Monday, March 20, 2017

Quality Control and Production Thresholds

Here’s my Wailua:

Not quite as dramatic or showy as some I’ve seen, but otherwise I have nothing to complain about here. I especially like the subtle warm hints in his mane and tail, and the slightly different shade of gray on his hooves.

(Those details at the edges get me again!)

As for the conversation going on about the fact that this run appears to have been manufactured in New Jersey and not China, there’s something to be said about that. But as you might suspect, my line of thought runs a little contrary to popular opinion.

I am a little concerned about mold maintenance, especially with older molds (the Hesses) that are basically handcrafted artisan pieces. (Most of the “loss of mold detail” that gets complained about is actually overly-enthusiastic post-molding finish work, though.) And I do wish that they had another layer of Quality Control to catch a higher percentage of the garden variety “oopsies” before they get on the boat.

While I am not happy with the idea that the bulk of production has moved overseas, I haven’t had any significant issues with models made in China either – or at least, not any more problems compared to U.S. production pieces, on average. (I’ve sent a few things back, but it’s not a regular occurrence.)

Some of the issues we do see are a result of higher expectations, and the ever-more-complicated paint jobs that are a consequence of that.

Part of the research that I do on a semi-regular basis (i.e. when I get time to do it) is writing down detailed descriptions of the paint jobs for each release. Early releases can get summed up in a couple of sentences. A typical vintage Charcoal:
Body-shaded Charcoal, brown undertones; masked white mane and tail; four stockings, airbrushed, with pink hooves; extensive bald face, airbrushed, with pinked muzzle and nostrils, with some gray shading in nostrils; gloss black eyes, sometimes with hand-painted eyewhites.
But Darjeeling’s color description? That one’s going to be so long it might have a subplot. The more complicated something is, the easier it is for things to go wrong.

As to why some Web Specials – like Wailua, and previously the Croi Damsha Bramble of Berry Pony fame – are now being made here, I think it’s simply a matter of math.

It’s not cost-effective to do paint jobs at that level and (relatively) error-free on higher production Regular Run models that are supposed to retail in the 40-50 dollar range.

For a low production Special Run that retails for 160-180 dollars, however? Then it would be, especially since the purchasers of those particular pieces are expecting something close to perfect. Producing those items in the U.S. will cost more, but the extra costs will be offset by the reduced number of returns and customer service calls.

So no, I don’t see this as a harbinger of large-scale production returning the U.S. any time soon. All I am seeing is that the maximum quantity threshold for U.S. production has increased from around 200 to around 350. Maybe even a little higher than that (up to Club-level quantities?) but not much.

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