The QA Conundrum: Understanding Quality Assurance in Thermoforming

Ah, yes. "Quality Assurance." QA. It's a term you no doubt have heard bantered about in the marketplace, by your vendors, and in your own hallways. But what does it really mean? Has it become a meaningless phrase, a term that all product manufacturers talk about--or at least talk around--but that has become overused, much like the terms "robust solution" or "teachable moment"?

That's the point of this newsletter. We're going to talk about what QA really is, how to look for it and what questions to ask your thermoforming vendor, and what, exactly, our quality assurance promise is to our customers.

The QA Conundrum

Ultimately, the customer (the true end user) decides if a product is "quality" or not. For us at ThermoFab and for you, that means your customers (end users) determine whether the part we thermoformed is quality.

Still, we can all takes steps to assure that what we're putting out there--from the custom thermoformed plastic enclosures to the final product itself--is the right quality. Which brings us to the next point.

What is a quality product?
A quality product meets a specific market's needs. It doesn't necessarily have to be expensive or even "high quality" to be a quality product. The market and the people in that market determine quality.

What's the difference between quality assurance and quality control?
We imagine you'll probably get different definitions depending on the source, but here's how we view it: QA and QC are different. We think this explanation from the Wikipedia page on quality assurance is accurate:

"Quality control emphasizes testing of products to uncover defects, and reporting to management who make the decision to allow or deny the release, whereas quality assurance attempts to improve and stabilize production, and associated processes, to avoid, or at least minimize, issues that led to the defects in the first place."

What's something that can hamper the production of a quality product that no one ever talks about?
What we're going to say might sound simple--even too simple--but the biggest thing that can hamper the production of a quality product is an unrealistic vision.

For example, perhaps you or someone in your company has sketched out or designed how you expect the product to look and function. Now what if you begin to talk it up and market this idea to people--upper management, marketing, sales, even potential customers--only to realize once you sit down with your manufacturing vendor that your original vision (i.e. your design) needs to be adjusted or tweaked?

Don't let the expectation of what you dreamed the product should be and should do overtake the reality of what the product can and will do.

So when it comes to QA, what should you look for in a manufacturing partner, like a thermoforming company?
Work with a company that doesn't say yes to everything you want. We're not suggesting that you work with a difficult vendor; we're saying you need to work with an honest vendor that won't be afraid to point out things like design flaws or suggest ways for making the product better (even if that means deviating from your original vision).

In terms of strict the "strict" QA definition, look for thermoforming companies that have clearly defined manufacturing processes in place. Questions to ask (or things to look for on the company website):

  • What's your manufacturing and business management philosophy?
  • How do you control the flow of materials through the plant?
  • What's your process for operating inspections?
  • How do you control custom processes, like painting and EMI shielding?
  • What sort of machining do you use? For example, at ThermoFab, we use a 5-axis machine, which allows for even the most complex finishing to take place with one set up. This saves significant time by eliminating additional fixturing and set up for secondary operations.
Our Quality Assurance Promise, in Plain English
At ThermoFab, quality is not just a department; it is an ongoing commitment to control, improvement, and innovation.

From tooling to final delivery, ThermoFab has inspections throughout the process to ensure that the product you bring to market exceeds your expectations for detail, craftsmanship, and performance.

We know that you are working on a tight time to market, so from the moment you contact us, we respond promptly and clearly to your questions and requests.

When we review your files, we will not commit to manufacturing your product unless we know we can deliver a quality custom plastic enclosure within your tolerances and specifications.

Our entire process centers on ensuring you receive high-quality products on time. Working with Infor, ThermoFab follows the Theory of Constraints (TOC) business management philosophy called Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR), which controls the flow of materials through the plant so that products are produced according to market demand with a minimum of manufacturing lead-time, inventory and operating expenses.

ThermoFab is committed to staying ahead of the competition and helping you do the same.

With over 30 years of experience, ThermoFab knows what's required to take your design files and transform them into a product that your clients want to buy. Contact us today to learn how we can help make that happen.


Case in Point: A Re-Energized Look for New Technology

Whenever you're updating the look of an already-great product, the need for quality assurance is even more critical.

Why? Because the customer (the end user) already believes it's a quality product--it's the manufacturer's job to ensure that this perceived quality doesn't nosedive.

This was the main challenge we faced when we worked on Spectro's next-generation "Spectroil" product line. You can read the complete story by going here and clicking on the Spectro case study.