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Are You Asking Your Test Integration Partner This Question?

On Dec 31, 2018

When you need to complete a project now, you’re focused on earning immediate results: get the right price and ensure quality work on time. As you receive quotes and vet prospective vendors, you’re unlikely to be thinking about your test engineering partner’s long-term plan to improve its own processes.

That’s certainly understandable. But it’s also a mistake.

Many integration suppliers will try to convince you they’re able to complete your project. Far fewer companies will have refined processes in place now to be able to offer top-quality at the lowest price. Why? They avoided investing the necessary time to address this critical aspect of their business before you came to them with your needs.

How we update standards and identify ways to improve

Design Standards - Recently, Drew Griffith, one of our Test Engineers, evaluated our previous projects to identify key sub systems that are commonly used. His organization efforts provided our design team an easy way to find efficient reuse of systems. As a result, we’ve increased our speed in both the quoting phase and also the design phase, our production team has become more familiar with these sub systems and our customers are getting lower costs. We created efficiencies and improved reliability simultaneously. We conducted this effort across our electrical, mechanical and software sub systems. It has allowed us to spend energy on the unique aspects of our customers’ projects rather than waste time on what we’ve already done.

Requesting Customer Feedback (Good or Bad) – We don’t quit on our customers once a project ships. After delivery, getting customer feedback is essential to our process. As a company, we email surveys every quarter to our customers. And we know their time is valuable, so we offer an Amazon gift card for the feedback. Every individual email a Ball Systems team member sends out to a customer also includes a request for feedback in the signature block. Every shipment we make includes a quality statement along with an engineer’s business card stapled to it. We don’t want our standards to be unclear or our customers confused when they need to know who to contact. Regardless of whether it is good news or bad, we want to hear from our customers so that we can build on what we’ve done, right or wrong, and correct where we’ve stumbled.

Workmanship Standards – Our standards inform our workmanship as well. We once had a long-time client who looked at our cabinet build quality and labeling and felt it needed improvement. This feedback kicked off a great conversation centered on how we could better serve them. In collaboration with that customer, we worked to upgrade a number of our workmanship standards. Our customer recognized that by pointing out areas of improvement they were going to receive even better work from a company they already trusted. We assessed their critiques and decided implementing their feedback would provide value to Ball Systems’ entire customer base. Our workmanship standards were updated and a noticeable jump in customer satisfaction was an immediate benefit. Our commitment to continuous improvement and a willingness to learn from others provided that opportunity.

Vendor Standards - Adding to and maintaining the best possible vendor base is crucial to our company’s success. In 2018, we updated our vendor pre-qualification form to further discover our new supplier’s areas of focus before we take them on and help form a stronger relationship upfront to ensure projects will be completed most effectively. You want to partner with a vendor that will regularly refine their qualification approach so you know they’re pursuing your business because they are best suited to do the work and aren’t simply vying for the project dollars in the deal. Finding companies that conduct a more rigorous evaluation process show a quality in their approach that will likely be noticed later in their project work as well.

Actively identify mistakes

Our Non-Conformance Reports (NCRs) are a key aspect of our improvement process. Forms can be boring and filling them out – especially when the form follows a mistake - can feel like punishment. We’ve created a process and culture to encourage the documentation by carving out the necessary time for our team members to complete NCRs thoroughly. Also, we explain to our team that NCRs are seen by management as a good thing and necessary for continuous improvement. Finally, we’ve outlined NCRs as an essential part of our adherence to ISO9000 standards. Every time a new problem arises, or a process breaks down, it’s a chance for us to learn. Our team treats the NCR process with vigilance to ensure we are constantly getting better for ourselves and for our customer.

Overall, Ball System’s commitment to ISO9000 standards cuts across all our improvement areas and provides us a solid base to build on even more quality measures.

Time, money and quality

It’s the list of top three considerations for any project and the bottom line reason continuous improvements matter for any vendor you hire. Although these efforts take time, in the long-run, we have seen improved customer communication, faster quoting efforts and allowed our experience to translate into efficiency.

We know we’ve embarked on an ongoing process that involves everyone in our business. Fifty-years of experience has taught us that we constantly need to improve. Our customers may not always see the work but they will always be passed on the savings. So don’t hesitate to ask the solutions providers that you are considering and be a little more rigorous in your own evaluation process.

If you’d like to ask us about our process and learn more about its value to our customers, give us a call or drop us a note. We're ready to help.

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