September 8th, 2015
A Tool for Rapid Order Inspection
Author: Mike Amirault
This summer, as a Vistaprint intern, I helped to designed and construct a tool to address a longstanding quality problem in our manufacturing plants. To illustrate the problem, let’s follow the life of an order with a mistake on it. Suppose that a customer, Mike’s Electric Company, designs a custom presentation folder on www.vistaprint.com, shown below as it would appear on screen:
The design looks fine at first glance, but look again; since this is an unfolded view of the folder, the flaps on the bottom will be folded up during printing. The light bulb and text on the flap will both be upside-down in the finished product.
What would happen after these folders are ordered? Since Vistaprint’s manufacturing is almost entirely automated, it’s possible that the folders would be printed as-is and shipped to the customer. Mike’s Electric Company would be unhappy and probably would call Vistaprint’s Customer Care number to complain, and the order would have to be printed and shipped for a second time. This not only costs Vistaprint money but also (more importantly) puts a good customer relationship at risk. A slightly better possibility is that an operator on the plant floor would recognize the customer’s error before shipping, and would tag the order for correction and reprinting at Vistaprint’s cost. Either way, the order gets printed twice.
For years, this situation was generating problematic orders on the plant floors and wasting thousands of dollars in printing and shipping costs. In response, Vistaprint began a pilot program in its Windsor manufacturing plant to test the viability of widespread order inspection. It’s a good idea in principle, but the pilot implementation was based on a massive Excel spreadsheet. To inspect a single item required a lot of searching for data and manual input into different tools. It wasn’t the rapid, efficient process they had hoped for, and it became clear that some sort of unified interface was needed. That was where my team came in.
The Rapid Incoming Design Inspection Tool (RIDIT) was my team’s solution to the Windsor team’s problems, and its construction and maintenance was the focus of my entire summer. The RIDIT is a web application that allows inspectors to check an entire queue of orders rapidly and efficiently in batches. Any failures can be flagged to be addressed later, thereby preventing orders with mistakes from being printed (and then reprinted).
The RIDIT uses AJAX to retrieve order information and views when they are needed, saving the inspectors from having to search through large Excel sheets to find the data they require. The RIDIT is also highly extensible to any product and any plant that the inspectors want. In addition, my team stored and analyzed data about the number of failures, times of inspections, and other metrics to demonstrate that the new tool was an extremely cost-effective solution to the problem of order quality, costing mere cents and less than 20 seconds of inspector time per item in some cases. Since these inspections can (and have) caught errors that saved several hundred dollars in manufacturing costs, their business value became clear.
The Windsor team’s reaction to this tool was very positive, and they put it to use immediately in their pilot. Eventually a team at the Venlo (Netherlands) plant expressed an interest in the tool and began using it as well, and there were talks towards the end of the summer about the Deer Park (Australia) plant getting its own team as well.
The RIDIT project was great to work on because of its real-world nature. Our tool allowed inspectors to rescue thousands of problematic orders and save Vistaprint many real dollars even in my short time here.
Interning at Vistaprint was also an intense experience. In my first few weeks, I had to absorb a ton of information quickly, learning the tools I needed as I went along. It was hectic but extremely educational, and by the third week this internship had proven to be everything I had hoped for… and then some. Building and supporting the tool with such a small team (only two of us, plus our manager) taught its own lessons, as we had to function as our own semi-autonomous software team, help desk, and whatever else was needed to keep the RIDIT running. On the whole, my internship was a very positive experience, one that I am grateful for and will remember for a long time to come!