Reducing the percentage of defective products saves manufacturers money by cutting raw materials waste, using labor and equipment more efficiently and reducing returns from unhappy customers. Boosting quality control in manufacturing can also lead to an enhanced customer experience, supercharging your brand while lowering the need for more raw materials to replace that which is wasted.
Three common ways any industry can improve quality control include:
- 1.Reducing human mistakes by automating repetitive actions. Automation also improves accuracy and increases visibility. Combined with internet of things (IoT) sensors, automation creates data that can be analyzed for hidden incremental improvements.
- 2.Inspecting through measurements, testing and comparing products to defined standards. Products that meet those standards are shipped. Those that don’t are recycled. Adding computerized sensors in the inspection and quality control phase also provides an opportunity for insights into ways to create and build quality control standard operating procedures (SOPs).
- 3.Tracing inventory from the material supplier through warehouses and production to the end customer’s door. Having an accurate labeling method lets manufacturers trace everything from basic ingredients to sub-assemblies and completed products. Using barcodes combined with automated and hand-held scanners provides a third data entry point into your firm’s network, ensuring most of what goes in comes out as salable products.
Using these three primary quality control methods in production helps companies create an efficient production cycle that reduces machine downtime, defects, waste and rework. The result is better merchandise and less waste, which benefits end customers and manufacturers alike.
Quality Control Starts with Quality Planning
For many, focusing on quality control(QC) means creating an efficient, repeatable manufacturing process to produce the same results, time and time again. The only way to ensure you get this consistency is with a well-formulated quality plan.
Any manufacturer, or even a company looking for a contract manufacturer, will focus on two critical elements: quality and cost. The best way to deliver the highest quality at the lowest cost is to start with quality planning. The American Society for Quality defines these plans as, “A document or set of documents that describes the standards, quality practices, resources and processes pertinent to a specific product, service or project.”
A quality assurance plan for manufacturing ensures:
- Conformance to your customer’s requirements, which may include meeting government standards
- Verification of your own standards while confirming your internal procedures work as expected
- Traceability of every product from the moment raw materials or sub-assemblies enter the factory to their delivery at your customer’s door
- Objective evidence your quality control methods in production work as designed and as expected
- Deficiencies in worker training are identified, allowing them to be corrected
- Insights into ways to further enhance your quality control standard operating procedures (SOPs)
Major components of a quality plan are stated and defined:
- Responsibility for distribution in terms of which manager or department ensures each step in the process conforms to the companies goals.
- Process steps and individual procedures for each step in the overall production process.
- Responsibility distribution in terms of which manager or department ensures each process step conforms to the company’s goals.
- Testing requirements, which vary by the industry and the amount of government oversight. For example, medicines have much greater oversight than furniture.
- Methods of tracking changes and modifications, regardless of the cause.
- Quality process measurement in terms of value provided by the quality plan.
The final and most important components of a quality plan are standards: What practices and procedures must be followed in your quality assurance plan for manufacturing to meet your customer’s needs, your demanding requirements and any government oversight?
The Value of SOPs
A key part in quality control in manufacturing is having repeatable standard operating procedures (SOPs). Each step in every procedure that makes up the entire production process is checked, re-checked and confirmed by workers following it. The final test is having a new hire follow a procedure and reviewing their work. When the work of new hires is able to meet set production quality control standards, the SOP can be considered a success. When it doesn’t, the fault lies with the document, not the worker.
“SOPs establish a systematic way of doing work and ensure that work is done consistently by all persons who are required to do the same task. SOPs must be well written in order to provide an effective control of GCP and prevent errors from occurring, thereby minimizing waste and rework. Poorly written SOPs are a source of misinformation,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of Health.
These documents must be user friendly and written in a way that prevents errors. Preventing errors improves quality, reduces waste and when written with input from people involved in the actual manufacturing process, boosts efficiency.
The Role of Quality Assurance
In manufacturing, quality assurance (QA) refers to “the processes manufacturers utilize as part of a quality management system to maintain consistent, expected quality levels on the items they produce,” according to Machine Metrics.
When paired with QC, QA works to ensure customers receive products that meet specific standards in terms of defects and tolerances. QA is a proactive method that works with team training, defining processes, writing SOPs and selecting the right tools for each job. QC looks at the results and determines if a product passes or fails.
Having effective quality control and quality assurance plans, plus quality auditors to ensure standards are met, results in:
Figure: 1 Role of Quality Assurance
- Cost savings in terms reduced waste
- Efficiency boosts, such as using equipment more effectively
- Boosting customer satisfaction, which aids in word of mouth marketing
Quality standards vary by the industry though one of the most common is ISO 9000. ISO 9000 is a set of international quality standards covering many different industries and approaches within them.
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Quality Management Systems
The ASQ defines a quality management system (QMS) as, “a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives. A QMS helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements and improve its effectiveness and efficiency on a continuous basis.”
An effective QMS helps manufacturing companies:
- Define production processes
- Reduce waste
- Prevent mistakes
- Lower costs
- Engage staff
- Set an organization-wide direction
- Communicate a readiness to customers that it wants to produce consistent results
In today’s digital world, QMS doesn’t stand alone in a silo: it’s part of a company’s overarching software linking QA and QC to inventory, sales and other departments. One example of a versatile QMS, which is part of a modular enterprise resource planning package, is Quality Management for Business Central from Microsoft. Part of its Dynamics 365 ERP, iCM works with Dynamics 365’s Business Central to provide a scalable, easy to use overarching management tool. Business Central helps deliver products on time and under budget, providing a host of measurements and reports.
When merged with internet of things (IoT) sensors on production machines, iCM and Business Central manage and massage data. Among the results are ways to make incremental quality improvements that long-term boost overall quality scores, resulting in more sales.
For any company, producing higher quality products takes forethought, patience and serious effort. This means having a documented quality assurance plan that includes step-by-step directions for every procedure and every part of the production process. It includes having quality assurance inspectors watching the production process from start to finish, finding ways to boost efficiency and reduce waste.
When it comes to manufacturing, an effective quality assurance plan also looks at quality control, examining and testing various stages of the production process to ensure everything meets your demanding standards.
Helping measure these results is a modern quality management system like Integrated Quality Management from Microsoft. When used as part of an overall ERP software plan, iQM helps companies find ways to improve quality while reducing costs. For many, this leads to an overall effect is a boost in profitability, helping power additional growth.
No one knows how long the coronavirus crisis will last. Taking the time to plan how to function in these uncertain times is essential. Using software tools like the Microsoft Power Platform and its many apps will help companies continue to operate in rapidly changing conditions.
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