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The Bad Quality "Hall of Shame"
Everyone has experience with products and services that are of poor quality. The examples below are selected to show how failure to follow design principles, processes, and practices results in poor quality.

Aug. 13, 2012: Please see the QualityMgr Blog for more cases, including exceptionally good quality examples.

Case 3: Quadrophonic sound equipment: If it doesn't break, you'll still have questions.
Case 2: Rusty the Can Opener
Case 1: Dude-you wrecked my LG cellphone

Sept. 19, 2011

Case No. 3:
Audio Equipment Advertisement--Service or Product??

In 1973, the NEXT BIG THING was quadrophonic (or 4-channel) audio. Source material included vinyl LPs, cartridge/cassette and reel-to-reel tape machines. It never really caught on--a chicken/egg scenario. There was not enough content to justify upgrading a system and there were not enough systems sold to create a demand for 4-channel content. This situation was also a consequence of 2 competing systems--sound familiar?

Early adapter audiophiles were buying, but the average person seemed happy with stereo (or mono!). This incredible ad may help explain this. Does this ad spark your desire to spend on a new Toyo system? To me it screams "touchy, tricky, complicated technology." (Ad from Esquire Magazine, January, 1973)

Toyo service man

Note the use of the term "complaint department". He'll provide help "in person." That could involve a lot of travel expenses, so I'm guessing they mean "on the phone."

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Case No. 2:
Rusty Can Opener--Whose fault?

What do you expect when you spend over $5 to buy an "nice" can opener? If simply rinsing and washing it causes it to rust, you probably will just throw it away, long before it has a dull blade wheel. This simple can opener design has been around for a long time. The large handle grips and turning knob make it easier to use--clearly an improvement on the older type that has flat, bare metal pieces, usually with a bottle opener as an added function. But this new model rusted badly during normal use. The main metal pieces are stainless, but the pivot pin and axle for the blade appear to be the source of the rust.

Rusty can opener


Root Cause Analysis
Is the rust caused by a design flaw or failure by the manufacturer to follow specifications? There is a strong case for the manufacturer as the culprit. It was manufactured in China, where it is all too common to find that a design is compromised by cost-cutting and material changes that are not authorized by the customer. Assuming this is true, the solution requires a tightening of the supply chain and increased monitoring of the production process. As a wise man once said,

"You get what you inspect, not what you expect."

Follow-up: The manufacturer honored their lifetime warranty and provided a new unit after receiving these photos. After a few weeks of use, this report will be updated. It should be obvious if the rust problem has been eliminated on this product.

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June 13, 2011

Case No. 1: LG Cell Phone

Cell Phone

This model and similar phones have 2 input jacks: charger input and "hands-free" device. My wife and I had used this model LG phone for about a year when a California law required "hands-free" cell equipment while driving, so I purchased a simple headset, and checked it for fit and function.

The first thing I noticed: After plugging in the charger hundreds of times, by habit, I almost plugged the headset into the charger port. Anyway, the headset worked fine, so I gave it to my wife. Two days later, she said, "My phone won't charge."

Damage Report
A visual inspection revealed she had done what I almost did--plugged the headset into the charging jack--which broke the fragile center pin on the jack and ruined the phone!

Cause of Damage
The plug from the charger has a "hollow" center that fits around the center pin. The diameter of both plugs is nearly equal. There was no provision to prevent a mistake where a user would forget and use the wrong jack. See the illustrations below.

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Design Flaw Analysis
The designers did not properly address the possibility of a common "accidental misuse". The markings indicating function are molded into the plastic (vs. contrasting color) and are very small. Relying on markings in this situation does not create an unsafe condition, but I'm guessing hundreds, if not thousands, of users made this mistake. No doubt they did drop tests, etc., but this sort of omission is not the work of a world class design team and adds to the electronic waste problem.

Suggested Design Changes
Two approaches come to mind:

1. Use 2.5 mm jacks (as on the headset), but use internal circuitry to prevent damage. That is, since the headset is "passive" (it has no power source), the phone would simply not charge if it was plugged in. On the headset jack, the circuit could be protected from a 5 Vdc input. Also, the 2.5 mm jack comes in 2, 3, 4 conductor versions. This could also be used to detect what device was plugged in.

2. Use different connectors that make it impossible to mistakenly plug into the wrong jack.

Hands-free jack
This photo is enlarged to approx. 1.8x normal. Note the small molded symbol near the jack.

Charge jack
The charger input jack has an equally poor marking for it's function (enlarged 1.8x). The center pin was very fragile, and doesn't offer any significant resistance when the headset plug is used--it simply pushed the pin aside.

The plug diameters allow a user to fit either plug into either jack. Note the tip of the hands-free plug is beveled, which makes it even easier to push aside the center pin of the charger jack.

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