activities from new product evaluation to classification at the time of exporting as well as environmental friendliness, which has been drawing attention in recent years, besides quality management of our products. In this issue, we focused the spotlight on QCD and interviewed its members.
Tell us about the establishment of the Quality Control Department.
It was more than 30 years ago when Thinky developed the Thinky Mixer. In those days, there were a lot of things that we didn’t know much about and we failed numerous times for a variety of reasons. A high-speed rotation mechanism is incorporated in the Thinky Mixer and the acceleration rate is 400 G at maximum rotation. Under such circumstances, the weight of a 10-gram screw would increase by as much as 400 times, namely, four kilograms. So, failure to securely tighten even such a small component as a screw would lead to trouble. After experiencing a spate of failures, we became keenly aware that we need to ensure that our customers use our products with greater safety and security. We were told that the QCD was established with the motto, “We take responsibility for the quality of our products to the bitter end.”
Tell us about your activities in the QCD.
We work with the Engineering Department in the initial development phase and are closely involved in manufacturing from the product quality perspective. We conduct product inspections and manage product quality by ensuring safety through compliance with environmental regulations and the stably supply of safe components. Should any failure occur, we are responsible for elucidating the cause and rectifying it as well. Our department roughly divides business activities into product inspections and environmental regulations and those in charge of environmental regulations conduct product inspections concurrently.
As it stands, the number of components used in the Thinky Mixer exceeds 8,000. We manufacture a product by combining these. To enhance process reliability, we began working on the acquisition of ISO certification and inspecting individual components around 2000.
* The round belt, one of more than 8,000 components
At that time, such product inspections were little understood by component makers so when we asked them for technical information that we needed, they were oftentimes reluctant because we were asking for more than the delivery of goods. We sometimes requested them to review their inspection rules. Asking other companies to modify an existing process is a difficult task because such modification is a major issue and involves a large cost.
The round belt has become a legend as an initiative of the QCD.
As one of the episodes of the QCD, the improvement of the round belt often comes up in conversations. It is one of the key components used mainly in small machines. Around 2013, a series of cases were reported in which a newly replaced round belt was torn. We requested the belt maker to investigate and analyze the cause of the defect and correct it, but because cases in which the belt was not torn accounted for a majority, it was difficult to make them understand why we made the request. Given that the Thinky Mixer is a unique system that rotates while revolving with the axis of rotation being inclined at an angle of 45 degrees, there must have been no cases in which the belt was used in a similar way. As is the case with other components, due to Thinky machines’ uniqueness, the belt maker had little knowledge and it took a long time to finally identify the cause.
While efforts to identify the cause were ongoing, after consulting a public analysis center and asking it to analyze the surface of the defective component, the QCD received technical assistance from various experts and based on their perspectives, it drew up a report on the possible cause. The belt maker responded to the report in a very sincere manner. As a result, we and the belt maker conducted experiments repeatedly over a long period to explore remedial measures and finally, the belt maker made a major modification of the process. Through this, we were able to not only eliminate instability of conditions, but confirm increased strength and stability as well. There had been no report of the same defect since then.
When our steady efforts translate into tangible results, not only quality but a relationship of mutual trust improves, which pleases us. Needless to say, we have enjoyed a good partnership with the belt maker to this day.
* The round belt played a major role at a company ring tossing event in 2019!
Tell us about your efforts and initiatives for environmental regulations.
As the environmental regulations of the RoHS 2 (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Directive are well recognized on a global scale, collecting information or documents on components has become an easy task. Having said so, however, it is a hassle to manage information of more than 8,000 components. When a new product is launched, the number of components rises sharply and all the staff members make use of a manufacturing management application and collect information for each component continuously so that there would be no omissions. At Thinky, centering on 10 substances subject to the RoHS2 Directive, we labeled 30 substances as toxic and manage them. The results of our examination are used in our responses to customers or technical documents designed for the RoHS Directive. We also have a wide array of products that have obtained CE marking so that people all over the world can use our products.
* Products that obtained CE marking (as of 2019)
Come to think of it, when I bought a cheap soft raincoat, I suspected that it might contain phthalate ester. Phthalate ester is a regulated substance that has been added to the list of the RoHS 2 Directive; before it was regulated, it was used mainly to soften polyvinyl chloride in components and products. Phthalate ester became an issue for dishes, toys, etc. that children put in their mouths easily, but it was also used to ensure flexibility in jacketing cables for industrial goods. This substance is, of course, one of the items that Thinky has to check for its products. In this regard, we tend to be more wary of RoHS-regulated substances in our daily lives than ordinary people.
Could you tell us about the characteristics of QCD members?
Each member has a unique background, such as mechanical or electrical knowledge, not to mention the QC qualification that all members have acquired. A wide variety of factors could be entwined in the issues handled by the QCD. Cooperation not only among the members but also with other departments and divisions is essential. While increasing our experience through practical business operations, we also study an extensive range of materials. The scope of work is broad so we tangibly feel that what we can do increases year after year. We seem to have many members who are sincere and hardworking. At the same time, we value the flexibility to serve as a mediator between other departments and divisions as well.
We believe that our department quite often lives up to the motto of our president, “Think and act for yourself and carry it through.” If we find a problem, it won’t be solved unless the department in charge gets a move on, but in order to carry something through, we need to work out a strategy by paying attention to several factors before asking the department in charge a favor, including understanding their circumstances first before thinking of ways to motivate them.
Translating this into daily life, for instance, when I encounter some troubles with personal articles and call the company’s customer service center, I tend to talk while paying attention to the company’s points of view so that my request would be accepted smoothly. As we are used to such consultation at work, everyone in the QCD does so automatically in their daily lives, too, I guess. Having said so, however, human relations at home are always tricky (laughs).
Finally, could you give a message to customers?
The QCD becomes busy mainly before a product is completed and when a defect is discovered. So, not having to attend to any customer means that our quality management is doing well and Thinky products are free of problems. Unfortunately, however, even if we control product quality strictly, trouble happens. For example, malfunction occurs when material that exceeds the capacity is mixed.
For customers to use our mixers safely for many years, we request that they read the instruction manual well before using. We also request that they sign up as a user so that they may be able to request for repairs or maintenance smoothly.
Furthermore, to improve our products further, customer input is indispensable. Through our service or sales departments and the customer service office, we encourage our customers to share their views, opinions or requests. Should there be any questions, please feel free to let us know. Based on our customers’ input, we will strive to improve quality daily so that we may be able to offer better products that are also friendly to the environment.
After the interview
The members of the QCD came across as those who offer steady and trustworthy services professionally. Interestingly, during the interview, their hobbies, such as ballroom dancing and motorcycle fiddling, came up, which animated our conversations very much.
One member talked about paying attention to the angle of his foot as he performs ballroom dancing. Another member adds small parts to a motorcycle or bike or assembles one on his own. They go through painstaking efforts before enjoying brief moments of pleasure…they seem to stick to “the QCD quality” in their world of hobbies as well. They are the ones who underpin the quality of Thinky products so please continue to use the Thinky Mixer with no worries!