Quality 4.0: time to look beyond the buzzword

If you were to name just one characteristic of the Digital Age you would probably say ‘speed’. Contracts aren’t airmailed to Hong Kong but sent electronically at the speed of light. Photographs don’t reveal themselves to us slowly in dark rooms but are as immediate as reality. History itself has sped up as the pace of technological change is forcing us to reinvent our personal, economic, and political selves.

We now seem to be writing History before it’s even happened. This is certainly true for the idea of Industry 4.0 – or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, suitably rebranded for the computer age. The term originated from a committee of German technocrats who wanted to make certain predictions about where technology was headed next. Their ‘findings’ and, more importantly, the phrase Industry 4.0, gained worldwide visibility when it became the thesis of a keynote speech in the 2011 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Journalists love nothing better than a catchy phrase and Industry 4.0 was just that. What did it mean? Very loosely, it was a description – or rather, exploration – of how Big Data and technology are changing manufacturing by connecting people, information, and machines in unprecedented ways.

Quality experts grasped immediately that Industry 4.0 would also revolutionize their profession, and Quality 4.0 was born.

What is Quality 4.0?

A Google search for Quality 4.0 yields 148,000 results – and, we suppose, 148,001 after our contribution. These blogs, analyses, and ‘industry briefings’ for the most part make sensible and interesting predictions about the future of Quality Management, but some go into such detail, they make Quality 4.0 seem confusing and unattainable. You could be forgiven for thinking that your factory is hopelessly out of touch with a Future that is with us already.

Two seemingly contradictory things are happening in most of these posts: the future of Quality Management is being written just as it unfolds, and after Quality 4.0 the future ends abruptly.

Change is never linear. Revolutions happen in fits and starts. When the Nasdaq crashed and burnt in 2000, the tech sector was written off. But the digital upstarts had the last laugh with Amazon, Apple, and Facebook now dominating Wall Street.

Perhaps Apple and Amazon will in time be victims of “creative destruction”, you can never tell. And whatever Quality 4.0 means for your factory, it will not be the last word. How long before the blogosphere picks up the idea of Quality 5.0? If the developments of the last 10 or 20 years are anything to go by: a lot sooner than we think is possible.

It is more helpful to think of Quality 4.0 as part of a continuum of change. You want your factory to have state-of-the-art quality management processes, and to be best-placed to take advantage of future technological developments, whatever they may be. Actually, that is all Quality 4.0 can ever be in the present.

To get away from the over-simplification (and over-complication) of Quality 4.0, we prefer to talk about Quality Intelligence. This term is not unique to us, but we do add a dose of Dutch practicality, common sense, and directness to it!

What does Quality Intelligence mean for you?

We’re not just re-naming Quality 4.0, but altering the way you approach change, adapt to change, and implement change as part of your gradual revolution in Quality Management.

Our concept of Quality Intelligence revolves around two key attributes: omnipresence and smart automation.

What is important for the time being is that you take a Quality Management selfie to see how dynamic and integrated your Quality Control processes really are. This self-evaluation will give you a roadmap for meaningful change. Because if you don’t know where you are, you can’t start your journey towards better quality management.

How to prepare for Quality Intelligence?

In this era of smart manufacturing, quality will become smart as well. This transition will not happen overnight and this will not happen in a linear way, but we know that integration and automation play a key role. This whitepaper presents a springboard to change and asks organizations to self-assess to what extent they are ready for Quality Intelligence and to leverage tomorrow’s possibilities.