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Kawai Company’s Quality in Grand Pianos Manufacturing Case Study

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2020

Introduction

The Kawai Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company (Kawai) is famous for producing affordable family pianos in Japan. With the experience of over 72 years in manufacturing family pianos, Kawai has grown and expanded into 81 countries across the globe and registers annual sales of more than 870 million dollars (Efron, 2000). Owing to its experience and expertise in the manufacture of pianos, Kawai seeks to venture into high-end markets by manufacturing world-class and luxury pianos that challenge the quality of pianos produced by the market leader, Steinway (Efron, 2000). The extensive experience gained while working in his father’s company and the passion for creating grand pianos with his name as a brand are two major factors that drive Shigeru Kawai to design quality pianos. Shigeru Kawai aims to use quality as a competitive strategy for improving the brand of the company globally (Efron, 2000). Aged soundboards, Ezo wood, slam-proof keyboard cover, synthetic ebonies and ivories, artisanship, and specialized technical services are the quality features that Kawai incorporated into its grand pianos.

The analysis of features of grand pianos is critical in promoting the understanding of the meaning of quality to Kawai. Essentially, the quality features of the grand piano have enhanced the competitive advantage of Kawai in the global market. In this view, the purpose of the report is to analyze processes, services, products, and craftsmanship, which Kawai employs in creating grand pianos. Apparently, to Kawai, quality means the creation of unique grand pianos with superior sound, magnificent image, apt material, and craftsmanship. Therefore, the understanding of the meaning of quality from the perspective of Kawai is integral to managers and technicians of quality management systems in various organizations for them to manufacture desired products.

Literature Review

The quality of products and services is crucial for it determines customer satisfaction and loyalty in the competitive markets. Since Kawai seeks to challenge Steinway and other major competitors in the production of grand pianos, it utilizes quality as a competitive strategy. Quality management systems (QMS) play a significant role in manufacturing because they enable organizations to streamline their systems, processes, procedures, and operations to produce quality products and services. According to Ismyrlis (2017), the application of theories of total quality management and the incorporation of quality tools boost the performance of organizations.

QMS and quality tools standardize processes, procedures, and operations, which guarantee the manufacture of quality products, augment the performance of organizations, and boost customer satisfaction. From the case study, it is apparent that Kawai is ready to improve its performance in the global markets by manufacturing quality grand pianos that satisfy the unique needs of high-end customers. David Garvin formulated eight dimensions, namely, features, performance, reliability, durability, conformance, aesthetics, perceived quality, and serviceability, which QMS applies in evaluating the quality of products (Chowdhury, 2017). These dimensions are integral in the analysis of how Kawai uses the quality in promoting its competitive stance in the global market and achieving customer satisfaction.

Quality Features

In the dimension of features, Kawai grand pianos have unique characteristics that set them apart in the local and global markets. Driven by passion and experience, Shigeru Kawai is set to create grand pianos that outdo other pianos in the market due to their unique features. Features comprise an integral dimension of quality because it defines the utility of products among consumers (Chowdhury, 2017). Products with additional features attract more consumers than a product with standard features. Product features appeal to new customers and provide an opportunity for them to test and utilize a given product. The analysis of the grand pianos of Kawai indicates that they are unique because they have additional features. Shigeru Kawai designs grand pianos to meet the high-end needs of customers by ensuring that they have unique and competitive features. Kawai manufactures soundboards with a rare wood of Ezo that is 200-years-old and allows them to stay for 5-20 years to age. Moreover, Kawai creates piano keyboards using synthetic material made from a compound of cellulose, acetic acid, and plastic. The keyboard cover is slam-proof owing to high-tech enhancement. The expert combination of high-tech engineering and ancient wood has contributed significantly to the unique features of Kawai’s grand pianos.

Improved Performance

As a critical dimension of quality, performance measures functionalities of unique features of a product. Chowdhury (2017) holds that performance is the primary outcome of the unique features that products possess. In the development of products, designers have to ensure that the features they incorporate have beneficial outcomes. In this case, grand pianos have unique features that spell various functions. For instance, soundboards of grand pianos perform better than ordinary pianos as Kawai manufactures them using special wood obtained from a 200-year-old wood. The combination of sophisticated engineering and antique wood seasoned with aged soundboard has considerably improved the quality of sound produced by Kawai’s grand pianos.

Additionally, Kawai manufactures piano keyboards from valuable material generated from cellulose, acetic acid, and plastic, which absorbs sweat and provides a comfortable touch. Shigeru Kawai has a passion for creating magnificent pianos that perform better than other pianos manufactured by outstanding competitors such as Steinway. According to customers’ feedback, grand pianos produce superior sound than Steinway, although they are comparatively cheap. Shigeru Kawai wants leading experts to evaluate the performance of concert pianos before manufacturing them in mass (Efron, 2000). The evaluation of concert pianos would enable Kawai to determine performance and make appropriate adjustments before introducing them into the market. Hence, performance is a critical aspect of quality because it assesses the utility of a product, in this case, grand pianos.

Reliability of Products

For a product to attain the expected quality that could meet the needs of customers and satisfy them, it must be reliable. Since products have features, which set quality and functionality, their performance ought to be reliable so that customers could get optimal value for their money. Mrugalska and Tytyk (2015) explain that reliability measures the ability of a product to function properly over a given time despite the existence of uncertainties. The analysis of the nature of the wood used in the manufacture of Kawai’s grand pianos indicates that it enhances reliability. Kawai uses a special wood obtained from Ezo trees and aged for 200 years. Moreover, once Kawai manufactures grand pianos and concert pianos, it ages them for 5 and 20 years, respectively, to assure their reliability. The quality of wood and the aging period determine the quality of pianos, and subsequently define their reliability. Besides, Kawai makes keyboards using a special patented material made from plastic, cellulose, and acetic acid. The high-tech fabrication of keyboard cover promotes the reliability of grand pianos because it protects them from shock. Final touches, such as voicing, tuning, and regulation of keys, are high-tech to improve the quality of sound and guarantee reliability. Therefore, the reliability of Kawai’s grand pianos is high due to the use of aged wood and the high-tech process of design.

Durability of Products

Durability is a critical aspect of quality because it measures the utility life of a product. Durable products last long because the quality of materials used in their manufacture coupled high-tech design, promote durability. Chowdhury (2017) argues that durability has technical and economic dimensions, which define the utility life of products. The technical dimension of durability determines the duration of use of a product before it depreciates and provides reduced utility. Comparatively, in the economic dimension, costs of repairs and maintenance should not exceed the cost of products, whereas the inconvenience should not be expensive. From a technical perspective, Kawai’s grand pianos are durable because the materials used in their manufacture are not only quality but also resilient. Aged wood is not susceptible to wear and tear, while unique ebonies and ivories are resistant to constant use. Moreover, the high-tech process of manufacturing ensures that grand pianos are durable to withstand their constant use. However, from an economic perspective, repair and maintenance costs of grand pianos are very high. Efron (2000) asserts that technicians have to fly from Japan to the United States to undertake repair and maintenance procedures. Subsequently, repair and maintenance create a lot of inconveniences because it takes longer than expected for technicians to prepare and fly to their destinations in the United States. Therefore, the quality of the durability of grand pianos is moderate, for they deteriorate with time, yet the process of repair and maintenance is expensive and inaccessible.

Conformance of Products

Conformance is a significant attribute of quality, for it determines the competitiveness of products. The extent to which product features and design meet established standards constitutes conformance. A product that highly conforms to the prevailing standards and values in the competitive markets has a high quality. In an empirical study, Pasch, Rybski, and Jochem (2016) established that the ability of a product to comply with the industry’s specifications and standards set out in laws and regulations that govern the manufacturing process boosts its competitiveness. Since Steinway has set standards in the music industry, Kawai aims to achieve and even surpass them. Long-term aging of pianos, use of artisanship, and high-tech process have made Steinway’s pianos the gold standard in the music industry. In this view, Kawai aims to challenge standards that Steinway has established by producing superb grand pianos. Kawai challenges Steinway by creating soundboards that produce superior sounds from wood obtained from 200-year-old Ezo trees and aging the wood for 5-20 years. Moreover, the existence of quality control systems ensures that products comply with the established standards and design specifications. Kawai has to tune, regulate, and set the voice of grand pianos in a soundproof room where quality control procedures guarantee the right specifications. Thus, the analysis of Kawai’s grand pianos shows that they meet the quality of conformance.

Aesthetic Quality

The aesthetic quality of the product influences its appeal to customers with varying tastes and preferences. As customers have unique needs, designers of products consider their needs while designing and manufacturing products. The common senses measure aesthetic quality for they determine tastes, smells, sounds, looks, and textures of products. For a product to achieve expected aesthetic quality, it must confer appropriate stimuli to common senses of users. According to their experimental studies, Schnurr, Brunner-Sperdin, and Stokburger-Sauer (2016) found out that aesthetics reflects the quality of a new product and determines their attractiveness in competitive markets. The analysis of Kawai’s grand pianos shows that they have an aesthetic quality that depicts them as competitive luxury brands in the music industry. A piano expert, Treibitz, argues that if displayed together, Kawai’s pianos are more attractive than Steinway’s pianos (Efron, 2000). Moreover, the touch of keyboard gives an amazing touch because the material made from is a patented product that mimics ivory.

Perceived Quality

The way customers perceive products has a significant effect on the quality. Chowdhury (2017) assert that company’s reputation, image, and brand are factors that influence perceived quality of products. As Kawai is poised to establish a global brand of grand pianos, its reputation and image are still at the formative stages. Competitive brands such as Steinway and Bosendorfer have established their brands and reputations in the music industry for singers and pianists recognize their quality and often use them. The perceived quality of Kawai’s brand is still low because few pianists and musicians know its existence in the music industry. The market share of Kawai is negligible since it has sold about 80 grand pianos in the United States, yet the factory can manufacture 1,100 per month. In their study, Saleem, Ghafar, Ibrahim, Yousuf, and Ahmed (2015) found out that perceived product quality predict purchasing intentions of customers. In this case, potential customers have a low perceived quality since they do not understand the quality of Kawai’s grand pianos. Hence, despite efforts to improve the perceived quality of grand pianos, Kawai still has substantial progress to achieve to improve its image and reputation.

Service Quality

Customer care is central to manufacturing industries because it enhances the utility of products among customers. Given that products are prone to breakages and require constant repair and maintenance, service quality determines how manufacturers restore diverse forms of malfunctioning. Essentially, serviceability encompasses expertise, courtesy, and the speed in which manufacturers offer repairs and maintenance services to their customers (Chowdhury, 2017). The analysis of the case study of Kawai’s grand pianos indicates that service quality is low. Although Kawai has experts in Japan who manufacture grand pianos, it does not have experts in the United States. According to Efron (2000), Kawai has to fly its piano experts from Japan to the United States to carry out repair and maintenance. Moreover, the speed of service provision is quite slow because Kawai can provide within a year of a request. Halvorsrud, Kvale, and Folstad (2016) recommend organizations to provide timely and appropriate services to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. Thus, the implication is that Kawai would lose potential customers due to remoteness and inaccessibility of its services in the United States, which are essential for continued utilization of grand pianos.

Craftsmanship and Quality

Craftsmanship is another aspect of quality that Kawai considers in the manufacture of its grand pianos. In the music industry, market leaders such as Steinway and Bosendorfer have established standards used in the design and development of pianos. Among other standards is craftsmanship, which entails the use of superb hand skills to create products with unique quality and value. According to Cattani, Dunbar, and Shapira (2017), Steinway applies craftsmanship as a differentiation strategy in the music industry because it produces unique pianos that are competitive in the local and global markets. Craftmanship is indispensable in the music industry since it provides an opportunity for competition. Campana, Cimatti, and Melosi (2016) argue that fabrication of non-standardized products requires craftsmanship to improve quality and create uniqueness. In this view, Kawai uses craftsmanship in designing and creating world-class grand pianos with the objective to outdo Steinway.

Like Steinway, Kawai uses craftsmanship is creating hand-built grand pianos with unique attributes and superb performance. Bozzola and Giorgi (2016) hold that experience, skills, and cultural heritage are three factors that determine the use of craftsmanship in the production of exceptional crafts. The skills and passion that Shigeru Kawai applies in the design and creation of grand pianos emanate from experience, skills, and culture he inherited from his father, Koichi Kawai. Despite the existence of technology in the music industry to create digital pianos with electronic speakers, Kawai uses craftsmanship to design and develop soundboards and keyboards (Efron, 2000). Moreover, Kawai uses aging of wood and soundboard as quality control measures to make sure that grand pianos meet the expectations of customers by producing superior sounds. Therefore, the concept of craftsmanship is a significant aspect of quality because it confers the attribute of uniqueness to Kawai’s grand pianos.

Conclusion

The extensive analysis of Kawai’s intention to create grand pianos that target high-end market in Japan and the United States shows that quality has numerous meanings. Based on various dimensions of quality, Kawai scores high on features, performance, reliability, conformance, and aesthetics. The implication is that Kawai has competitive attributes, which enable it to challenge Steinway in the global markets. However, low quality is evident in the dimensions of durability, perceived quality, and serviceability. As an implication, Kawai is yet to challenge Steinway because its grand pianos are not durable, perceived quality is low, and repair and maintenance services are not accessible. Like Steinway, the ability of Kawai to employ craftsmanship in the production of grand pianos gives it a competitive advantage. Overall, Kawa is set to challenge Steinway and other competitors in the music industry using quality and craftsmanship as key strategic approaches.

References

Bozzola, M., & Giorgi, C. (2016). Design and craftsmanship for cultural heritage: The ‘materialmente’ project-an experience from Italy. An International Journal for All Aspects of Design, 19(2), 205-219.

Campana, G., Cimatti, B., & Melosi, F. (2016). A proposal for the evaluation of craftsmanship in industry. Procedia CIRP, 40(1), 668-673. Web.

Cattani, G., Dunbar, R. L. M., & Shapira, Z. (2017). How commitment to craftsmanship leads to unique value: Steinway & Sons’ differentiation strategy. Strategy Science, 2(1), 13-38. Web.

Chowdhury, S. R. (2017). Measuring the relationship between product quality dimensions & repurchase intention of smartphone: A case study on Chittagong city. International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, 8(2), 1031-1040.

Efron, S. (2000). Los Angeles Times. Web.

Halvorsrud, R., Kvale, K., & Folstad, A. (2016). Improving service quality through customer journey analysis. Journal of Service Theory and Practice, 26(6), 840-867. Web.

Ismyrlis, V. (2017). The contribution of quality tools and integration of quality management systems to the organization. The Total Quality Management Journal, 29(5), 677-689. Web.

Mrugalska, B., & Tytyk, E. (2015). Quality control methods for product reliability and safety. Procedia Manufacturing, 3(1), 2730-2737.

Pasch, F., Rybski, C., & Jochem, R. (2016). Empirical study on quality management for product-service systems in industrial environment. Business Process Management Journal, 22(5), 969-978. Web.

Saleem, A., Ghafar, A., Ibrahim, M., Yousuf, M., & Ahmed, N. (2015). Product perceived quality and purchase intention with consumer satisfaction. Global Journal of Management and Business Research, 15(1), 21-27.

Schnurr, B., Brunner-Sperdin, A., & Stokburger-Sauer, N. E. (2016). The effect of context attractiveness on product attractiveness and product quality: The moderating role of product familiarity. Marketing Letters, 28(2), 241-253.

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