As a manufacturer, no one needs to tell you that quality control and management are important for your business. You also know the “why.” No manufacturer would be in business very long with a reputation for subpar product, and you aren’t in the business of posing a danger to your customers, anyway. Many manufacturers, however, are surprised to find that there might be even more they can do in the quality management department — and thus, might see even more benefits, across a more diverse cross-section of metrics (all of which, eventually, feed into your bottom line).
We know why quality management is important, and why quality control is an integral part of the manufacturing process. Put simply, you don’t want defective products going out into the market or the field. Today, we’ll cover how to improve the quality management system that you have in place — starting with the “how,” then a look at the “why.”
How Can You Improve Your Quality Management?
Make it a cultural aspect: All too often, “quality control” is a vague notion to most of the rest of the manufacturing process, waiting at the end to ensure that everything went smoothly and that the finished product is within acceptable specs. There’s nothing “wrong” or abnormal about that configuration, but it skews heavily toward a “reactive” take on quality management — i.e., something went wrong, so we need to throw out these parts (or this entire run). By initiating a cultural shift and ingraining quality control into every aspect of the manufacturing process — starting as early as initial product design — you can take a much more proactive approach to quality management, and potentially reduce those wasted parts and production runs at the end.
Look outside your walls: Then, look upstream in your supply chain. Quality reviews and audits are likely already a part of your supplier selection process, but how deep does that process really go? If you’re content with certification documents or a cursory facility visit, you may want to consider taking a more in-depth look at quality management systems being implemented by your suppliers. Immersing yourself in their processes and operations can give you a much better feel for how they’ll perform as a supplier — and how well you’ll work together. It can take time to devise and document a comprehensive supplier quality assessment plan, but it’s likely that you’ll notice a tangible effect in the suppliers you choose.
Harness technology: Call it what you will — the Internet of Things (IoT), the connected facility and so on. At this point, it’s proven that technology and data are invaluable tools for tracking machine and facility performance and efficiency — both of which contribute to quality management. In many ways, manufacturing was at the vanguard of “connected devices,” so taking steps to fully integrate more machinery and processes isn’t a huge leap. The amount of data from your day-to-day processes that can be easily retrieved, stored and analyzed is vast and useful. It has the potential to give you a new view of how your facility runs — and where you can make improvements.
Audit and review existing processes: Has anything changed in your facility since your current quality management plan was enacted? Machinery, personnel, suppliers, regulations and so on? The answer is likely to be yes. Even if not, a fresh eye can still be an effective tool at further optimizing your processes through quality management. One idea: Shake things up by soliciting QC proposals from across the organization — a tactic that can do double duty by starting to make quality management more ingrained in all departments.
Make time for maintenance — regularly: Again, “maintenance” isn’t a novel concept by any means. It may be worth your while, however, to explore the potential benefits of going beyond recommended maintenance cycles — more frequent inspections, cleaning, calibrating, etc. This step is definitely one of which to weigh the pros and cons, since it may not be worth the downtime and manpower to exceed recommended maintenance steps. Though it’s certainly worth a look and can lead to higher quality, tighter tolerances and fewer part rejections.
Now that we’ve looked at some tactics, to improve your quality management processes, let’s explore some of the potential benefits you’ll see.
Material efficiency: Improved quality can mean fewer rejected parts along with cleaner production. This adds up to a much more efficient use of your material stock. The short-term benefits of fewer rejections are clear. Over time, incrementally making better use of material in production will also create a bottom line impact.
Machine lifecycles and durability: Ensuring that your machinery is operating at optimal quality and efficiency can help lengthen the life of your investments. Small process irregularities can quickly become major problems, damaging product, equipment and, potentially, even personnel. Taking steps to proactively catch any equipment errors or inefficiencies early will not only improve the quality of your parts, but can potentially save you repair and downtime costs, as well.
Safety: As mentioned above and worth repeating — improved quality management can make a difference in the safety of your facility and your products. A full review of your maintenance processes and employee protocols will improve your product quality just as it will the safety of your workers, customers and end users.
Reputation: Even a comprehensive quality control process doesn’t mean that all defective products or parts will be caught in production. Quality management is, by necessity, based on tolerances and probabilities. It’s nearly impossible to efficiently identify 100 percent of manufacturing errors. With all that said, even one defective product in the field or the marketplace has the potential to have a disastrous effect on your company’s reputation, especially if your customers’ health and safety are affected as a result. You can’t prevent every defective product. However, you can reduce the chances of them occurring and making it through QC — and it doesn’t have to be by brute force. Enacting the steps described here is a great start on that path.