Amol Karandikar
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Digitizing quality management helps you consistently deliver quality products within shorter timelines while optimizing costs and efforts

Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution has been widely touted as the manufacturing industry’s next act. Technologies such as the IoT, cloud, and robotics are revolutionizing manufacturing as we know it. According to a McKinsey survey of Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) members, 80% of respondents consider digital manufacturing and design to be a critical driver of competitiveness. The same survey also notes that only 13 percent rate their organizations’ digital capability as high.

While the industry has gained some momentum in digitally transforming functions such as research, development, production, and maintenance, it lags significantly in the digitization of the quality management process. Manufacturers still use a reactive approach to quality control, where quality is tracked and managed either manually or through disparate quality applications. Needless to say, this results in frequent errors, diminishes product quality, leads to cost overruns. A leading telecom equipment manufacturer we work with had a stack of legacy applications that performed various quality functions. The absence of a holistic approach to quality management resulted in a disorganized work environment marked by ineffective communication between the production and quality departments. This resulted in frequent inventory pile-ups, which negatively impacted the shop floor productivity. As a result, personnel had to invest massive time and effort in quality-related rework and repair. What was worse was that the time and money spent on quality-related rework were hardly accounted for due to disparate, manual quality management processes.

Adapting to a shifting landscape

There were several high-profile product recalls in 2015; the Takata airbags being the most popular. It involved 14 automotive manufacturers and millions of vehicles in the US. A wide range of pharma, technology, and consumer products are recalled every year. Why do we see so many recalls despite rapid technological advances? The problem lies in the traditional quality management system, which operates in silos and does not offer a holistic, enterprise-wide view. With stringent regulations and demanding customers, it is time to rethink quality strategies and implement an integrated and digitized quality management solution. An integrated approach can help embed quality across the product lifecycle, provide greater visibility into manufacturing and quality control process, and improve predictive and preventive capabilities. Digitizing quality management helps you consistently deliver quality products within shorter timelines while optimizing costs and efforts.

Why end-to-end quality management is the way to go

Digitizing Quality Management

Automation of end-to-end quality management processes – including control, planning, and improvement – will enable you to easily monitor quality across the production lifecycle. Comprehensive visibility into operations will help in identifying issues proactively, analyze and uncover the root cause, and optimize product performance early in the development cycle.

Thanks to automation, integrated quality management software drive lean production capabilities over time. This, in turn, lays the foundation for digitizing the end-to-end manufacturing cycle, establishing machine-to-machine interaction, and enabling access to accurate information when needed. Such an integrated ecosystem will further drive proactive quality management across the board, including quality process standardization, process enforcement, personnel and skill qualification, production process and configuration verification, and in‐process inspection. Take the example of this multinational chemical, life sciences, and biotechnology company – Sigma-Aldrich. As a result of an aggressive M&A strategy, the company ended up with a host of disparate quality processes across its global locations. Realizing the need for a unified quality management system, it deployed SAP QM at the enterprise level. The company now enjoys greater visibility into operations and quality data, which has dramatically improved production quality.

Aligning digital technologies for smart insights into quality

While there are endless possibilities in terms of how digital technologies and analytics solutions can be deployed to modernize the quality management ecosystem, the first step is the digitization of the plant floor. For instance, integrating cloud-based and mobile technologies to enable remotely located experts to view the manufacturing site. This real-time collaboration among users will allow timely identification and resolution of issues. Visibility into real-time defect data will maximize supply chain operations and efficiencies. Toyota uses advanced analytics and advanced process controls (APC) to troubleshoot quality problems in production, in real time. This has minimized scrap and rework and enabled the manufacturer to reduce the cost of quality assurance by 10 to 20%.

Stepping into the future with comprehensive digitization  

In a highly competitive marketplace, poor quality products can impact market share and brand reputation significantly. Reactive quality control, therefore, needs to give way to integrated quality management to ensure complete coverage of the production cycle. With early detection capabilities, you can prioritize maintenance resources and initiate timely corrective actions, minimize downtime, maximize product quality, and reduce costs.

So where do we begin? Achieving holistic digitization of quality management requires a systematic approach. It calls for understanding the finer ‘quality-related’ nuances of all the functions and stitching them together to form a comprehensive framework, which is then infused with advanced technologies. How has your organization approached this area? Are there any critical success factors or potential pitfalls that you would like to share?


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