A contract manufacturing company I’m familiar with currently has two medical device customers who are arch competitors. This manufacturer makes both of the competing products, which can make for some interesting situations… such as having to take great pains to ensure intellectual property protection, scrubbing the facility before customer visits to remove samples of the other customer’s product, and even making sure that employees don’t accidentally wear the wrong customer logo t-shirts at potentially embarassing times. The products are very complex long-term implantable devices, and therefore require the highest level of quality and design. Both companies have considerable experience in the market, and both products are very well designed and exceed all regulatory requirements… but the similarily ends there.
I’ve been struct by how different the two customers interact with the manufacturer. Although both embody excellence, they have taken dramatically different paths.
One company expends vast amounts of engineering and management time to analyze and quantify the smallest details of their product. If there’s an issue, no matter how insignificant, several black belts come out of the closets along with their teams of engineers and scientists to perform a wide variety of formal and methodical six sigma analyses. This can be a little overwhelming to the small contract manufacturer, but the customer helps by sharing knowledge and methods. When a fix is identified, it is tested and validated very rigorously. The final result can be strongly defended, but it also takes a very long time to accomplish. The shipped product has an exceptionally high quality level.
The other company draws upon its experience to make subjective, but defendable, decisions about design and quality issues. Engineers are expected to use their professional judgment to ensure that limited resources are being applied only to issues that require new knowledge. Those issues are investigated, with the results being analyzed in a similar fashion. If the preponderance of initial evidence suggests that the solution works, it will be implemented quickly so that resources can be deployed to more ambiguous problems. Design changes happen quickly, and production delays are few. Results are monitored with further analysis and investigation performed when necessary. As with the first customer, their shipped product also has a very high quality level.
Which product would you rather have implanted in you? The first customer understands every detail of its product, but the second customer is very agile and utilizes its resources very efficiently. The first product is understood down to the smallest details, but the second product has a lower cost structure that results in a lower price to the final customer. Both products exceed all quality requirements and are successful in the market.
Which is truly excellent?