One would think that the acceleration of technological growth would automatically result in improvements in manufacturing quality, but it seems that the opposite is true in many cases. There are a number of factors making it more challenging than ever for manufacturers to maintain a high level of output quality.

Today’s products are complex, often incorporating or integrating with software, and the highly competitive nature of the manufacturing sector means that time-to-market goals are shorter than ever.

Managers are aware of this phenomenon, and quality is moving up to take its place as a top priority for many companies. With Industry 4.0 making such a huge impact on manufacturing, it’s only natural that these methodologies be leveraged to meet the new quality demands. And so, the birth of Quality 4.0 – a term used to describe a new focal point in industry – is finally upon us.

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What is Quality 4.0?

Like Industry 4.0, Quality 4.0 isn’t a closed-ended term that defines just one technology or activity. Instead, Quality 4.0 describes a new approach to manufacturing, where production is not just gauged based upon output rate and cost, but on the quality of the product, the quality of the process, and the quality of the services provided surrounding the product.

The “4.0” is a reference to Industry 4.0 and its associated technologies such as Industrial IoT, Digital Twin, AI in the form of machine learning algorithms and artificial neural networks, and others.

These are all technologies that can be leveraged to improve quality. For example, Predictive Quality Analytics is a use case that utilizes the aforementioned technologies to predict changes in production quality. This information is crucial to manufacturers who realize the importance of quality to customers, and who are interested in developing a much leaner operation while making better products.

 

Quality 4.0 – The Time is Now

In our current reality, Quality 4.0 is still in its early stages of adoption. In fact, most manufacturing facilities still rely on traditional quality evaluation methods; methods that in many cases are no longer relevant for current products. Companies that fail to take an innovative stance on quality, for current and new production processes, will find it hard to survive, let alone lead, in future markets.

The bottom line is that quality issues cost companies a lot of money, and in doing so, affect the potential longevity of a manufacturing operation especially in a market that is ever-changing and more competitive than ever.  

 

The Opportunity Presented by Quality 4.0

Advancing to Quality 4.0 requires financial and organizational resources, but the process presents a huge opportunity for manufacturers. Searching for new innovative ways to optimize quality is an opportunity to nurture a culture of development which can lead to better products that cost less to produce.

Introducing Quality 4.0 can also help to strengthen and differentiate a brand within its market, and improve awareness among existing and potential new customers.

As with Factory 4.0, Quality 4.0 levels the manufacturing playing field since mid and even small-scale enterprises can leverage new technology to make significant advances in production efficiency and better meet the demands of customers.

 

Challenges in the Current Quality Arena

Today’s manufacturers face a number of quality-related challenges:

  • Maintaining a high level of quality amidst high expectations and changes in customer demands.
  • Allocating resources for innovation and for research into new methods of quality improvement.
  • Compliance with changes in regulation laws.
  • Agility: increases in product variety demand work on multiple products simultaneously (development and production stages).
  • Global standardization: companies producing from a number of locations have to offer consistent output quality regardless of differences in the standard of local raw materials and production conditions.

Industry 4.0, along with its suite of powerful use cases such as predictive quality & maintenance, remote monitoring, and digital twin, enables manufacturers to meet the above challenges head-on. For example, changes in regulations can be directly communicated to production lines or code can be modified remotely so that new and existing products comply with the new laws.

 

The Four Zones of Quality 4.0 Adoption

The Four Zones of Quality 4.0 Adoption

 

  1. Concept & Design

In the past, “quality” has usually been associated with production processes – raw materials used, assembly, finishing and packaging – but quality should be an integral part of the conceptualization/design and industrialization phases as well.

By including the quality perspective in the early stages of the product lifecycle all the way through production and delivery, manufacturers will be able to achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction. After all, the quality of a product’s concept is an attribute that affects how a customer experiences the use and value of that product.

  1. Production

This particular zone represents where most of the quality activity has taken place in manufacturing prior to the Industry 4.0 revolution. Traditional data analytics and process harmonization methods are being replaced by techniques that involve artificial intelligence such as Machine Learning, and advanced levels of monitoring and connectivity such as Digital Twin.

  1. Service & Performance in the Field

A unique characteristic of Quality 4.0 is that a product’s performance is monitored (and modified, if necessary, and possible) even after delivery.

By collecting and making sense of user data from the field, future failures can be prevented with minimum loss of materials in rejected batches. The time it takes from failure identification to elimination can be extremely short, reducing wastage and maintaining customer satisfaction despite temporary disappointments.

In software-integrated products, updates can be made remotely, eliminating bugs and adding features requested by users.

  1. Company Culture

Quality 4.0 is a broad field of activity, and companies should aim to instill the quality approach as part of the overall company culture.

Since every employee, and every interaction with the manufacturing process, can be considered within the quality paradigm, Quality 4.0 is not limited to a particular segment of manufacturing.

 

Industry 4.0 – Taking Quality into the Future

Technologies associated with smart factory – IIoT, Big Data, AI, Machine Learning etc. – can all be utilized to improve quality. However, methods for quality improvement are lagging behind the development of other production-enhancing technologies. This is especially true for methods involving B2C communication and feedback loops. In other words, the power of Quality 4.0 has yet to be fully unleashed.

The good news is that industrial IoT techniques – connectivity protocols, sensors, gateway devices, dashboards, analytics – provide the perfect toolbox for Quality 4.0 implementation.

One way of demonstrating this is through examining remote monitoring as a Quality 4.0 use case…

 

Remote Monitoring for Quality 4.0

Using sensors to collect data for root cause analysis, diagnosis techniques can be performed remotely. By gathering feedback from a number of devices, “swarm intelligence” can also be used as a method of further analysis into machine behavior or product performance.

By using predictive analytics on the collected data, we can identify correlative patterns and enable predictive maintenance. Beyond efficient maintenance and the prevention of malfunction, this analysis provides insight into parameters affecting output or performance quality.

A common argument is that only software or data-related issues can be handled remotely, but in the field it’s become evident that extremely often, service technicians are summoned for just that reason. In the automotive industry, for example, software issues represent a significant portion of all the reasons behind service requests. And in cases where an on-site visit is needed, technicians arrive informed of the details of the issue, and equipped with the necessary components, tools and methods for the specific repair.

Remote monitoring and maintenance allows manufacturers to continually improve quality over time while the usage and performance data collected from products or production machines provides an invaluable source of information for business and product development insights.

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