Interview with Reiner Häufele, Quality Assurance Manager at GARDENA
So, Mr Häufele, you are responsible for quality at GARDENA?
Not just me. At our company, everyone is essentially responsible for the quality of our products and processes. Our task is to ensure that high-quality products which meet our customers' expectations are delivered to customers at the end of the planning and production process. This requires the constant evaluation of defined quality standards from the development phase through to serial production and the monitoring of the extent to which these standards are observed.
What do you mean by defined quality standards?
First of all, every product is different. A lawnmower has to perform completely different tasks from a grubber or loppers. Accordingly, the quality standards for the specific functions of the product are different. We have to define these standards with the marketing department when a product is created so that our developers can apply them. We state, for example, which test conditions garden shears must be subjected to in a number of validation checks so that they subsequently last for their defined service life when in the customer's hands.
But how can this be checked?
With this in mind, we have developed test programmes for each product at our quality laboratory in Ulm. We want fast results which reflect real use in order to be able to assess quality. We can't simply wait long enough for a product to naturally reach the end of its stated service life. Consequently, we work with standard tests where, on the basis of our many years of experience and through comparison with real-life customer practices, we can simulate the behaviour of a product in typical conditions in the shortest possible amount of time.
How does this work in practical terms?
For our tests, we develop and build machines and devices in which our products can be used and passed through largely automatically over an adjustable period of time and for a specific number of repetitions. Loppers, for example, are used to cut wooden sticks with different diameters and levels of dryness and sticks made from different types of wood. Or a hose cart is allowed to travel for hours on a conveyor with cross struts to create a really bumpy section. We let hose carts fall to the ground repeatedly from a height of one metre or subject them to an endurance test on steps.
Why do that?
Many users have to take their hose carts up steps out of the cellar and then take them back down again. If the hose is full of water, the cart is reasonably heavy. And users don't always handle their cart gently. We therefore try to simulate the hardest demands placed on the equipment.
Does a tool really have to withstand anything?
Well, not everything! But anyone who buys a GARDENA product usually pays a fair price for it and therefore quite rightly has certain expectations. He or she has the right to expect the product to be resilient and yet to always function efficiently, even over a longer service life. That's why it's worth buying branded goods rather than cheaper bargain products. It's the only way to ensure satisfaction in the long term.
And you can guarantee that?
That is precisely what our job is. We provide advice and conduct tests during product development, test and define the quality standards for bought-in parts such as plugs and cables, and continuously take test samples during series production. If something is wrong, we sound the alarm immediately and even stop delivery if necessary.
So are you impressed by the quality of GARDENA products?
Yes, absolutely. And because we are convinced of the quality of our products, we offer a 25 year warranty on mechanical shears and on the GARDENA combisystem, for example. I think that should impress our customers, too.