Quality Improvement in Manufacturing Environment

Quality improvement in a manufacturing environment is a recurring and major management responsibility. Establishment of infrastructure and operations generally address the initial needs of the business. But as processes age, raw material variations, supplier issues, design inadequacies, specification discrepancies, parametric inconsistencies, capacity mis-matches, process / product flow issues, inspection issues, packaging concerns, despatch shortcomings etc. surface. Process set-up delays, waiting time, idle time, process variations, product deficiency / defects / rejections creep up until customer delivery schedules are badly impacted.

The short-comings in themselves may not be alarming initially, but assume dangerous proportions in combination and over time. Quality improvement projects are inevitable from the early stages when trends are not positive.

Well known quality improvement approaches exist – statistical process control, six sigma with its DMAIC / DMADV methodology, continuous improvement tools, lean manufacturing methods with focus on waste elimination etc.

ISO 9001 provides a practical quality management system (QMS) structure which can address improvements from the organizational context, through leadership, planning, support, operation, performance evaluation, leading up to improvements.

Broadly, quality improvement opportunities can be identified based on well laid out;

  • Customer needs, expectations
  • Management policy, objectives, priorities
  • Process know-how, product specifications, raw material specifications
  • Production / operational instructions, flow charts, control parameters
  • Supply chain control parameters
  • Process control, monitoring / measurement
  • Inspection, audit, management review
  • Equipment / machinery maintenance programmes
  • HR / Administration / other support process parameters
  • Packing & despatch control
  • Post-sales controls

The opportunities for improvement can also be grouped stage wise:

Manufacturing stage QI opportunities
Product design
  • Concept design
  • Parametric design (design optimization)
  • Tolerance design
Manufacturing process design
  • Concept design
  • Parametric design (design optimization)
  • Tolerance design
  • Quality monitoring
  • Process control
  • Inspection / screening
  • Quality analysis
Customer usage
  • Warranty and repair / replacement

The more successful quality improvement approaches focus on small, continual improvements consistently. Breakthrough improvements too are taken up with a clear management leadership structure who pilot the improvement project to its logical conclusion.

Quality improvement projects are managed through applicable stages;

  • Establishing specifications, control parameters / indicators for process / product / operation / task / activity

  • Process / product / operation / task / activity monitoring: statistical process control tools
  • Recording, analysing to identify gaps, variations, deviations, failures, trends
  • Quantifying the magnitude of the issue, prioritizing
  • Formulating the problem and the quality improvement project
  • Setting project objectives, time line, responsibilities, roles, expectations, monitoring / reporting needs, cost / other impacts, resource needs – money, time, personnel, equipment, instruments etc.
  • Planning the details of tasks, scheduling
  • Project activities – implementation, observation, data monitoring, recording / reporting
  • Project monitoring, reviewing, reporting
  • Verification, audit, assessment as applicable
  • Reporting to management on project status
  • Management review and decisions until project close-out
  • Lessons learnt, benefits accrued, overall effectiveness of QIP
  • Feedback to users / impacted groups, as appropriate
  • Institutionalization of the improvement and sustenance measures

A number of quality improvement projects would be in progress simultaneously, whose efficiency and effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis would be a recurring aspect for management reviews. A transparent, process-ownership approach for the management of quality improvement projects, will maximize benefits for the organization.