Quality Exclusives

Not “User-Friendly” but “Users-Friendly”

November 28, 2012

 

Saying “users-friendly” plural is admittedly an awkward mouthful and on the border of grammatically incorrect.  However, today most of the instruments, software and equipment your quality team uses is often shared with your entire manufacturing team. There is not one type of user, but many, with widely varying skill sets and needs.

 

Historically the term “user-friendly” was more or less a euphemism for saying that even the most lightly skilled worker could handle it, whatever “it” was.  Our workforces were becoming more multi-lingual such that pictorial intuitive user interfaces went a long way to solving day-to-day communication problems.  That certainly has been a driving concern for our product design team and something for which our most recently released Optima vT Leak and Flow Tester pictured here has won high marks.

 

But consider too that even the highest skilled workers in your team need something that is user-friendly and makes mastery of the tasks they need to perform with their higher level skill sets possible in the shortest amount of time.  

 

Let me use myself as an example.  As director of engineering for the company that first pioneered dry air leak testing methods for the US Space Mission and then brought these methods to commercial applications we have been on a path of continuous innovation for half a century.  That in fact describes my personal charter and job in a nutshell.  I have to make sure that USON remains at the forefront of meeting market demands for new technology that meets the requirements of ever more challenging leak testing applications in new medical devices, fuel efficient automotive designs, and a broad range of other industries where components have strict leak rate specifications.  

 

I had that exact charter when I started in this job quite some time ago.  The difference is that now I have far more tools at my disposal and an even greater number of tools to assess regarding their impact on our work and the return-on-investment we can expect.  Like you I’m also handling orders of magnitude more data than a decade ago, for example, for Six Sigma and comparable quality initiatives.  There is new software that helps us do our jobs, instruments with better sensors to calibrate and be calibrated, and any number of other equipment innovations that have come to bear both on my work and the work of my team. 

 

Wonderful as these new innovations are, they all come with a learning curve.  That takes time, as do the great number of electronic communications that now define all of our days.  I’m an able user, but if I have to spend a great deal of time getting up to speed on how to use your equipment, instrument or any tool that is a purported aid to helping me get my job done that “aid” feels more like a burden.  Worse yet, objectively many technology innovations do indeed prove to be more onerous than helpful. 

 

Do I have the intellectual capacity and technical training to program new instruments?  Yes.  Do I have time to do so?  The answer is ONLY if the designers of the software tools, instrumentation, or other equipment makes the more advanced tasks of configuration very straightforward and requiring the shortest of learning curves.

 

In the case of leak detection equipment that means that the red/green pass/fail screens for the operator are not what defines them as “users friendly”.  Leak testing always requires some customization of setup.   The flip side of the coin of a highly versatile instrument is a potential for complexity.  Consider that aforementioned Optima vT Leak and Flow Tester that our team devoted three years of R& D time to perfect.  It not only is a pressure decay tester but actually can do a dozen types of leak tests and related NDT testing in any possible combinations, meaning that you can get to half a billion permutations of test sequences easily.  It is capable of concurrent testing on independent channels.  It can be operated and calibrated to standard pressure ranges from vacuum to 1500psi.  These are just a few indicators of the complexity within. 

 

When “users-friendly” is a design standard it means that all complexity is handled behind the scenes for all users, even those that are only involved in initial setup of the test instrument or other tool in the quality assurance arsenal. 

 

If your time budgets are being consumed by instrumentation learning curves you are paying for it on many levels.  New words, neologisms, are being coined everyday.  Please join me in this mission to make userS-friendly part of the quality team’s lexicon.  It’s an expression we don’t have time to live without.

 

In my next blog I’ll share some of the secret sauce we use to achieve this standard of taking complexity out of setup and operations and place “behind the scenes”—how zero time steps are impacting productivity.

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Charles J. Hellier has been active in the technology of nondestructive testing and related quality and inspection fields since 1957. Here he talks with Quality's managing editor, Michelle Bangert, about the importance of training.
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