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Quality Intelligence: Why automation makes you work smarter

Months before the outbreak of World War One, the introduction of a moving assembly line at the Ford plant in Michigan reduced the time it took to build a Model T car from more than 12 hours to 2½. Fast-forward 100 years and a ‘smart factory’ in Germany takes just 86 seconds to put together a Ford Fiesta.

I can’t even make a cup of coffee in that time.

Quality Control had to be invented as a discipline to respond to the astonishing leaps forward in mechanization. Technological change required (and requires) Quality Control to come up with new answers all the time, and so the way we inspect, monitor, record, and analyze Quality has changed as dramatically as the production process itself.

Quality Control is also a process, as much as ‘marrying’ the body and the engine of a Ford Fiesta, and like any other process, needs to be managed.

In this era of smart manufacturing, quality will become smart as well. This whitepaper presents a springboard to change and asks organizations to self-assess to what extent they are ready for Quality Intelligence.

What is Quality Intelligence?

Quality Intelligence is the name we give to quality management at its very best. In an earlier blog, we discussed how quality management needs to respond to the challenges of Industry 4.0. Answer? By being as good at quality management as it is possible to be right now.

Big Data, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and hyperconnectivity are happening, but it’s too easy to get fixated on developments we can’t predict. Chances are that you can implement radical change to your quality management using technologies that are already out there.

You need to ask yourself two questions: are my systems and processes as fully integrated as they could be, where can I gain time and efficiencies by automating, and does senior management share my vision of Quality Intelligence as a strategic function within the company?

Okay, those were three questions. In a blog about omnipresence, we looked at two of them: the importance of integrating not only systems and processes, but also the Quality Team with the wider departmental structure – the organizational system, if you will.

So what about automation? How can you boost quality through smart automation?

Automation saves time

We all underestimate how much time we waste on routine tasks. Also, we get used to performing these tasks very quickly and with very few errors, but never 100% of the time. As Agent Smith said in The Matrix: “Never ask a human to do a machine’s job.”

How much time you save through smart automation depends on the size and nature of your factory, particularly the complexity of your QESH requirements.

The ballpark figure for a midsize manufacturer is 5 to 8 hours a week, not enough to have an impact on the payroll but that is not the object. You want to free up time to analyze the data and reports that have been generated automatically. This way, the overall level of your quality goes up. You will prevent more errors, and spend less on correcting them.

Automation imposes consistency

This ties in with the previous point of quality cadres finding a way to carry out routine tasks. We all have shortcuts, blind spots, and inconsistencies that are typical to us, and we make errors others don’t make. But the opposite is also true!

Automation isn’t interested in character, and it doesn’t have off-days: a task is carried out and recorded in the same manner every time. If anything goes wrong, it is easier to find out why and correct it because systems always get it wrong in a predictable way.

Automation improves data and data analysis

If you do not collect data in a consistent – that is, automated – way, you cannot analyze it usefully. Quality management that relies even in part on non-standardized data cannot be systematic about detecting non-conformity.

It has to be done with the naked eye, so to speak, by sifting through unstructured data. What is optimal is automated reporting based on automated data acquisition with the results distributed widely and automatically.

Next step: take a quality management selfie

You will notice that considerations of automation shade over into aspects of omnipresence. The more this is true, the closer you are to Quality Intelligence maturity which offers a seamlessly integrated 360° experience of Quality Control.

How close to that experience are you? Our whitepaper, How to prepare for Quality Intelligence, describes the journey from ad hoc and fragmented quality management to an integrated and comprehensively automated system. It is not the roadmap, but the map – to find out where you are on this map, you need to self-evaluate the maturity of your Quality Intelligence processes. But that is the subject of a future blog!