How Can Manufacturers Maximize Quality as a Competitive Weapon?

Posted in Manufacturing | Operations Improvement/Management on May 30, 2013

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For many manufacturers, quality management has shifted from a tactical to a strategic imperative, and information technologies can help companies become masters of their quality game.

A white paper by the Aberdeen Group discusses the “new quality management normal,” which moves beyond classical quality control data collection and analytics and moves more fully into the world of Total Quality Management (TQM). The white paper analyzes the results of a survey of more than 200 executives about quality control and management to find what best-in-class companies are doing.

Many leading firms have broadened their focus beyond incoming inspections and first piece manufacturing checks to important metrics to ensure they’re meeting customer needs, such as complaint metrics. Complaint metrics can help show where companies are falling short in the customer’s eyes, rather than on an internally derived set of expectations that may have no bearing on the competitive marketplace. Today, best-in-class firms can use quality management to improve rates for time to decision, time to market, fail/pass yield, on-time and complete shipment, and response time.

But how do you maximize quality as a competitive weapon? The answer lies in information technologies.

It’s critical to reach an understanding of what your customers’ needs, wants and expectations are relative to the quality of your products and services. Big Data, business intelligence (BI) and other information technologies will help you gain a deeper, more pervasive understanding of what represents quality to your customers.

Once you understand what your customers want from you, then you can analyze where you stand relative to those expectations: Are you meeting them? Are there areas you’re falling short? Are there areas where you actually exceed expectations?

As far as exceeding expectations goes, for manufacturers that can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, it can help your brand and improve your competitiveness. But often there’s a trade-off. Delivering more quality than your customers want usually comes at a cost. You may be sacrificing a better price point or lower cost of entry for new products. To deliver quality above and beyond what the market expects or wants. It’s an area where you need to use caution. There’s nothing wrong with delighting your customers, but make sure it’s done in a smart way.

Information technologies can help to both identify customer needs and expectations and assess how you’re doing.

Another way in which information technologies can be useful is to help drive areas where you need to improve quality. Once you start generating data, you can pursue internal improvements where there are gaps, such as understanding your yields or field defects, and can then share that information quickly and more thoroughly with people who can fix the problems. Information technologies collecting that data and reporting it back in the form of analytics and BI can be a huge benefit to moving your manufacturing operations in the right direction to get them in line with customer expectations.

The Aberdeen Group study found this area is still lacking in U.S. manufacturing, even among best-in-class companies. Best-in-class companies are twice as likely to use centralized real-time metrics, and they were an important factor in why the leading firms outperformed the laggards in using quality as a competitive weapon, but only 61 percent of leading firms are doing it. If only 6-in-10 best-in-class companies are using it, and those operating at performance levels below those of the best-in-class, there is obviously a huge opportunity for continued improvement across the entire range of companies that were surveyed.

The Aberdeen Group white paper goes on to say that companies can adopt TQM as “a long-term strategy for improving both quality and performance.” Two key points drive this management approach: Quality is everyone’s job, and as a multipurpose function, it can assist in “process innovation, sustainability, transparency and risk management.”

Leading firms make sure quality is everyone’s responsibility throughout the organization, and having it as a common goal “builds an alliance for collaboration across the extended manufacturing community.” To make that point stick for the long haul, high-level employees must endorse and continually reaffirm the organization’s commitment to quality.

An emphasis on quality is a holistic approach to bring your operations and vision in line and serves as a guide in moving the organization forward.

Author: Jack Moran
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