04 September 2012

Design for Safety? The dirty laundry of NPD!

I don't get to the supermarket as often as I should. But when I do, my eyes cast around for lost opportunities for product improvement.

On a recent shopping trip, I happened by the laundry detergent shelf and my eyes were drawn to a large, clear plastic container that contained small, 3/4" diameter colorful balls of laundry detergent.

You drop these detergent balls into the washing machine according to the amount of clothes and without the trouble of accurate measure or the mess of spilled powder. The container design was such that anybody could easily open it with one hand, which I guess is handy if you have the other arm full of dirty clothes.

What struck me immediately was that these colorful balls looked like candy in a candy jar that any child could open, and then put in their mouth.
image - a clear plastic jar of candy gums

How could a company that caters to families and household cleaning products (and also some snack foods), design something with such potential risks of a child eating laundry soap thinking it was a cookie? Certainly, this must have been thoroughly tested.

A quick Internet search on the smart phone told otherwise. Just three weeks earlier, in fact, a news report indicated that across the U.S., as many as 10 emergency calls were being made to the Poison Control Center each day regarding this product. Small children were "vomiting, wheezing and gasping" within minutes of biting into the detergent balls.

The manufacturer's response was  “We encourage consumers to keep the products out of the reach of children as with any household chemical.”

So what's the QFD connection?

Just like reliability, safety is a critical design element. Danger Mode and Effects Analysis should be a part of Safety Deployment in your QFD analyses. For users of Modern QFD, this means there should be a section in the Maximum Value table that addresses product and package safety concerns associated with critical customer needs.

For users of Classical QFD matrices, this means a Safety Deployment consisting of one or more matrices to identify and prioritize potential danger modes for additional study.

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