a fresh look @ QC

-- Last Updated: Jan-24-07 3:48 PM EST --

taking in the recent threads re CKE (Chris) & his Tempest, and wanting to take the spotlight off those specifics, I had some general thoughts about QC and the role of the customer in the process.

Building a kayak, while part soulwork and part repetitive labor, is not as complex as making a performance bike, a microwave, a vacuum cleaner or a digital camera. If any of these proved defective most of us would march them back for replacement or refund, without soulsearching.

Warranties are like insurance, or a drysuit. You don't know how good it is til you test it. You may test it again and again. Companies also build the cost of warranty repair and replacement into the unit cost. You may as well use it if you think you've got a case. You paid for it.

Dealing with an undesirable situation may offer many options. No one should be ridiculed for taking the warranty option, provided they do so in a reasonable, factbased way and are willing to work their way through the process.

What is one person's "nitpicking" is another person's minimum quality threshhold. What matters is how the dealer or manufacturer compares that standard to their warranty and expected defect rate, not what another person thinks about it.

All manufacturers have a certain defect rate they will tolerate in each product line. It's the third pillar of profit and production. Obviously the larger the production volume, the more defects, even if the defect percentage is low.

Some defective kayaks are stopped at the end of the assembly line, the factory door, the shipping depot or the dealers. But not all. Statistically some will arrive at the customer's door.

Some of these defects may be cosmetic or structural, and be immediately apparent. Others may emerge only after a break in period. After all, the kayak makers do not paddle each kayak repeatedly before they send it out the door - that would be demos they're selling, not new boats.

At this point, the customer may take care of all these issues, without wanting or needing recourse from the maker or dealer. However, if they do this and do not report the issues (in a businesslike non-rant, well documented) then the defects will go unreported and the manufacturer's defect rate will look lower than it actually is.

This will serve neither the manufacturer nor the present (and future) customers.

The key difference is whether one chooses to be passive or active about contributing to the quality process. If one is passive, one diminishes the opportunity for the manufacturer to be active in improving its quality process.

Aren’t composite kayaks hand-laid?
Any time items are made by humans, there is variability.

some thermoformed kayaks too
and yes, the human factor is in full force.

When I spoke of manufacturing it includes of course processes by hand - the word “manufacturing” has a Latin root, “manus” or hand!

Does not equal poor quality. Or poor attitudes from the manufacturers about that quality.

variability is one thing
"Variability" is not necessarily synonomous with “defective”.

such a great point
I wonder at what point should one complain, and at what point is simply informing the manufacturer a hassle to the parties.

I brought up a QC issue here on P.net once. I brought it up to see what others thought of my problem and to insure that I was not inappropreatly obtaining my data. a day or two later the WONDERFUL people at We-No-Nah contacted me. I have no idea what the waranties are on my boat, or the policies the company has about QC. (well I have an idea now) They treated me GREAT, were prompt in keeping me abreast of the details, and showed me what a caring company does for (now) life time customers.

My boat is about 9 pounds over wieght. I paid for an Ultra light and this is the same weight as the cheaper step down. They offered to switch me boats for one that was the right weight! I declined since I had been using this one and there were a few sratches. I also felt that heavier means more materials. I don’t care witch ones, Kevlar, resin or Gel-coat. My boat is stronger or more protected.

I don’t know, I just think this wil be a great thread to keep reading since SO many people here work on SO many sides of the paddling industry.


www.kiva.org Loans that build lives

the final position, of say, the padeyes furthest from the cockpit may vary by 1/64th of an inch vis a vis the other padeyes, but this is not a defect.

A missing padeye or a flimsy one that falls off within a month of purchase - that’s a defect!

Commando Point for you sir!

But it INCLUDES defects
So you might have units of the same model whose hatch compartments do not leak, leak a few drops, or leak a cup. #1 and #3 are clearcut. #2 might be nitpicking to one person and a horrible defect to another person (in which case, they’re going to have a hard time buying kayaks since this seems to be very common to many brands).

your example seems to make …
the point… if more customers had higher standards for leaking hatches, reported them, and then some took it a step further and activated their warranty recourse, then there might be fewer leaking hatches.

but if too many people stay passive, they are in effect “enablers” allowing kayak makers to keep on serving up the same level of quality in hatches.

P.S… as to “a few drops” that customer would have to prove how his or her minimum standard of quality matched up with the manufacturer’s expectations for hatch performance… I doubt a few drops would make much of a case, especially as it is the customer who takes the hatch covers on and off. Some do that well, others don’t.

Whereas bad hatch rims which are malformed from the manufacturing process (cooling down, bad hand work, etc) is definitely a defect, no matter what the customer’s technique for putting them on and off.

Hand made…
Microwaves, cameras, cars and most consumer products have parts that are stamped, molded or machine made by the thousands. The few parts that can’t be assembled by machine are assembled by humans requiring less than a days training.

Boats, especially composites are entirely produced by hand and are very labor intensive.

Applies to everything
Poor quality standards in $3000 kayaks seem like child’s play compared with issues that keep arising in really big purchases, such as cars and houses.

Very strange. We have a society that has a hairtrigger for suing over things that resulted from their own stupidity, yet is oddly (relatively) acquiescent over object defects that are the maker’s fault.

I have yet to buy a new auto that did not have at least one defect, and I’m getting tired of it. The warranty covers me for a while, but some of these things should never have left the factory. I consider them the equivalent of leaking cups–not a few drops–of water.

There is too much pressure to beat the other manufacturer to the market, and too little emphasis on getting it done RIGHT instead of leaving it to the consumer to do the QA. Unfortunately, the average consumer rewards “faster is better” more often than they do “better is best.”

And "hand laid"
should be an up-side.

Hand made doesn’t preclude quality, and I might suggest it even facilitates it.

your last paragraph is dead on

That depends
Hand made boats can be things of beauty and fine quality or absolute junk, depending entirely on the skill of the workers and the quality controls of the manufacturer. The current market contains examples of both extremes, with many more companies somewhere in the middle. While I’ve only owned boats that were laid-up by hand, it’s only because the designs I like were only available that way when they were built. I’d much rather have a boat that was vacuum-bagged or resin-infused, these techniques result in the best strength-to-weight ratio. Fortunately, most companies use one of these technologies and many classic designs are now available with far superior layups than they originally had.

what are the other mistakes leaving WS
I went down to my local paddle shop which is also the national distributor.

Sitting in the Rack as you walk in the store was a composite tempest 170 which was labeled with Tempest 180 stickers I will repeat that Tempest 180 stickers.

When I said “that’s a 170 not a 180, who did that”. I was told that’s how it came from WS

The basics, it’s the 1% that need to be right

I do paddle a tempest 170 poly and does not leak. Yes I have reseal the bulkheads


sure, of course
The potential for variance in finish, tolerance, etc. By “facilitates” I only mean it gives the builder the opportunity.

"hand laid"
Just because a glass kayak is bagged or infused doesnt mean it’s not hand laid. WS’ boats are infused, but it’s still a hands on craftmanship.

One way to get there
Another point to make is that when buying a new boat, be the PITA customer!

  • Insist on inspecting the boat inside and out for defects/function. Check the rudder/skeg/footpegs, and make sure they work flawlessly and easily

  • Insist that the dealer pressure test the hatches (If the boat doesn’t have pinholes in the bulkheads like some do)

  • Insist that the dealer shine a bright light on the outside of the deck and hull while you look on the inside to check for voids in the layup. Voids will look like bubbles of lighter shade in the composite

  • Eyeball the boat down the keel to be sure it’s straight (Some are not, especially plastic boats)

  • Check everything that attaches with fasteners for proper fit

  • ASK about the warranty! Some dealers will take care of claims for you, or do repairs for free if it’s not your fault that it broke. One dealer repaired a boat of mine that was out of warranty because it broke due to a design defect ---- no charge

  • And most importantly, if in doubt about anything, make them get another one out of the warehouse & start over!

    Dealers can apply lots of pressure on manufacturers to up their QC for the simple fact that they buy lots of boats from them. If customers pressure dealers, the pressure trickles up.

    I’ve never understood the chic behind knowingly buying an inferior or defective product, and then talking up its inferiority like it’s a reason to be proud. There are certain products that achieve this cult status, and it just makes the manufacturer more likely to cut corners in the future, or further dumb down their product.

    But hey, it’s your money…

great advice

– Last Updated: Jan-26-07 4:38 PM EST –

BTW I bought one of those supposedly chic products but found out the condition of the boat before the purchase. Wayne is right, buyer beware. Just as you don't expect to have to repair a 3k purchase, you might not want to make a 3k purchase "sight unseen".

Above all people you should think about a demo before buying. Take the list with you that wayne posted above. If you're anywhere near water, most dealers outside of the big boxes (aha another reason to shop the local dealers) will accommodate you. Then you get to have the boat in the water, sit in it, see if it leaks, etc., before you buy. I know it sounds like a pain in the ass, but it's worth it, if a defect is pointed out you might get some assistance from the dealer, and you just might meet some nice people in the bargain.