As the leader of a group of scientists in a national museum whose collection is varied, we often find ourselves as the 'in-between'. That is the in-between the customer (or client) and the manufacturer (or supplier). It is worth while just spending a little time analysing this position.
Firstly the customer. At the V&A this is typically a curator or senior manager that is given a budget to see a project through. This budget may vary from small amounts of around £10,000 to undertake a re-display of some particular objects to £32 million over five years for our largest project of the British Galleries that has a full project management team. The small budgets do not generally have project managers and are seen through to completion by an individual.
To give a scale of the task - it is estimated that there are 2,500 display cases in the V&A and the price for new cases varies from £5,000 (Euro 8,000) to £20,000 (Euro 32,000). An average price of £8,000 (Euro 12,800) is reasonable. The simple arithmetic dictates that the new replacement costs for all display cases would be £20 million (Euro 32 million). If we add in the storage case the V&A has 2,694 storage cases. The new price for one of these storage cases is £650 (Euro 1040). The arithmetic says that to replace all of our present storage units at today's prices would cost £1.5 million (Euro 2.4 million). You may ask for justification of this scale of costs. In one suite of recently refurbished galleries (the South Kensington site alone has 170 galleries) the objects were valued at £7.5 million (Euro 12 million) in only two of the approximately fifty display cases.
Now the manufacturers turn. Very business wise and contractually aware companies who are chasing sizeable international contracts. My experience is that they deliver exactly what the customer has asked for and quite right for doing so.
From outside of the V&A I am also aware that the scenario is very similar on both the customer and manufacturer sides.
The two main groups MUST learn to speak each others language if value for money is to be gained and given. So my challenge was to find such a suitable language. I know that I can do this from a base as a customer and use the concept that the customer is always right. The answer to this challenge was to employ a measurable parameter that would give some indication as to the quality of build but without specifying how to achieve that quality of build. Trawls of the literature indicated that air transfer between inside and outside the cases could be such an indicator. Hence the concept of air exchange rates was encompassed. It is now V&A contractual obligation that the supplier of display cases will provide us with a certificate to demonstrate that the cases supplied meet the agreed specification. Normal procedure for areas such as electrical installations or plumbing.
So where to set the standard? The early literature work suggested that cases could quite easily attain 0.1 air changes per day (0.1 ac.d-1). Research was targeted towards this figure - the most obvious need was a means to measure the air exchange rate. The Building Services Research Industry Association (BSRIA) were contracted to a joint project team of the V&A and MGC to study the measurement technique. I am now happy to report that we have an accepted this target for the manufacture of our display cases.
This whole piece has been written without using the words quality control nor quality assurance.
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