Opinion: when quality meets the Smart Factory

When applying Next-Generation Quality Management to the Smart Factory of the future, businesses will be able to deliver consistent, highly efficient and best quality products to their customers, says Jason Chester, Director of Global Channel Programs, InfinityQS.

Quality is king. It always has been, and it always will be. This may be the kind of bold statement that you would expect from a senior representative of a global quality solutions company, and one that has been immersed in the world of quality for over thirty years. With so much emphasis today on the transformation of manufacturing in areas such as Industry 4.0, IoT, AI/ML, and the Smart Factory, one could also be forgiven for thinking that it is a valiant attempt to protect a traditional manufacturing discipline about to face oblivion. However that could not be farther from the truth.

Quality, in a manufacturing context, is often thought of as being synonymous with the physical quality characteristics of a particular product being manufactured. Throughout the production process, we take samples of products at certain intervals and check their various parameters and characteristics to make sure they are within specification. If they are acceptable, we keep on going, if they are not, we consign them to waste or rework them until they are, occasionally making some adjustments along the way to prevent the same problem from reoccurring. At the end of the production processes we perform final checks to make sure they are good enough to be sold to our customers without getting into trouble with the regulators.

Smart Factory

We may have got better at managing quality over the years (with people in white coats being replaced by inline inspection equipment, digital sensors and vision inspection systems) but this has pretty much been the modus operandi of quality since the birth of mass production. Quality has always been an essential function of manufacturing and always will be. Can you imagine the mayhem that would ensue if we just made things and shipped them to customers with a total disregard for their quality or fit for purpose?

The role of Quality Management is focused not only on product quality but on ensuring the means to achieve it. As new technologies emerge and nascent technologies mature, their convergence will give rise to a more efficient form of quality. Industry 4.0, (first coined in 2011), piloted a new wave of innovation and advanced technology by introducing quicker and more effective ways of manufacturing physical goods. Discussions around Digital Transformation and Smart Factory of the Future have become prominent within the manufacturing industry, but there is one thing that help ties all these initiatives together – quality.

Smart manufacturing and the IoT driving the next industrial revolution

The largescale ongoing digital transformation we are currently experiencing is having a significant impact on the global manufacturing industry, and quality is no exception. Quality 4.0 (a sub-domain of Industry 4.0) takes a data-driven and real-time approach to quality throughout the entire end-to-end production process, including everything from the physical characteristics of material inputs and the products being produced, the performance of the processes used in making them, as well as planning, compliance, and adherence to regulations.

Through the emergence, maturity and convergence of technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things, Advanced Analytics and Visualisation, Big Data, Advanced Statistical Methods, Clouds and Software-as-a-Service (Saas), manufacturers now have the ability to truly transform their Quality operations. This means that rather than just upgrading traditional quality methods to digital alternatives, Quality 4.0 provides the opportunity to re-engineer Quality from the ground up and place Quality at the forefront of competitive advantage.

Smart Factory

These innovations have allowed the manufacturers to access real-time, centralised and standardised production process data so they can identify and predict where improvements can be made and ensure an ideal production environment and optimal product quality. This data can also outline not just the problems a company needs to fix, but reveal opportunities to streamline operations, reduce costs and enhance safety, increase yield, improve precision, and more.

Allowing organisations to monitor their own supply chain and product lines for actionable insights can spark continuous improvement across entire lines, plants and enterprise-wide manufacturing operations, moving the company beyond a reactionary mindset and into a proactive data-driven approach. This creates a more efficient organisation that is unified and focused on product quality and performance.

These fundamental changes and improvements to quality processes across the manufacturing are creating many new opportunities by helping to solve old problems of disconnectedness between suppliers, employees, customers and clients. When applying Next-Generation Quality Management to the Smart Factory of the future, businesses will be able to deliver consistent, highly efficient and best quality products to their customers. This will ensure the highest standards of service and will also help those on the factory floor to do their jobs faster, more efficiently and in the most cost-effective way possible.

Jason Chester, Director of Global Channel Programs, InfinityQS