One of the most important responsibilities of managers in manufacturing environments is to contain costs. The most obvious cost to eliminate is the cost of low quality. Defective products and lost labor hours add no value to the customer and represent a significant strain on the organization.
To eliminate the waste of low quality, a strategic approach to improvement is essential. Here are five steps that support quality improvement in a meaningful, sustainable way.
1. Make Improvement a Team Sport
Sustained quality improvement is not achieved by individuals acting alone. To achieve lasting and meaningful change in manufacturing proceeds, a team mindset is required. Many of the most challenging problems happen at the intersection of functions or processes. That's why it is best to involve all stakeholders when a process change is considered. These perspectives may shed light on why the process is what it is today. Process improvement software that supports cross-functional collaboration and forms a repository for knowledge is a powerful tool for promoting teamwork.
2. Define Quality from the Customers Point of View
Adding additional features or functions to a product may or may not improve quality. Only the customer can decide because they determine what they are willing to pay for. Before making any change that will impact what is delivered to the customer, the customer's voice needs to be heard. Sales and marketing may have insight into customer preferences and competitive products. Focus groups, surveys, and product reviews can also provide useful data about what customers desire and expect.
3. Get Everyone Focused on the Cost of Quality
The expense of fixing a defect once it reaches a customer is significantly higher than the cost to solve the problem's source before the product is created. Manufacturing team members should be trained to recognize the cost multipliers that come with warranty repair or product replacement and the intangible cost of a damaged reputation. People with a quality-first mindset have a greater desire to identify opportunities for improvement.
4. Solve Root Causes
Unfortunately, many manufacturing quality improvements are aimed at the symptoms of failure rather than the underlying cause. Quality inspection steps or rework stations can make it easier to fix defects than to solve the real problem. But these steps do not add value to the customer. A better approach is to search for a real understanding of the cause of the problem and to address it at the source. The 5 Why's technique is a useful tool for doing just that. Root cause improvements lead to sustainable change and allow for continued innovation.
5. Use Standard Work
The use of Standard Work or process discipline is necessary to produce predictable results. Ad hoc changes or variations in how tasks are performed can have dire quality implications down the line. While we don't advocate for a cumbersome bureaucracy that gets in the way of innovation, some structure for change must be used to maintain consistency. Standard Work lays out the current best practice for any process or task. Process operators should adhere to it until it is targeted for an improvement cycle such as DMAIC or PDSA.
6. Measure the Results of Quality Improvement
Before you embark on an improvement project, determine the expected impact and method for measuring results. Each metric to be evaluated should have baseline data to which the future state can be compared. Think about both quantitative measurements like reduced cost, faster cycle time, and improved customer satisfaction scores. Also, consider qualitative measures such as improved safety, higher staff morale, and public sentiment.
For manufacturing organizations, quality is the key to profitability, competitiveness, and customer satisfaction. By applying these principles, your organization can get the most out of every material and human resource.