During recent decades, manufacturer and consumer expectations for product quality have continued to creep higher and higher. A world of customers on the always-connected internet has contributed greatly to this awareness.
Customers expect quicker iterations of their favorite products without deviation from the highest quality standards. Meanwhile, any problems introduced echo immediately throughout public channels, shifting the perception of brand and value. Climbing customer expectations have compelled businesses to rebuild strategies with more focus on quality excellence in addition to price leadership. Businesses that invest to achieve superior quality for their products gain both cost and competitive advantages. That’s because quality improvements not only improve customer satisfaction but drive cost savings that permit enhanced earnings or price advantage at the point of sale. Without improving manufacturing operations, a business faces an increasing risk of replacement by a competitor. In this article, we outline important strategies to help businesses improve their manufacturing quality as a means to enhance competitive advantage.
Implementing a better quality control process
Manufacturers fund quality control in pursuit of a product that meets the customer’s needs and is free of defects. Businesses face unnecessary waste and losses when the process of producing compliant products is ineffective. A product mishap can damage a firm’s reputation for years, therefore shipping any product that fails to conform to customer expectations or industry specifications poses a significant risk. Many household names have faced product recalls because they did not meet expectations. These missteps not only cause significant costs to rectify, but they also create an important opportunity for their competitors to replace them.
Fortunately, there are popular and effective techniques to perfect and protect your manufacturing processes from missteps and waste. Two of the most common systems are:
- Statistical Process Control (SPC): The main objective of SPC is to maintain a controlled manufacturing process by using statistical methods to monitor process variation, thereby detecting unexpected changes in theprocess. This control over process variation results in lower costs due to enhanced operational efficiency, reduced scrap and rework, or warranty claims – all while helping to ensure higher customer satisfaction.
- Six Sigma: This quality management approach improves current processes, products, or services by finding and removing deficiencies. Practitioners analyze causes of variation in processes and figure out appropriate solutions. Six Sigma works on the principle that fully understanding your flow, reducing waste, concentrating on value, and removing unwanted variance drive efficiency and success.
The greatest thing about initiatives that fundamentally improve your effectiveness is that the benefits continue to compound even after most of the costs of implementation are long ago repaid. Chasing process excellence, instead of just culling defects, allows you to gain from reducing the causes of the problem and to compound those gains as you move forward to smaller and smaller factors of error.
Leveraging global manufacturing networks
Technology has revolutionized the entire manufacturing value chain from the initial conceptualization of the product to its delivery and support. This revolution has put manufacturers under pressure to fill orders even more quickly while minimizing costs and maintaining the highest standards of quality. Being competitive globally can require reshaping the entire manufacturing process. These changes include pursuing global manufacturing networks to expand options and flexibility when bringing products to market and to find even more utilization of physical assets to minimize operational costs.
Here are ways businesses can reshape their manufacturing process when thinking on a global scale:
- Bring together real-time analytics and insights throughout your manufacturing value chain, so dependencies and costs can be more completely optimized
- Re-evaluate the deployment of labor and equipment against wider alternatives that exist throughout your manufacturing network
- Apply software technologies that support end-to-end manufacturing visibility and operations
By acting in these areas, a business can increase its response time to market needs and enhance the competitive use of its assets wherever they may reside.
Obtaining real-time quality data for interactive continuous improvement
Manufacturers know that their reputation largely depends on the quality of their offerings. Therefore, they continuously find ways to improve them. However, to improve quality, they require real-time insights about what needs to be improved during the production process. Each stage in the manufacturing process can potentially generate an enormous amount of data. If this data is properly collected and used, it canimprove decision-making and lead to a significant competitive advantage.
Collecting the data in bulk and then analyzing later adds value, but significantly less than learning what is happening now. Therefore, automated data collection tools have evolved to capture, combine, and analyze manufacturing data as it happens. Automated data collection (ADC) with real-time SPC analysis give actionable intelligence now, while still retaining the history necessary for those correlations that lead to production enhancement breakthroughs. Automated data collection and SPC monitoring help manufacturers improve each step of the production process, decrease costs and risks, and make confident data-driven business decisions.
Automating the manufacturing process and information flows
Manufacturers are always seeking to minimize costs and enhance the speed of operations without compromising the quality of their products. They aim to get more work done with fewer resources while reducing scrap, cost, and errors. Automation of repetitive tasks leads to consistent outputs and potentially increased customer satisfaction. By automating processes whenever cost-effective, businesses build a competitive advantage. Automated processes then permit additional synergistic gains through integration with a company’s operational management systems such as its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Fully integrated systems do not materialize overnight; rather, they require careful planning and ongoing development to effectively permeate an organization. However, as automation standardizes outcomes and permits automated notifications and decisions, the business can reach even higher potential by optimizing the dependent business processes for additional reductions in unnecessary activities. Key benefits include reduced labor costs, waste, and turnaround times, as well as enhanced product quality, product history, and safety for workers. Automation enhances manufacturing quality because it facilitates the consistent execution of goods at lower costs and with fewer errors.
Quality is key to achieving a competitive edge as it promotes greater customer satisfaction and profit per unit sold. Lower prices and powerful marketing campaigns have a limited impact on growth if the quality of the product does not meet expectations. The secret to meeting expectations is consistent execution through investment in quality. Quality can become a competitive advantage only when manufacturers are ready to embrace change and are committed to making continuous improvement a priority in their critical manufacturing processes.
Based on original work by Rafia Shabbir