Quality control in manufacturing can be worthless if the design of the product is poor. If the design is faulty, quality control will not prevent the product from breaking down.
This is the view of Murton Electronics' MD, Brent Maurer, who explains that South African design is still catching up to international standards.
"In the past, South African design has had a reputation for being substandard," says Maurer. "A lot of this goes back to the apartheid years when we copied designs rather than innovated. We imported and copied dampening innovation and as a result the industry is average in terms of its design capabilities.
"Many products designed by South African companies for First World applications often do not compete in international markets, as a result of poor design and neglected quality control.
"If we do get the design right, we have another problem and that is competing with the global manufacturers in terms of the actual equipment used for quality control. Because overseas production volumes are generally so much larger, quality control equipment is much more sophisticated," notes Maurer.
"For example, in South Africa for a specific component a volume of 250 000 units manufactured per day could be equivalent to possibly 25 million a day in an overseas factory. The larger volumes justify more sophisticated quality control equipment," he adds.
More often volumes in South Africa are too low for us to compete effectively in First World international markets.
"While export is the solution to our slowing manufacturing environment, we need to look at less sophisticated markets, such as Africa. We are an African country and know the culture better than any other continent. We should therefore be using our expertise to produce products for these markets.
"Products that have good quality but that are possibly less sophisticated than those designed for First World markets will put SA manufacturers on the map. A good example is the wind-up radio. It has done enormously well in international markets.
"We have the talent and expertise to make these products in South Africa and need to look at previously ignored markets," he says.
"The keyword is innovate, which is something manufacturers still need to master. Manufacturers wanting to grow will need to identify markets and applications previously not addressed and design products for these markets with Africa and Third World countries in mind.
Maurer admits that in many of these markets there are risks because of a lack of funds and in some cases ethics. "But these are no more greater challenges than those facing international competition in already developed markets. The challenges are only different," he explains.