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Problem Solving Challenges in Chinese Factories

November 26, 2015

 by Vince


One fundamental difference between Westerners and Chinese that leads to challenges in the work place is the method of solving technical problems.

The Chinese education system is based on rote memorization. They are not trained to develop analytical thinking and problem solving skills. They study the answers to pass the test. Knowing “WHAT” the answer is, is sufficient to pass the test with 100%; not “WHY or HOW” to derive the correct answer.

Once they leave university and enter the ‘real‘ world, they do not have the skills to analyze and determine the root cause of the problem and select the appropriate solution.

This often leads to a shotgun approach for problem solving, where trying ‘something’ and trying to get a lucky hit is better than doing nothing. The problem is compounded when they get a ‘false positive‘ during the process and incorrectly think the problem has been solved, when in actuality it has not.

Here is an example:

We have a plastic material cracking problem.

We changed the mold dimensions. Still cracked.

We changed the molding process parameters. Still cracked.

We changed the assembly method. Still cracked.

We annealed the parts after molding. Still cracked.

We changed the material. No cracks. It must be the material!

(But this old material has been used for the previous 5 years without a cracking problem. Nobody asks, “what changed? Why are cracks starting NOW after 5 years of running fine?”)

The reality is, the material was perfectly fine. It was just that it had not been dried correctly before use.

When the “new/good” material also shows cracks because it ALSO has not been dried correctly, the shotgun process starts all over. This is because a root cause analysis to find the REAL problem is rarely conducted and corrective actions are not substantiated to prove the problem has been solved.

This carries over to the design and development of new products. As the Chinese education system does not foster and develop the creative side of the brain, many Chinese have difficulty in thinking out of the box and coming up with new and innovative product designs or creative solutions.

Instead of focusing on improving internal developments, they look to the “West” for the new technology and product ideas and attempt to copy the designs without knowing and understanding the design intent. The external appearance of the product could be identical, but the function is flawed. This can lead to dangerous and potentially deadly outcomes.

For example, some of the chemotherapy drugs that are used for treating cancer patients have very aggressive chemical compounds that can cause plastic materials to become brittle and crack. In the West, this is a commonly known design feature and (more expensive) materials are selected because of their crack resistant properties.

In China, this risk is often overlooked and (cheaper) plastic materials that are inappropriate for the design are selected, leading to product failures where patients and caregivers are exposed to hazardous drugs.

In many cases, as the development of medical devices in China is still at the fledgling stages. These type of ‘basic’ mistakes are commonplace and will continue to happen until they have established a broader knowledge base to which they develop new products. This can only happen over time by learning from mistakes, a costly and dangerous process (as we have seen numerous times in the toy, food and pharma industries) or by investing in foreign talent to teach and educate on these potential risks.


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