In the past, binocular enthusiasts considered binoculars made in China unworthy of their attention. In the early 2000s, because of curiosity and the low price, I bought a pair of Chinese made roof prism binoculars. I ended up regretting this.
However, the market is now full of all kinds of products made in China and in general, the quality has improved significantly. Like digital devices such as smartphones, Chinese binoculars have become dominant in the world market. It’s not easy to find binoculars that are genuinely made in Japan.
This is the result of constant efforts by Chinese manufacturers to stay ahead. At the same time, Japanese manufacturers have been focusing a lot of their efforts on improving the quality of their own products.
Also, Japanese manufacturers work very hard at quality control before shipping. In Japan, items are often received from China in a semi-finished form. After that, they are inspected thoroughly before assembly.
The other day, I visited the offices of Hinode Optics in Japan to see the final quality checks before they ship out new binoculars. I saw how tough the work is for those involved in quality control.
Mr. Imamura in Quality Control
Could you tell me about your role here? All the items have passed quality inspections before you receive them from the Japanese assembly factories, right?
Yes. This is a checklist from the binoculars factory (see below).
They receive binoculars in a semi-finished form and inspect every point before finishing the assembly.
So, what do you have to do?
I believe they’ve done a good job inspecting them, but some quality problems are still found here.
The inspection here is mainly divided into three parts: appearance, movement, and optical performance.
I take a pair out of the carton to see if everything is there. Next, I check the focus knob plate to check if it is affixed correctly.
Then, I put the pair under a bright LED light so that I can see any minor scratches on the body, as well as grease and the amount of gap between each part.
A major concern is the friction of the hinge. If it’s too loose, the interpupillary distance can change when you grip the barrels. If it is too stiff, the pair cannot be used comfortably. I rely on how they feel in my hands for this check.
I touch and move every movable part, such as eyecups, diopter rings, and the focus knob.
My criterion is whether those with small or weak hands will also be able to use them comfortably.
First, I look through them to see if there is a tilt in the optical axis. I look at the horizontal roofline of that building through the window to see if there is anything wrong.
Next, I check the collimation with a ‘collimator’ device. If the binoculars are out of collimation, the optical axes will not be aligned precisely, which makes your brain try to compensate for it. This can lead to headaches or nausea.
All the binoculars were checked with a collimator before they were shipped here from the factory, but I do it again before we ship them to retailers and customers.
Finally, I check for “one-sided blur” by looking at the pattern on the wall. If the lenses are not perfectly parallel, the partial blur occurs.
Interestingly, people with hyperopia tend to be more sensitive to the one-sided blur.
When I find something wrong, I will ask others for their opinions. The image can differ depending on the person.
One more thing: a dust check. During delivery, dust can appear inside the lenses. To be honest, a speck of dust doesn’t harm the image, but I want our customers to receive a perfect pair.
It usually takes about a minute to finish all these optical checks. If I am too obsessed with perfectionism, it will take more time which will eat into our profits. On the other hand, we take a lot of pride in our reputation for high quality. This is the most difficult part of my job.
Mr. Imamura himself likes stargazing so he must be a man of patience!
Mr. Akakura in Shipping & Inventory Control
Mr. Akakura once suffered from a serious disease, but now he’s much better. His main job is processing orders and inventory management.
Needless to say, binoculars are vulnerable to shock; it‘s very important to pack them properly for shipping. No matter how carefully they are packed, the optical axis deviation can occur during delivery.
He handles customers’ returns with care. The company’s reputation depends on Mr. Akakura because he is the only employee who deals directly with the customers’ issues and questions.
He also has to optimize the amount in stock and order timing, which requires careful attention. Deliveries from the factories are often delayed because they are small-scale orders, so he has to estimate the timing and take many things into consideration.
This time, I featured two employees at Hinode Optics: Mr. Imamura and Mr. Akakura. Binoculars are sensitive so they both have to pay close attention to details.
Mr. Imamura struggles with balancing the lenience of JIS, Japanese Industrial Standards, and the profitability of their company. Binoculars are analog items that depend highly on an individual’s quality control ability.
Mr. Akakura is skillful in adjusting and optimizing the inventory. I’m convinced that these two people play an important role in Hinode’s high customer satisfaction.