To ensure any good or material we use is up to standard, we need to look at its life story from manufacture to consumption. Imagine, if you will, the story of a penny.
Imagine what it was made of, the places it has been, what it has been used for and where it might go – it’s the story of a manufactured product.
It was in the days before computers and big data, before free trade agreements, and globalisation of supply chains and Australia had a vibrant manufacturing industry.
Material sourcing, product design and manufacturing processes were relatively simple. Quality, branding and reputations were a source of pride and based on word of mouth and product performance and trade was relatively local.
In Australia, we are faced with the challenges of fierce global completion, a relatively small home market and procurement practice that allows and almost encourages a race to the bottom of cost, quality, content and longevity in products.
This is a challenging problem, but not a wicked one and for simplicity it may be seen in groups of threes; there are three levels of government imposing restrictions on three stakeholder groups across three stages of the product life cycle.
A light may be shone, resources allocated and collaborations formed based on these groupings. The problem may be unravelled and an enduring solution found in collaboration. Addressing non-conformance is complex and it requires cooperation and a willingness and openness to resolve with contribution from all stakeholders.
Three levels of government (federal, state/territory, and local governments) have cascading levels of authority and responsibilities. These generally support each other and provide the framework within which we operate but occasionally overlap, contradict and in some instances remain silent, which creates gaps and allow product to be used that is not fit for purpose.
Three stakeholder groups across the product life cycle may be classed into make, use and consume. The makers source material, design, manufacture and supply product to the users. The users of products are those that combine and assemble it into functional units. A lead pencil is an assembly of parts – wood, glue, graphite and the manufacturing process that combines them. Similarly, items such as computers or multi-storey buildings, while immensely more complicated, are also assemblies of manufactured parts. And the last stakeholder group is the consumer who uses the building, the computer or the pencil until its function is exhausted and it may be recycled.
The stages of the product life cycle largely align to the stakeholder groups. However, the product is the one constant throughout from which business activity revolves and regulation supports. Regardless of whether it is a penny or a pencil or a palace, it may now gather data, records, transport information and tell stories of products, verify and collaborate and review and test and certify. This tells the story of the product, its provenance, and creates an experience for the consumer, risk reduction for the user and value to the producer.
Today, there are few logistical reasons the story of any product cannot be told to the consumer. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly important for all the stakeholders and increasingly important for all of government so that they may demonstrate responsible spending of public money, reduce risk in procurement and lower the occurrence of non-conforming product substitution.
The story and disclosure it involves should be seen as an opportunity for Australian manufacturing. It is the basis of the new economy where services and experiences are valued highly and where providence and performance is both demonstrated and demanded.
Until verifiable stories of products are disclosed and consumers enjoy this confidence, non-conforming product will continue to be found too late with disastrous consequences such as degraded electric cabling, asbestos ceiling tiles and leaking apartments. Local manufacturers will continue to suffer as a result of unfair competition from cheap and substandard products and our governments will continue to spend our taxes on recalls, repairs and the resulting public hardship.
Collectively, we may use technologies to tell stories along the product life cycle and as stakeholders, support a fair market for local manufacturing. We must have confidence in the purchases we make.