Quality is not always straightforward
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Location, location, location!
- Price point
- Limited access to materials
- Committee rule
- Space is different — of course
- Materials issues
- Something different
- Intermodal containers
- Different perspective
- The gamble
- They approved the design
- Real world
- Your comments
- True story
The 5-part Air Venturi TR5 Multi-Shot Target Air Rifle series brought up a lively discussion of manufacturing quality. I have read the comments and feel compelled to mention a few things that no one has addressed yet.
I will be addressing some of the comments from readers in today’s report, but I am not doing it to argue with anyone. I just think we need to see all sides when we talk about this.
Location, location, location!
Does anyone not know that the TR5 is being made in China? It is. Many of you think the Chinese don’t care about quality and the last good thing they built was the Great Wall, but that’s incorrect. China makes most of the smartphones, computers, consumer electronics and optics that we have today. China also has a space program. They are only the third country to put humans into orbit (in their own space program) and they have plans for a Chinese space station next year. They even plan to walk on the moon!
China can make quality products. So, when something substandard gets out what is the problem? Let’s start with the things you know and go from there.
Like anyone, the Chinese manufacturers have to make money from the sales of their products. If a “bottom-line” buyer negotiates a deal with them, they have to protect themselves so of course they will seek the cheapest way to do things. That will surface as both marginal materials and a reduced number of steps in the manufacturing process. Labor costs drive prices — even in China.
That was an easy one. It’s a takeoff on, “You get what you pay for.” But there is more.
Limited access to materials
A closed society like China suffers from limited access to materials. Here in America with the internet and Ebay at our fingertips we wonder why anyone would manufacture something like the Artemis PP700S-A PCP pistol and then put o-rings in it that are not rated for the job. And they even know they have done it because they include additional seals plus the directions for installing them in the package that comes with the gun! Here’s why that happens.
A communist society is closed. It’s run by man-made rules rather than by physics and the marketplace. If an o-ring fits the application and it is also on the list of materials that can be obtained, it’s considered okay. Never mind that it won’t or can’t do some critical function that’s required by the end product. If it fits and is available, you can get it — and I am talking about the manufacturer now. That’s how you get a precharged pistol with o-rings that are the right size, but cannot take the pressures and fail too soon.
In a free marketplace the engineer recognizes this and includes the pressure tolerance within the purchase specification for the part. It is noted on the engineering drawing or on a specification sheet that’s attached to the drawing.
In a closed society the engineer scans the list of available o-rings that was put together by committee 17, who made up the list based on other criteria. That list is all he has access to.
Space is different — of course
China’s space program can get whatever they need because, let’s face it, in space it has to work. But a maker of toy airguns has no clout with committee 17. That is the dichotomy of a closed society that tries to manage everything centrally.
Several decades ago the U.S. bought scrap titanium from the former Soviet Union. Some of it came in the form of worn-out baby carriages! Only in a closed society would a manufacturer build a baby carriage out of a material as valuable as titanium! But, when People’s Factory Number 3 needed tubing of a certain size to meet their monthly production quota, committee 17 approved whatever tubing was available. Some of the Anics BB pistols had barrels made from tubing that was sourced from the Soviet space program and just happened to fit steel BBs! That’s committee 17 (centralized management) at work!
Now let’s look at something quite different. Let’s look at the dark side of business that never gets discussed anywhere.
Here is one you never hear about and it’s the one that prompted me to write today’s report. Let’s say you are buying products from China’s Industrial Factory Number 11. You currently buy five different products from them. Three of those products are among your best-selling items. Now, you have this new item to add to their list. It’s a youth pellet rifle and, after some very tough negotiations, you have left them with a very slim line of profit. But your American company is their good client, and you believe they want your business at almost any cost.
Your company receives a 40-foot intermodal container full of products from this manufacturer every 60 days. The new pellet rifle will now be among the packages inside.
Products are shipped around the world in intermodal containers that allow rapid progress through ports and shipping lanes.
It takes 45 days for the manufacturer to fill the container, get it to their country’s port, ship it to a west-coast port in the U.S., clear American customs, and be transported to its final destination in the U.S. By the time that container arrives they are already packing the next one. They are able to pack 500 of the new rifles in the container, along with all the other products you ordered.
Now, let’s look at this from the manufacturer’s perspective.
When the deal for this rifle was negotiated, the agreement was for a purchase of 500 rifles every 60 days, or approximately 3,000 rifles a year, with an option to double production on a 60-day notice. Your American client expects this rifle to be a very big seller. So you purchased tooling to make 3,000 rifles, because that was the cheapest way to go. Tooling for 10,000 rifles would have been 9 percent cheaper than the tooling you bought, but then you would have risked a wasted expense if your client stopped buying for any reason. The contract guarantees they must buy at least 3,000 rifles from you, but it doesn’t guarantee they won’t go out of business this year. Another American company did that two years ago and left you holding thousands of dollars of their products.
If your client doubles your output you will purchase the cheaper tooling the next time you buy tooling. The savings from that purchase will all be on your side because the purchase price will remain firm! That’s where your real profit will begin.
You made a lot of the production tooling in-house, and the rifling buttons were among the more expensive items you had to buy. They should be good for a large number of passes through barrels before they need sharpening, but with every sharpening they get a little smaller. So you ordered the maximum size button that is permitted, in the hopes of getting the greatest number of rifled barrels from them. The first few thousand barrels will be on the large side, but as the contract runs they will get progressively smaller. And let’s face it — these are inexpensive children’s pellet rifles. Who’s going to complain?
Your plant manager knew the rifles were not that accurate because of the large rifling buttons, but he had an engineer test and select the three most accurate rifles from a startup production run of 50 rifles to send to the client as samples for approval. So, at least some of the rifles you produce should be that accurate!
Your client will thoroughly test the samples you send them and if they don’t like what they see, you’ll have to make changes. That has the potential of costing you real money, which could destroy all of the slim profit you were able to negotiate. But the samples you sent pleased them. Once the client approved the final design, the gun’s production began and the first container was loaded.
You may hear about the lack of accuracy from them after they receive the first shipment, but you’ll deal with that problem if and when it happens. Remember, at least some of the rifles will be as accurate as those first three samples you sent. By the time they notice anything, if they ever do, the second container will have been shipped and the production run for the third shipment will be complete. Your client is very pleased with the other products you sell them, so it’s unlikely they will want to do anything that you can’t live with. They can’t just walk away!
They approved the design
And here is your saving grace. Your client approved the samples already. The client is the one who said to proceed with production. If they want you to make any changes now it opens the entire contract to renegotiation and you can increase the price. You only need one additional U.S. dollar per rifle to turn this situation around to your favor. And, if they want you to modify rifles that have already been produced, that will cost them a lot more because of all the work that has to be done to the ones that have been assembled already.
This is the real world, gentlemen. It’s how a lot of business is conducted. Yes, there are companies that are entirely trustworthy and can be trusted far beyond the business deal. You will usually pay more to them for the same things, but this is my point — they aren’t the same things at all! Yes, they make airguns, but they won’t let one go out of their factory unless it is perfect, because their name is on it. You don’t have to worry about things like I have just explained because they will fix them before you ever see them. And, if something does go wrong, they will bend over backwards to rectify it.
Their airguns do cost more money. But in the long run they save money because they help you keep your established customers and even win new ones for you!
Sounds good? Well, I have overlooked one important point. The bulk of your sales are not to airgunners. You make most of your sales to big box stores that order airguns from you by the pallet! They negotiate with you just as hard as you negotiated with the Chinese factory — or harder! Their business plan says they sell to people who only buy on the basis of price.
So, 20 percent of this new rifle’s sales will be to real airgunners and 80 percent will be to the big box stores. Quality doesn’t matter to a box store because they don’t get returns on every bad item they sell. Their customers are used to poor quality and don’t often bother going to the trouble of returning things they don’t like. And, when they do return them, the box store simply passes them right back to the supplier and deducts any expense for doing this from their outstanding invoices. Box stores are so powerful that they can tell their suppliers how much they owe, not the other way around. If a supplier doesn’t like that they can step aside — there are always more suppliers in the wings, waiting for their chance to sell to the box store!
In light of all of this, let’s now examine what several of you said in response to the TR5 test. I will play the part of the devil’s advocate and answer you.
Hank said, “True, but I think there is a minimum acceptance threshold – if the produce is way sub-par then it ceases to be viable and low sales relative to tooling costs will result in a small profit margin.
In these days of internet, product reviews, and buyer comments, product performance (or the lack thereof) quickly comes to light. Sales will quickly diminish down to those people who didn’t do their homework and believe the flashy graphics on the box.
As you say: Burn me once. The manufactures that are going for a quick sale and maximum profit are shooting themselves in the foot (or possibly higher) as disappointed customers will be cautious or won’t be back at all. Guess the thing that bothers me most is that the people that were suckered into buying a poor product may leave the airgunning scene entirely and that affects us all.”
BB’s reply, “Hank, you’re right! When a product is substandard the sales do drop off to just those customers who don’t do any homework and do buy on the basis of attractive packaging! And, if I’m selling to a box store, that number of sales is so high that the loss of sales to the informed customer is almost negligible. On the other hand, if the price of my box-store product was 5 dollars higher my sales would drop by 70 percent, because my biggest competitor is selling a similar product for just one dollar more than mine sells for right now.”
Yogi’s comment, “All airgunners want the most accurate barrel possible! If airgun barrels were easy to switch Walther would make a ton more money! Why do you think FX and AirForce sell so many barrels?”
BB’s reply, “Not all airgunners feel this way. Most of the ones who comment on this blog do, but let’s face it, Yogi, we have about 200 people who comment, out of more than a quarter million that we know are reading this blog”.
FX sells guns by the hundreds. AirForce sells them by the thousands. The largest box store sells them by the tens of thousands. Who are you going to listen to?”
GunFun1 said, “I really hate when there’s not a explanation.
It’s there. But now probably to late to find out.
Straight up. No one’s going to chop one up nowdays to find out. They will probably be happy just to get one.
But darn somebody should of dug in back then. We would at least have more of a clue why now.
And I have to say is I hate when history goes wrong.”
BB’s reply, “That’s why I wrote today’s report. None of what I wrote is factual, but it is all based on truths I have been observing for several decades. I wrote it to give you some insight into why things are the way they are.
But I didn’t tell you about any specific airgun. Instead I told you how things work in the business world, and why quality sometimes (not always) gets sidetracked. You are focused on the technical problem and how it might be fixed. I understand that because that’s the way I think, too. But today I have ignored the technical side and looked at how substandard products might make it to market because of how the wholesale side works.”
Michael said, “I have yet to miss an aluminum or steel can in my backyard at 20 – 30 feet. :^) I have only plinked with it, which is what I bought it for. My guess is that I am getting about 2.5 – 3 inch groups at 10 meters, shooting it off-hand. That is pretty good for me, as I usually rest long guns on a bag, even for that short distance. But the TR5 is so light, I can shoot it off-hand with ease. That plus the effortless cocking make it an “easy shooter.”
BB’s reply, “You see? There are customers who like the product. Some of these customers are even experienced airgunners who read this blog. So it isn’t all or nothing. Each buyer has a particular reason for wanting the gun, and if it meets their needs, who can tell them it isn’t right?”
There were many other comments besides these, but these sum up the gist of what you readers are saying. I hope today’s report helps you see some of what lies behind the curtain of the development of a new airgun. Remember, I also documented the development of the Sig ASP20 breakbarrel rifle in great detail, so you got to see things a manufacturer can do when they want to control the product as far as possible. As we come to the end of today’s report, let’s look at another slightly different variation of the manufacturing process.
Leapers has built a strong reputation for high-quality airgun and firearm optics at reasonable prices. Like 95+ percent of the rest of the world, their optics are made in the far east. But they finally reached a point where that wasn’t good enough. They were selling so many scopes that they had to change their manufacturing model. The reason why might surprise you.
Six years ago they set out to build an optics manufacturing capability here in the United States. Why? Because they were making so many improvements to their optics that the supply chain of intermodal containers from Asia finally got to them. They needed to control their own designs in a more effective way — even if it meant going against the established model and building an optical facility here in the U.S. That way when they make a change to a scope they don’t have three 40-foot intermodal containers full of product in the pipeline with the now-outdated design.
There wasn’t an issue of quality in this case. It was an issue of timely changes to design. It just took too long to do it by the established process of engineering it here and building it there. It’s actually a variation of the Japanese manufacturing process known as kaizen, or continuous improvement. Leapers continually works on their products to make them better, and no longer can afford the tremendous lag time that the current system requires. They had to take over manufacture themselves to avoid the waste this lag time inflicts.
I guess what I have tried to show you today is that there are numerous reasons for why things go the way they do in the world of manufacture. It isn’t always that people don’t care. It’s more often layers of reasons that each affect the outcome to some extent but none of them prevail over the other reasons.
That is the reason this blog exists. I try to test a product the way most buyers will use it, so you’ll know what to expect. Josh Unger and Val Gamerman told me in 2003 when I started writing articles for Pyramyd Air that I was to write for you buyers. When the blog began in 2005 I was told the same thing. Good or bad, I was always to tell you what happened when I tested something.
If I can influence the outcome of a test in a positive way that I feel most people will be able to do, I will do it, which is why I cleaned the TR5 barrel. If that had worked, my next job was to find the easiest way to clean the barrel.
I want you to be satisfied with the airgun or related product you get, and I also don’t want you to be surprised by something unexpected.
I hope today’s report has helped you in some way.