How to Maintain Manufacturing Quality

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Producing any product involves many steps. What you see at the end of the process started with raw materials that were assembled in some manner, passed through any number of machines, and was tended by human eyes and hands throughout construction. The end-user never sees this process, of course. Consumers only know the finished product and that is what they judge to be of high or low quality.

While good or excellent quality is the final goal, without quality checks at every level of the manufacturing process, consistently achieving this status is almost impossible to achieve. Successful manufacturing companies take steps at multiple levels of their organization to maintain manufacturing quality. We will look at some general concepts that help manufacturing companies create and maintain a level of quality for which they can be proud and that consumers appreciate.

These concepts may show up differently in every company but the underlying idea behind them is the same in all manufacturing companies that are committed to quality. Companies that find a way to embrace these ideals will find it easier to maintain quality and ultimately find more success. Here are four tips to maintain manufacturing quality.  

The first step in maintaining manufacturing quality is elemental but many organizations, to their detriment, overlook it. Defining what constitutes good quality throughout the manufacturing process is crucial. This creates an important reference baseline to be used throughout the quality assurance process to ensure you are meeting your definition of quality and not wasting time on factors that don’t add to your definition.

A variety of methods can be used to define quality. However, creating that definition should take into account the points of view from all stakeholders in the manufacturing process and combine those to determine a quality standard that satisfies everyone. This means looking at the quality expectations of not only the end-user but also industry standards, best in class products, financial stakeholders, as well as the labor and management elements involved in the manufacturing process.

When quality expectations are clearly defined, the company can start setting goals, putting practices and procedures in place to meet these goals, and deciding ways to measure success at specific points along the way. This culminates in making adjustments and continually improving in order to obtain this definition of ideal quality.

After you have defined quality, the next step is to commit to that definition as the highest goal of the organization. As the highest goal, every step in the manufacturing process should be imbued with industry-leading quality assurance practices. Manufacturing is by nature a chain reaction.  If quality assurance isn’t practiced with every step, it is impossible to achieve a worthwhile product.

A commitment to quality assurance starts with a commitment to use the highest quality raw materials and qualifying equipment before starting on the enterprise. Environmentally monitoring raw materials so they maintain their safety and effectiveness and putting equipment through IQ OQ PQ protocols before use are two ways a manufacturer can commit to quality assurance.

IQ OQ PQ is a process whereby a manufacturer qualifies every piece of equipment to make sure it meets all necessary specifications, can perform the tasks required, and that all relevant parties know how it will perform under a wide range of conditions. Dickson adds that IQ OQ PQ is a widely-accepted standard for quality assurance, particularly in regulated industries. A detail-oriented commitment to quality assurance will pay dividends in the end product.

Many manufacturers make the mistake of believing that manufacturing is a machine-driven endeavor. Although equipment might do the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively), the ultimate success or failure of the quality assurance process almost always comes down to the people operating the machinery.

Investing in training starts before someone is even hired. Evaluating potential candidates on soft skills, culture fit, and openness to be trained should be a primary consideration in hiring. The orientation process should involve a high level of training on both primary job skills as well as the employee’s role in the overall commitment to quality assurance.

Training doesn’t end after the initial training process. Companies that are truly committed to high quality products support continuous training and evaluation to keep people current with industry standards and safe practices. This can be a rather large corporate investment but, ultimately, employees are the ones responsible for quality assurance, so this is another investment that will pay dividends.

To paraphrase the Scottish poet Robert Burns, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how well you define quality, set goals, commit to processes, and train the people involved, things will still go wrong. Hopefully, you catch these issues before the products reach the world but sometimes that doesn’t happen.

The key to these situations is to have a response plan in place before a mistake ever happens in order to minimize the error as well as the wasted money, time, and effort needed to correct the problem. Knowing who is in charge of spotting poor quality, of deciding how and when to deal with the problem, and whose job it is to actually fix a quality issue will save unnecessary headaches.

Falling short on quality goals is not a sin; it happens in the best companies. However, ignoring the problem, letting it continue too long, or not knowing what to do if it happens is a major, costly mistake. A quality assurance response plan is just as important as a quality assurance goal. Without both, the excellence of a product can escape an organization, which is not good for the bottom line.

Maintaining manufacturing quality is an organization-wide concern that should be of interest to everyone involved and to which everyone must be held accountable for their part in maintaining quality assurance standards. Companies that define quality, commit to quality assurance processes, invest in training, and have a quality assurance response plan in place will have a much better shot at consistently producing high quality goods than those that don’t.