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Thomas R. Cutler

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Quality Insider

Gas Prices Affect Expos

Published: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 - 06:26

The price of petroleum fuels has affected attendance at regional manufacturing expos by quality professionals. Gasoline pump prices are past $4 per gallon, and national trade shows are feeling the effect. Conferences, seminars, and national trade shows aren’t necessarily deficient, but quality professionals return to local events with clear benefits because they are hands on, one-on-one experiences, concentrated interaction, and exchanges of ideas between the contract manufacturers and the quality professional.

Regulatory standards and compliance requirements are increasingly focused on chain of custody; chain of custody refers to the chronological documentation and/or paper trail, showing the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence. Managing these data is best handled at local or regional events.

There are interesting reasons that quality professionals are showing up with engineering staff at local manufacturing trade shows and expositions. As valued members of the lean team, the managers of quality control/quality assurance have been assuming a different role in the past 24 months. According to Kati Olson, owner of AmCon regional manufacturing expositions, “From specific compliance requirements to accountability metrics and documentation of the quality process, quality professionals are increasingly attending local events. Because a diverse set of manufacturers attend regional expos, it drives their specific industries in terms of process, quality, and efficiency. Local, hands-on events offer companies the ability to find those processes that allow them to reduce their individual cost components through quality enhancements and increasing through-put increases, while increasing customer satisfaction.”

Contract manufacturing needs a quality role
Previously, engineers and buyers attended a contract manufacturing expo to find one or multiple sources to take a project from concept or prototype to finished product quickly and at competitive prices. The nature of supplier selection has been deeply affected by the rigors of quality standards, so alongside the engineering and buyers, now stands the QC/QA manager. “OEMs can find sources for engineering, design, prototypes, forming, fabricating, machining, finishing, assembly and electronic manufacturing services all under one roof. Whether they are looking for one part or production runs, they find multiple sources from which to choose. The questions asked by the quality folks are completely different from the engineering participants, yet all these questions must be answered,” Olson notes.

The price of gas reverses the outsourcing trend
When the disparity of labor costs was so great, the decision to have products manufactured offshore was almost obvious. The margin gains from cheap foreign labor have been deeply narrowed as the price of transporting products has increased dramatically. Finding local suppliers who can produce parts, subparts, full OEM manufacturing, and prototyping, may actually be less expensive when the cost of shipping product is calculated in the equation. The ability for quality professionals to monitor, manage, and measure the quality production standards is more easily attained through relationships with local or regional suppliers.

“The boutique nature of these shows allows the exhibitors and quality managers more time to get into the details of a project. Attendees can bring their quality standards for review by the technical people staffing the events. These are serious working shows where a lot can be accomplished in a very short time. Because of their regional nature, they are also more convenient, and cost less in terms of travel dollars and travel time,” Olson says.

Lucia Falek, quality assurance manager for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Butterball Farms, will be attending the regional AmCon Expo this September at the DeVos Center because, “As a core part of our company’s lean initiative team and strategic quality operations, I need to be fully engaged with local and regional providers and look forward to having contacts that will become valuable tools for our company’s ongoing process improvement.”

At a time when CFOs are looking to trim every budget, unnecessary travel is an obvious place to start cutting; yet the need to have verified quality suppliers is more important than ever, with the cost of poor quality unacceptably high. Regional events offer the best solution while containing costs.

About the author
Thomas R. Cutler is the president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler Inc. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of 3,000 journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association, and the American Society of Business Publication Editors, and he's the author annually of more than 300 feature articles about manufacturing.

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Thomas R. Cutler