Computers have been used to automate manufacturing processes and tasks for many years. Until the 2010s, product assembly was centralized. Over the course of this decade, however, companies have been nudging organization-wide systems toward decentralization. In a company with decentralized assembly, the organization’s machines are programmed to learn tasks and then teach one another the most efficient means of completing a task. The computers used on the production line are functioning far beyond their early 21st century cousins.
These machines are learning the tasks, making appropriate adjustments and then teaching the most efficient process to other machines. This innovative component set the evolution of manufacturing from Industry 3.0 to 4.0. Industry 4.0, therefore, distinguishes itself from previous industrial revolutions through the introduction, and full implementation, of robots. As York Exponential states in their mission, collaborative robotics will “augment America.” Industry 4.0 will change the assembly line and job landscape forever.
While manufacturing processes have evolved, quality methodology has been advancing as well. The progression from inspecting product on the assembly line, to implementing continuous improvement methods, to leaning processes in every corner of the company, was often a reaction to—or anticipation of—specific business needs. As the second decade of the 21st century reaches its close, quality also dives into its fourth version. Quality 4.0—as defined on the ASQ Quality 4.0 Summit page: “… references the future of quality within the context of the exponential growth of technological advancement and the unprecedented rate of change that those advancements are causing. The new landscape this establishes requires individuals and organizations to constantly learn new things, unlearn the practices and assumptions of the past, and relearn how to survive and thrive in an ever-evolving climate of advancement, development, and change.” (asq.org/conferences/quality-4-0)
Another way of thinking of it is to say Quality 3.0 approached yesterday’s issues (inefficiency caused by fragmented systems, manual metrics calculations, etc.) while Quality 4.0 observes tomorrow’s problems today (Quality 4.0 Impact and Strategy Handbook: Getting Digitally Connected to Transform Quality Management, LNS Research). Quality 4.0 examines how quality methodologies are used in the digital age to sustain the quality professional and produce organizational excellence.
Quality 4.0 offers unique opportunities for quality professionals. While Industry 4.0 assumes automation, big data, cybersecurity, et al., are IT issues, Quality 4.0 recognizes these challenges are organizational issues. For instance, when it comes to big data, IT departments are often the owners. However, quality professionals are process management experts with the skills to determine how data should be utilized and why. It is the quality professional, not the IT professional, who should be guiding organizations/clients through these paradigm and system shifts. It is the process that should be dictating the use of information not the other way around. For this reason, quality professionals need to reposition themselves within their companies and for their clients. The more a quality professional positions himself as being in front of the challenges instead of reacting to every challenge, the better for the individual professional and for the entire profession.
Quality 4.0 Summit
Last year, ASQ debuted the Quality 4.0 Summit as a means for organizations to send teams of quality professionals to learn from other organizations and professionals working through their own digital transformations and technological disruptions. Based on attendee feedback, the second Quality 4.0 Summit is scheduled for November 13–14, 2018, in Dallas, TX.
This high-level focus area aims to provide context on the level of disruption already occurring and the exponential rate at which that change will occur in the future.
The sessions in this focus area are designed to explore the different ways in which organizations can position themselves for change, implement changes that are needed, and address the fast pace of change occurring in all industries as a result of disruptive technologies and ever-evolving markets.
The Future of Quality
The topic of disruptive technology is central to a growing conversation, but it is a conversation that seldom (if ever) looks at the topic through the lens of quality. The changes occurring in the digital age create great opportunity for quality professionals to lead. The sessions in this area examine these opportunities.
Find out more at asq.org/conferences/quality-4-0.