Poor quality in a manufacturing environment can lead to costly errors and rework, issues with customer satisfaction and problems with employee morale. But forcing quality with inefficient manual processes can lead to the same problems, so it’s important to enhance quality control management in manufacturing with best practices, automation tools and systems.
Find out more about how to improve quality control management in your processes below.
What Is Quality Control, and Why Is it Important in Manufacturing?
Quality control in manufacturing refers to a wide range of efforts to ensure the outcomes of the work are satisfactory. That can mean that outputs of a manufacturing process:
- Meet customer requirements
- Are without defects
- Were created within budget guidelines
- Are created at a pace and scale required to meet business goals
Most manufacturing teams use a variety of quality control methods to measure, inspect and automate processes to ensure these criteria are met. Quality control is slightly different from quality assurance, or QA. In manufacturing, QA typically refers to the framework of overall procedures designed to ensure quality. Quality control refers to the efforts and tools used to act on those frameworks.
Some of the most important benefits of quality control in manufacturing include:
- Reduction in production costs. Processes that are well controlled when it comes to quality generate fewer errors, which means less waste of raw inputs and time. Even if you don’t have to scrap errors, the rework required to make them right can lead to increased labor costs.
- Increased efficiency and scalability. When processes run correctly the first time, it drives efficiency and teams can do more in less time. That supports scalability, making it possible for production lines to ramp up to meet seasonal or other high-volume needs.
- Better customer satisfaction. When quality is controlled and product outcomes are improved, customers tend to be happier. That helps build customer loyalty, which supports business growth via repeat buyers and referrals.
What Are Some Common Types of Quality Control Used in Manufacturing?
Quality control methods can range from in-process or final inspections to built-in tools like poka-yokes. Most manufacturing processes use multiple quality control methods, and the goal of all of them is to improve outcomes by reducing waste and errors.
Inspections involve physical or other manual inspections of the outcomes of a process. They can be done at various times, including in-process, to ensure ongoing quality. For example:
- In-process inspections are conducted during the processes before a final product output. The purpose is to ensure the inputs in the up-line of a process appropriately and accurately feed down-line processes. For example, imagine a process where sheet metal goes through a stage where holes are punched at specific locations; the purpose is to prepare the metal for a rivet that joins it to another component later. An in-process inspection may ensure that the holes are punched at the right location and remove defective punches so they don’t impact work down the line.
- Final inspection. The final inspection occurs at the end of the process on the final output. When you purchase clothing, for example, it’s common for it to have a tag that indicates an inspection number. That’s usually the number that indicates a final inspection on the shirt or pair of pants to ensure it’s ready to ship out.
- Shipping inspections. Warehouse or shipping inspections are more concerned with the accuracy of the order. They ensure that if someone orders 100 boxes of red shirts, the individual doesn’t receive a few odd boxes of pants or blue shirts.
Audits are similar to inspections, but they’re conducted after the fact. While inspections look to find and remove defects from a process before they become a problem for the customer, audits look back at a set amount of work to find out how quality fared overall.
The purpose of audits in manufacturing quality control is to discover issues and root causes so they can be addressed via process changes, upgrades and staff training. For example, a supervisor might audit the workflow and output of a process designed to produce small plastic bags. Audit parameters might look at how many bags were produced, error rates and other factors, such as whether bottlenecks were created during the time being audited. That information can all be used to determine the effectiveness of the process and staff and inform any future changes or coaching needs.
Statistical Process Control
Statistical Process Control, or SPC, involves using statistics to monitor and control a process. One of the most popular tools of SPC is the control chart, which is a line or plot graph that lets teams and process leaders visualize the quality and performance of the outputs or process as a whole. Control charts alert teams, often in real time, when a process has varied from the norm so they can proactively look into whether there are issues that need to be addressed.
One of the best ways to ensure quality is to automate processes. Automated processes are generally more consistent than manual processes. Plus, when you automate tedious, repetitive tasks, you leave human capital in your organization free to handle other more complex tasks or address issues that might show up on monitors like control charts.
It’s important to pair automation with other quality control methods, though, because if something does go wrong with a programmed process, it can output a lot of errors if left on its own. Manufacturing teams use methods such as control charts, dashboards and alarms to ensure people are made immediately aware of unplanned changes in automated processes.
A poka-yoke is a tool of Lean Manufacturing. It’s a device or process that ensures consistency, especially in a process that involves manual handling.
For example, in a process that involves cutting lumber to an exact specification, you might have a machine that makes it impossible for lumber to rest in any way except the manner that would support the right cut. Or in a process that involves punching a hole in sheet metal, the machine may be set up so that sheet metal only fits one way to ensure the hole is placed in the same spot every time. These are examples of template poka-yokes.
Some Best Practices for Improving Quality Control in Manufacturing
Using a combination of the above quality control tools is important to achieve good results. But you can also implement some of the best practices below to affect positive change for quality in your manufacturing organization.
Empower Employees to Ensure Quality In the Process
Some organizations make quality the burden of leadership or quality assurance departments and ignore it in the process itself. But when you empower employees to support quality by making logical decisions in the moment, you reap numerous benefits including:
- Better overall quality. Employees that own their processes and have oversight of quality tend to care more about outcomes and work harder to maintain them.
- More engaged and happy workforce. Good employees want to succeed, and they want the company to succeed too. Giving them the tools they need to ensure quality helps them support overall success and is less demoralizing than if they can only point out issues for leadership to fix.
- Reduced error rates. When employees can fix issues in the process, that reduces how many errors make it through to outputs.
- Greater efficiency and scheduling. Employees who aren’t empowered to make some decisions and correct some issues within the process must stop the process to wait on leadership when there’s a question or concern — and that leads to increased downtime and lost productivity.
Pay Attention to Scheduling and Don’t Overburden Employees
Around three-quarters of people say they make more mistakes when tired or stressed. If you don’t pay attention to how often you’re scheduling people or what overtime numbers look like, you might be driving employees to burnout. That can lead to mistakes simply because they’re tired but also an ambivalence about the job that means fatigued employees don’t even care that they’re making those errors.
Good quality control management also ensures that the right people — the ones with the right skills and knowledge — are handling the work. This also cuts down on error rates and reduces burnout among staff. Leaning on an employee scheduling software to automate scheduling to maximize resources while reducing burnout can help you improve quality.
Always Look to Improving the Process to Improve Quality
When faced with a quality issue, it’s tempting to slap on a bandage (aka workaround) and move on. That’s often the fastest way to solve today’s quality problem. But after a while, the process may be covered in workarounds that require extra manual intervention. In many cases, only one or two team members know how the workaround works or when it’s required, which can lead to miscommunication and errors in the future. It’s certainly not a scalable way to handle quality control.
Instead, work with your team to discover root causes for quality issues within the process. Then, launch process improvement initiatives to solve those issues so workarounds don’t become a permanent part of your workflow.
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FAQs About Quality Control in Manufacturing
How do you ensure quality in manufacturing?
Manufacturing organizations ensure quality through a variety of quality control and quality assurance programs and tools. That includes inspections, audits and in-process controls such as automation and poka-yokes.
What are the three main objectives of quality control?
Every business has unique goals related to its quality management programs, but general objectives include reducing error rates, improving customer satisfaction and driving up profits (often by reducing costs).
What are five different quality control methods or tools?
There are many quality control methods and tools. Five common options include:
- Checklists, which help ensure people complete all tasks or double-check all quality elements before passing work downstream
- Control charts, which are Statistical Process Control tools that help teams keep an eye on a process to ensure there are no major outliers or changes in it
- Histograms, another SPC tool that helps teams understand whether processes are in control or exhibiting abnormal behaviors that must be addressed
- Audits, which help identify issues in a process so teams can address them or provide additional training where needed
- Inspections, which involve someone double-checking work that was recently done, either as part of the standard process or upon the final outcome
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