How Quality Intelligence sustains sustainability

Manufacturers have always hated waste. There was nothing moral about this; waste was seen solely as an avoidable cost, as a terrible way to run your factory. But the environmental revolution has gradually shifted the conversation about waste. We aren’t just wasting money; we are squandering precious resources. Waste doesn’t just eat into your profits; it taints the brand.

Sustainability really is a people’s revolution, driven by the everyday consumer who will take her business elsewhere if a product, or a type of product, is seen as environmentally insensitive. This is why sustainability became a corporate priority so quickly: it affected market share — and manufacturers were on board already with its message about waste. 

Sustainable manufacturing

Gartner is never slow to take a hint. For years, the influential analyst gave sustainability a weight of 10% in its scoring of the world’s top 25 manufacturing companies. But in 2019, this was upped to 15%, and sustainability has become a key part of their scoring as they explain in this webinar.

This reflects that sustainability has become an important factor for investors, who are increasingly judging the soundness of a business against certain sustainability criteria. The European Union  wants to make it easier to make sustainable investment decisions by classifying some of the language around sustainable economic activity. It is not law (not yet), but a taxonomy, an attempt to get as close to a definition of sustainability as is feasible.

Because what do we mean exactly by sustainability? How do we know a product or brand really is sustainable? Or, for that matter, how does a manufacturer know its claims to be sustainable are true? This is where Quality Management comes in.

How does AlisQI contribute to sustainability?

Almost everything can be measured (perhaps really everything) and if you do not measure your performance systematically, you are making guesses about the quality of your products and how sustainable you are in manufacturing them.

A modern Quality Management System (QMS) gives manufacturers an integrated platform that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving sustainability objectives. Without accountability, sustainability is a non-starter. 

How does the AlisQI platform provide that accountability and help make the production process more sustainable?

Waste has many aspects in sustainable production: 

Wasted products

Defective or out-of-spec production has to be thrown out or adapted. AlisQI is very intuitive in how it monitors and dashboards deviations. Data is actionable because the system links what is happening on the factory floor to the documentation and assigns responsibilities and workflows clearly. The advanced analytics in AlisQI can look into the future and predict deviations before they even happen with a very high degree of statistical probability. 

Wasted time

Errors cost time, wasted time that you can never get back. Ad hoc and paper-based systems are frustrating because they are prone to error, and when an error has been made, it can take hours to find the corresponding documents and compile a report. This is automated in AlisQI. Any environmental incident can be addressed immediately because batches are linked to documents. 

The biggest time-saver of all is to prevent errors from happening at all. AlisQI spots patterns in your data that are invisible to the human eye, enabling you to be much more proactive in how you plan and executive production.

This extends to the supply chain. AlisQI can be integrated with your suppliers, so a defective or wrongly labeled batch is picked up before it disrupts your own production lines. This is one of the ways in which AlisQI is part of the smart, automated future of Industry 4.0. 

Wasted opportunities

One of the principles of Lean Manufacturing is continuous improvement. Every improvement of the production process, however small, will over time contribute significantly to making you more sustainable. If you have an inaccessible or “techie” QMS, you are excluding a large part of your workforce from this virtuous cycle of improvement. This is what we mean when we say that omnipresence is a characteristic of Quality Management maturity. Your system has to connect the factory floor to the lab to the boardroom across all your production activities and documentation — and do so intuitively, without alienating anyone. 

Omnipresence is not a hollow phrase for us; we built AlisQI to be user-friendly and our business model does not punish you for trying to involve all your workforce in Quality improvement. Contrary to industry practice (but not best practice in our view) we do not base our licensing fee on the number of users. We want everyone to use AlisQI!

There is a lot of groundbreaking research on how Quality Management could be further integrated  with sustainability by giving defects certain environmental and sustainability weightings. This is a complex topic, to which we shall return in a future blog. 

Two case studies

AlisQI is proud to be working with two (very different) pioneers in sustainable manufacturing.

The first is Interface, a global leader in commercial flooring with a long pedigree of corporate sustainability. Interface is very serious about recycling and between 2016 and 2018, it saved 3.5 million m² of carpet from ending up as landfill. Its EMEA headquarters and main European production site (which deploys the AlisQI platform) is associated with the inspiring Net-Works initiative. Interface buys discarded fishing nets from communities in the Philippines and Cameroon and recycles them into new yarn for its carpet tiles. The feel-good factor is massive yet the approach also more than pays for itself: Interface’s European operations are saving more than €6m annually through sustainability.

The second business is Oerlemans Plastics, a manufacturer of flexible synthetic plastics and film products that deploys AlisQI across  its various brands and production facilities. Plastic has a considerable image problem, but Oerlemans does not run away from that. Its answer is to innovate and to engage with sustainability at every opportunity. The company has signed up to ISO 26000 standards on corporate social responsibility and subjects itself to scrutiny by the CSR ratings platform EcoVadis. It uses renewable energy to manufacture plastics that are increasingly biodegradable and/or recycled from biomass waste. The messaging on sustainability is thoughtful and consistent, backed up with investments that make it easier to set and achieve sustainable objectives.

AlisQI was one of those investments.

We practice what we preach

Finally, AlisQI itself is sustainable, obviously much more so than paper-based systems. (One Quality Manager told us that their printed quality control records are stored in a warehouse the size of a football pitch). But it goes deeper than that. We don’t have an office; we don’t pollute the environment by driving into work every morning.

Our software has the lightest of footprints and our pages load in the blink of an eye. This saves time and electricity. 

We recently worked with manufacturers in China and Canada who were concerned that our solution, hosted in Europe, might not be fast enough for them. We invited them to put us to the test. Result? It took them 0.68 seconds  to load an AlisQI results overview compared with 4.1 seconds for the front page of a local best-selling newspaper.

Sustainability can never be a trade-off with performance. What you do to be sustainable can only make a difference to the world if you are commercially successful. This is what we want for AlisQI and of course for all the many manufacturers we work with.