Toy Turtles, Zebras and Abacus

I had been looking forward to my trip to Chennapatna for quite some time. The purpose of the trip was to understand production practices of wooden lacware toys sold by Maya Organic.

Maya Organic: Dangler

I have been a loyal customer and a fan of Maya Organic for many years, buying their toys as gifts for the kids of my friends and family, and my own.  What I love about these toys is their quality in terms of safety and also their aesthetics.

So you can imagine my excitement at visiting their production center.  In particular, I was interested in understanding their quality management practices.  Comparing their products to any others, including other businesses or even the ones available at government crafts emporiums, the difference in quality is palpable.

It was a beautiful morning as Sharath (my host) and I set out on a bus to Chennapatna.  On the way, he told me a great deal about how they work.

Production is done by “production units” which act like independent contractors, but with a twist (more about production set up in a different blog).  The production units are either individuals or small groups of people who work together to produce items against Purchase Orders issued to them.

Each product component has a CAD drawing with specification of exact dimensions, tolerances and colour (lac).

Each production unit first produces a sample that gets formally signed-off by the MO Quality team.  This approval commences production. The components are made by turning wood on a lathe and applying lac.

The Quality team visits the production units during production to ensure that the items being produced are of sufficient quality.

Zebra rejected by QC. Notice uneven size of rings and colour variations

Zebra passed by QC

Zebra passed by QC

After this they are delivered to MO, which does a thorough quality check.  Rejected items have to be reworked.  After the QC, the components are issued to an “assembly unit” which does the assembly, gluing, threading, screen printing of faces, as required.

After this, there is another QC by MO where the products are checked for sturdiness of joints, functionality (wheels etc.) and aesthetics.   Finally comes labeling and packaging.

MO employs “Comprehensive sampling”, that is, 100% sampling – every single item goes through each QC.

All in all, there are 5 steps involved in Quality Management at MO.

  1. Detailed specifications with tolerances (documentation)
  2. Formal sign off on samples before each batch of production begins
  3. In-process checks at production units
  4. Check on product delivery (including recording of QC pass/rejection rates)
  5. Final quality check after assembly

I got to watch some of this in action.  Here’s one: MO produces Abacus using wooden beads.

Abacus rejected by QC. Notice uneven size of beads in stacks.

Abacus rejected by QC. Notice uneven size of beads in stacks.

As a small batch of 10 of these was being quality checked, it quickly became obvious that the batch failed aesthetics check.  The beads were of different widths, which meant that when the whole abacus was lined up, 9 beads in one stack did not come to the same height as the 9 beads in another stack.  So a decision was made to dis-assemble the whole set and redo the assembly using beads of same sizes.  MO allows for tolerance of only 1mm on dimensions, which is difficult to achieve in hand-made products.  But when 10 beads, each with a 1mm error are stacked up, the difference in height can be quite visible.

This attention to detail is the reason that customers are highly loyal to the brand.  It is another matter that there aren’t that many customers because of limited customer outreach initiatives.

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