Although we often focus on the financial aspects of running a business, the ability to consistently deliver products of the highest quality depends on its ability to monitor, measure and ensure consistently high quality manufacturing principles. Building and selling high quality products that customers want ensures that the business can remain healthy and profitable.
In certain markets, the ability to manufacture to precise tolerances translates straight into bottom line profitability.
An interesting company to consider is Leica. Long renowned for its expensive, but well engineered cameras, a Leica camera has become a sought after luxury item that through design and engineering excellence is seen as the epitome in desirable cameras. It is not just the high quality of the camera bodies that sets a Leica camera apart from its mass made competition, but the quality of the lenses, which are manufactured to tight tolerances creating images of such high quality that photographers are willing to pay a big premium for.
Leica manufactures very high quality products and uses this manufacturing precision as part of its marketing strategies to compete against mainstream competitors in the highly competitive camera market. Even though the worldwide camera market is shrinking, Leica cameras are still sought after and Leica as a company is holding onto its market share.
For Leica, precision engineering is leading to market success and sustained profitability. Not many camera manufacturers can claim that achievement when smartphones are dominating photography for social media and the ability to always have a camera with you wherever you go.
Achieving manufacturing precision
The ability to manufacture a component to small tolerances is critical in achieving manufacturing precision. The quality of the final product is, in part, a sum of its tolerances. In general, small tolerances are difficult to achieve because machine tools must be used that operate with high accuracies and measurements must be continually monitored to ensure that the tooling is accurate to the specified tolerances.
The problem is that measuring distances and tolerances requires set standards. For example, how does your machine tool know what a distance of 0.00lmm is? If that machine tool is to achieve high tolerance accuracies, it must be calibrated against a known standard which is where gage blocks can play a useful role. This is an interesting article about gage blocks: https://atlanticscale.com/history-of-gauge-blocks/.
Gage blocks are carefully designed and engineered to serve as a standard for distance calibration. So, for example, if you need a 10mm gap in a product, a 10mm gage block can be reliably used to to give a highly accurate, and calibrated distance of 10mm in your machine tooling.
It is, of course imperative that you use these gage blocks with great care because if they are damaged or worn with use, they will become inaccurate and unreliable as a calibration standard. Tolerances may well slip and that will result in lower quality standards in the final product.
Using high quality materials
Whilst the ability to accurately measure small tolerances is important, the materials being used can play a large part in how the component will respond to the precision processes that are being applied to it.
In the video shown above, Leica use high grade aluminium for one of their camera products. Other companies rely on the best acetal plastic as a core material in their products. Acetal plastic is particularly suited for products that require tight tolerances as it has high strength and low friction properties that are very durable in a variety of applications.
Leica is a great case study in using engineering and maunfacturing excellence to build an enduring reputation for high quality and craftsmanship. The high quality, and desireability of their products is allowing this traditional company to maintain its market share and retain its profitability in a highly competitive, and shrinking market.