• Field Notes 28.07.2010

    All too often in business when there’s a problem with a product or some other failure, manufacturers are slow to provide details. I have a feeling that there’s usually some corporate attorney (or multiple attorneys) out there that might not be allowing the operating people to say what they know. It’s regrettable that there can’t be more open and up-front discussion of issues that might be critical to customers or others.

    After the BP oil spill and Toyota recall problems (I’ll bet Toyota’s glad something else replaced them on the front page), you’d think it would be in everybody’s best interest if companies were more forthcoming not only with what the problem might be, but what the solution is.

    A recent example in our industry is the reports that have come out on problems with some batches of silicone sealants. There was an announcement of a manufacturing problem, but beyond that, little information on how extensive the issue is (or not) and how it should be solved.

    Questions I have – that I don’t recall seeing answers to – on the sealants are:

    1. Does the air entrainment in the secondary seal compromise the expected service life of a glass lite? Having it last the 10-year warranty is not what I’m talking about. Most glass ought to be good for 25-30 years, if not longer:  does this issue compromise that?
    2. It makes sense that if the lite is put in a four-sided captured glazing system, nothing bad is expected to happen – the pressure plates or gaskets always putting pressure on the sandwich will help hold it together.  But that doesn’t have anything to do with item 1 above, or does it?
    3. What about a structural silicone glazing system, be it four-sided (no captured edges) or two-sided? What’s the long-term viability of such units? Should they be replaced?
    4. How many glass lites were made with problematic sealants, and how many of them may need to be replaced?
    5. Are there other things we’re not aware of yet, but that could be a problem down the road?

    My dad worked for the makers of Tylenol when someone put cyanide in some of the tablets in the early ’80s.  Johnson & Johnson, their parent company, jumped in with both feet to notify the public. They initially didn’t know if the products were tampered with or, if it was, heaven forbid, something in the manufacturing process. But they immediately pulled all the products off the shelf and bought new bottling equipment that put the film over the bottle or the plastic wrap over the cap. (Yes, you have that scare to thank for that “advance” in the human endeavor.)

    But the point is, how Johnson & Johnson dealt with that whole fiasco is now taught at business schools.  Namely, to be proactive and transparent:  Even if you don’t know the cause, tell your customers what you’re doing in the meantime, and be completely up-front and open about it.  People will respect that.  When it’s found that it wasn’t your fault, your customers will keep using your product, even paying the premium for the safety or other added features you’ve incorporated. Tylenol’s sales ticked up after the tampering cause was discovered, and J&J loudly advertised what they were doing to protect the public from that happening again.

    Just as important, and often overlooked, J&J was telling their people that they had confidence in them that they hadn’t screwed up making Tylenol.  They stood behind their people from the very beginning.  Tylenol would have gone away and never been heard from again if it had been the manufacturing and not tampering.  Doing the right thing for the right reason is always the best way to go.

    Posted by Blogger @ 2:42 pm

  • One Response

    • I think that it is important to remember that the company that you forgot to name in this case could have turned a blind eye to the situation and if something bad happened, blamed Dow. That wasn’t the case. A problem was discovered that wasn’t fully understood, and they took a proactive approach for the safety of their customers and the general public (unlike some other companies that use the same sealant and only decided to say something after the cat was out of the bag). Now, after some testing has been done, they have said that the safety issue is not an immediate concern. I am sure with the legal eagles out there, this decision was not made without some concrete evidence. As far as the long term effects…this will take more testing. You cannot simulate 30 years of weathering in only a few days. If you have spent any time in the industry you should know that.
      The other option would be to take units out of buildings, costing millions of dollars, and greatly affect building schedules. To put it into the Tylenol situation, the problematic units were identified, and communicated to the consumer. Any units that were not shipped were inspected (on the shelf). The units that are installed are the same as Tylenol that people have already taken. If this becomes truly a safety issue after the weathering testing is done, or a quality issue for that matter, I am sure that the units will be recalled and replaced. As far as doing the right thing, I think that Viracon and Dow are giving their customers as much information as they can. In fact, because of their honesty and proactive approach, I will only be using Viracon products in the future. Good luck to Viracon on this issue!

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