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Week of 29 October 2018: It wasn't Camelot

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When I think back over my five decades in industry, one stands out when the subject of quality comes up. It is the 1970s. The 1970s were the age of shabby. I don't care what kind of product it was, retail or industrial, I would suggest the 1970s were the low point of quality, at least in the United States.

The automobiles are a good proxy. Although the Corvair ("Unsafe at Any Speed") had come and gone in the 1960s, the 1970s produced some whoppers, too. I'll not mention them by name, for all vehicles have a certain following, but the land yacht on bad suspension systems comes to mind when I think of the 1970s autos. Then there were the exploding gas tanks on certain economy models. The cars were junk as delivered.

Retail products weren't much better. At that little old soap company I worked for in Cincinnati, we produced some whoppers, including one, sadly, that was fatal in certain situations (and I worked on that one!).

So, what changed? Was the change lasting? In the 1980s a number of books and articles appeared that suggested quality was free, or if not, it was reasonable. The idea that making products of quality was more economical than making products that needed to be remade caught on. Computers started to drop in price, and the ability to measure quality as we made things, not after we made things, caught on.


Join us in Guatemala next summer for the 3rd Paperitalo Papermakers' Mission Trip [12.06.18]


Quality became a competitive tool. If a product was known for quality, the word spread, and people bought it.

We were a little slower in industrial products (paper sold to printers or box makers) but even in these sectors we finally caught on. The printers and box makers got tired of polishing up our basic papermaking mistakes (in order to sell to their customers) and penalized us heftily through Returns and Allowances. We got the message.

Now, we stand at a new threshold of quality. It is called Industry 4.0 or IOT (the Internet of Things). The concept is that we measure and monitor everything as deep in the process as it goes--the point of introduction, if you will, and adjust, correct, and reject as early as possible in the process. Cheap computing power makes this possible, along with some brilliant mathematicians able to write clever algorithms to analyze the data and tell us what is going on.

The day of shabby is over. Not only have competitive pressures put the kibosh on selling poor quality goods, "Jeff Bezos" has, too. Back in the day, sometimes you had to accept poor quality goods because those were all that were available to you. Now, with front door delivery, the severest of recluses can demand quality goods delivered to their front door, often within 24 to 48 hours.

But back to Industry 4.0 for a minute. Always on the cutting edge, Paperitalo Publications has launched a new newsletter to monitor, chronicle and shape this new movement. Called "Industree 4.0" it will keep you informed of the developments as they happen. The inaugural issue came out on 23 Oct 18 and you can find it here.

Industry 4.0 is no doubt going to improve safety as well. Monitoring dangers, prohibiting personnel from entering dangerous environments, we are headed for a new day in worker safety.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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