Increasingly, manufacturers are looking at the potential of digital transformation to improve their competitiveness. The benefits in quality management are particularly compelling—offering the ability to optimize product quality and customers’ experiences by streamlining audits and reporting, improving batch and process manufacturing workflows, and synchronizing production centers to improve perfect order performance.
However, the efforts to convert manual processes into digitally enabled ones can be imposing. All too often, digital transformation initiatives will uncover gaps in quality and compliance processes that need to be closed. At the same time, the quickening pace of sales cycles, competitors, supplier quality, costing, and pricing decisions—all driven by buyer’s compressed timeframes—make those gaps more challenging to bridge.
Still, a commitment to digitally transforming quality management and compliance systems can provide a strong return on investment. In fact, many manufacturers discover that, prior to beginning their digital transformation journeys, they have been operating at just 40% of their potential.
This article examines the quality and compliance gaps that many manufacturers will need to address, as well as real-world digital transformation strategies for maximizing quality, compliance, and customer satisfaction.
Digital Transformation Initiatives Shed Light on Quality Process Gaps
Initial efforts at digital transformation not only expose quality gaps; they also uncover just how dependent many manufacturers are on manual updates to reports, spreadsheets, and schedules. The companies go into a digital transformation project to increase the accuracy and speed of how they respond to customers only to find that their compliance and quality processes rely on manual reporting much more than anyone realized. And because multiple departments rely on manual reporting and data integration, these manufacturers are missing the opportunity to reach their full potential by improving the systems they already have in place.
The quality gaps often explain why audit results are behind schedule, customer requests for data aren’t on time, or quotes and proposals aren’t being provided to prospects quickly. Here are just a few examples of the quality gaps manufacturers attempting digital transformation have discovered:
- Several manufacturing firms have reported that their quality management teams spend the majority of the time acquiring, cleaning, and preparing data prior to data analysis and rarely, if ever, have time to optimize schedules.
- At one specialty products manufacturer, it takes six months or longer to onboard new quality management engineers and planners due to the number of systems and data sources they need to do their jobs.
- Another industrial equipment manufacturer relies on swivel-chair integration for its quality management. Engineers literally swivel from one screen to the next to update audit and reporting results across legacy systems that don’t communicate with each other.
- One plastics contract manufacturer faces a seven-week backlog in customer audit requests. The problem: homegrown systems aren’t integrated with production scheduling and order tracking, so every entry in every audit needs to be completed by hand.
The common thread in these examples is that the manufacturing firms lack access to the integrated real-time data required to drive efficiencies and make timely, informed decisions.
Digital Transformation Starts with Real-Time Data
At this point, it should come as no surprise that data and system gaps are the primary motivators for manufacturers to initiate their digital transformation initiatives. The greater the gaps, the more the mistrust of existing systems, and the more apparent it becomes that replacing manual reporting with real-time data generated from production and process monitoring is what’s most needed.
True digital transformation begins when manufacturers address the quality gaps that force compliance and quality management teams to rely on manual reporting workarounds instead of making progress on product and process quality goals. Among the manufacturers I’ve visited in the last year, those delivering the most effective results have focused on having real-time monitoring operate at the process and production levels across a single plant to close quality gaps and improve reporting workflows.
Let’s look at the six most common ways that manufacturers are incorporating real-time data in the digital transformation of their processes, reporting, and decision-making to improve compliance, supplier quality, production, and quality management.
Keep every production center synchronized to a common set of quality and output objectives to support immediate course-correcting. Standardizing on real-time monitoring across all production centers makes it possible to keep them all synchronized to a common set of quality and output objectives. As a result, manufacturers can more effectively capture up-to-the-moment data on why bottlenecks are happening and provide insights on how best to course-correct. By incorporating real-time monitoring into its quality management and compliance systems, one medical products manufacturer was able to reduce scrap by 39% and increase on-time deliveries by over 60%, as well as cut return material authorization (RMA) rates.
Eliminate disconnects across the shop floor, engineering, and sales to improve perfect order performance.
The first gaps many quality managers find during digital transformation pilots are in the shop floor’s scheduling and reporting systems. Quality teams often step in, especially during customer and regulatory audits, to close those gaps by incorporating real-time data. When quality, sales, engineering and production teams rely on real-time process and product monitoring for a consistent view of orders, projects and processes, they are able to reduce the time and errors associated with manual reporting and instead focus on ensuring that each customer’s order is perfect the first time it is delivered. In this way, everyone benefits.
Troubleshoot product, process, batch, and machinery-related problems more effectively. Real-time data, used in combination with statistical process control (SPC) techniques, is proving indispensable in troubleshooting the root cause of process and batch-based product quality problems. Meanwhile, sharing real-time monitoring data across enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution system (MES), quality management, and supply chain management (SCM) systems provides greater visibility into other product, process, batch, and machinery-related issues. This enables manufacturers to gain the insights needed to improve cycle times, increase yield rates, and reduce scrapped parts. For instance, one plastics manufacturer was getting 36% yield rates from an extrusion process and machine. Through real-time monitoring, the company pinpointed a specific mold and plastics combination that, once fixed, improved yield rates to over 99%.
Improve cost control and production plan performance to gain and retain customers. The majority of manufacturers are suppliers to tier-1 OEMs and brands in their industries, where deals are won or lost on per unit pricing, timely delivery, and quality. Real-time monitoring helps to find not only how quality can be improved but where and how per-unit costs can be reduced. Meanwhile, greater scheduling accuracy based on real-time data from the shop floor makes production plans more efficient, increasing work center productivity and improving machinery utilization. Finally, improving costing visibility across shop floors also translates production decisions into the impact on profits, in real time
Predict when maintenance, repair, and overhaul are needed to prolong the life of equipment, machinery and tools. Real-time monitoring is providing an entirely new series of insights into how manufacturing equipment and machinery lifespans can be improved. By combining real-time data with predictive analytics and machine learning, it’s possible to determine when a given machine will need repair. Best of all, long-standing assumptions regarding preventative maintenance are changing due to the greater insights gained from real-time data. The bottom line is that keeping machinery in excellent running condition by relying on analytics to track key health metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) is the future of manufacturing.
Convert more sales quotes, pricing requests, and proposals into orders by responding faster and more accurately. Preparing quotes, pricing and proposals manually puts any business at an immediate selling disadvantage because it’s often the competitor who provides the first quote who wins the deal. When quality engineers have to check each quote, specification and proposal by hand, it slows down the entire quote verification process. By automatically feeding real-time process and product monitoring into their ERP and MES systems to produce sales quotes and proposals, manufacturers gain the accuracy and speed to win more deals.
The challenge all digital transformation initiatives face is making an immediate impact to further support manufacturers’ respective business cases, which are often based on very different business models. Moreover, digital transformation pilots generally reveal broader quality gaps than many companies anticipate finding across their operations. Real-time monitoring is a unifying strategy regardless of the variations in business models because it closes the quality gaps digital transformation initiatives nearly always discover.
Adopting a more real-time approach to process and production monitoring makes it possible to gain lasting digital transformation in any compliance and quality management organization. The six most common ways that manufacturers adopt real-time monitoring into their operations all contribute to improved product and process quality by enabling greater levels of end-to-end visibility across shop floors. And that translates into the measurable gains in quality and efficiency that visibly impact customer loyalty, growth, and the bottom line.