Defects and recalls are the dirty laundry of the manufacturing industry. And no business wants their dirty laundry aired. We don’t want any defects or recalls. Period. If we have defects, we’re fighting problems within our walls, and we don’t want those escaping—at all costs.
Manufacturing rule of thumb: as long as there's enough profit in what we find “good enough to ship out,” the doors can stay open. And that’s the bottom line. Keep the doors open. “No defects” is a worthwhile goal, but “No escapes” should be the thing that gets quality contorl teams out of bed in the morning.
Traditional quality control systems are your factory’s guards. The main goal for inspections and samples, or inspection plans based on samples, is capturing defects before they get out the door. They’re like adding bars to the huge iron doors that keep such things locked away.
The role that InfinityQS and our Quality Intelligence solutions play in all of this is in enabling manufacturers to look “upstream” for the root causes of these problems. The right tools enable quality teams to catch and get rid of defects before they rear their ugly heads.
If you can’t look upstream to figure out where things are going wrong, chances are you’ll end up waiting until even more “value-add” is put into the product. If you see the issue just before you ship it out to the customer, do you throw it away or pull it from your stock? The closer a product is to being finished, the more difficult and expensive it is to remediate defects.
Instead, when you catch defects upstream, you throw away only one component—rather than the whole unit. This approach is obviously better, but it requires manufacturers to know what to do when they find a defective component upstream.
That’s when the questions start. Is the issue coming from a supplier? Is it a particular setting on the machine? Are we running the oven too hot? Not hot enough?
Using statistical methods will help you point to the root cause of the problem and help you determine what you can do about it. This is the strength of statistical process control (SPC).
The Pain of Recalls
Not all defects are small. In fact, sometimes they turn out to be huge. But when compared to a recall, they’re only a small escape. A recall is the Godzilla of escapes, leaving a swath of destruction behind it. And they happen all the time. For example, a few years ago, Hyundai and Kia had to recall over 500,000 vehicles due to engine fire risk. Their dirty laundry was on display for all the world to see.
The fear of being exposed to the market and losing market share (and goodwill, and money) is huge. Finding the root cause of a problem becomes vastly more important. Organizations that fear recalls must constantly weigh the risk of a recall against the cost of fixing the inherent problems.
It’s a precarious balance. At some juncture, there is a tipping point. Chances are that a smaller company can’t endure a big recall; it will force them to close their doors. Generally speaking, larger companies have deeper pockets to deal with such calamities. They may lose customer goodwill, or some market share, or their stock price falls. But they’ll probably keep going.
Customers Have a Voice Too
In today’s consumer environment, if something does go wrong, chances are the customer will jump on Yelp or Google to immediately spread the word. If you have an escape in today’s world, you have about a zero chance of keeping it a secret. That’s just the way it is. That exposure can be good for consumers, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a nightmare for manufacturers (or restaurants, or nail salons).
It seems blatantly obvious why many companies make an earnest effort to avoid escapes of any kind. So, let’s turn the page and talk about the remedies, about finding the root cause before an escape happens—about avoiding a recall altogether.
Variation and Thresholds
Variation in processes naturally causes problems. It’s a fact. We just have to deal with it. That said, we also still need to put prevention systems in place.
When we make SPC a working part of our everyday manufacturing lives, we can look more more closely at the critical areas of our manufacturing processes. If the specs of a finished product are tighter than the natural variation of the inputs in the system, then we’re going to have to take steps to correct things. We’re going to have to sort.
We need to eliminate the tails of the bell curve, especially when we're dealing with natural products—like chicken, or crops. In some processes, there's enough variation that sometimes only a small percentage of the products we're trying to produce will be “good enough.” So, depending on what we're making, sorting is just the way we do business. We need to work around (or work with) the natural variations.
If there are sources of variation that are within our control, then the tools that InfinityQS provides can help to mitigate those, or show where the thresholds (i.e., spec limits) have been reached. Anything beyond those extreme points can't be endured. It's great when we can know where those “goalposts” are.
Controlling variation and setting thresholds help the bottom line when we understand the statistical nature of these inputs. Using SPC, we can ask:
- On average, how much variation do I expect from the test characteristics that I'm interested in?
- What can I do with this information?
- If there’s too much variation, what’s causing it?
- How can we reduce that variation?
The Quality Intelligence tools from InfinityQS — the Enact® quality intelligence platform and ProFicient™ SPC software — give you insight into your processes. They will help you reveal the variation sources that are causing the biggest grief and what you can do to tighten things up.
Reduce Defects and Recalls
Even if you end up making no improvements, just learning what is going on could save significant money. Removing the mystery or surprise behind variations and irregularities helps you understand their effects. You can compensate for small issues, or make adjustments when processes aren't performing as you’d expected (or hoped).
Using a Quality Intelligence solution provides you with the actionable information you need to make transformative decisions. Now you can collect the right data, roll it up properly into useful reports, and make your decisions based on accurate measurements and information.
Doing so makes challenges like defects and recalls much less painful. And ultimately, they become the rarity you laugh about over lunch, rather than a regular occurrence.
Please visit the InfinityQS website to learn more about the power of SPC to prevent defects and recalls. You’ll see how our quality intelligence solutions can help you solve your biggest quality challenges.