Industry 4.0: the quality revolution: Approaching quality in the digital eraMember News
Historically, quality has been like Cinderella - last in line for an invite to the ball. But with the UK industry struggling to match the productivity of its European competitors, British manufacturers can’t afford to wait for a fairy godmother. In this piece Mike John, managing director of industrial metrology specialist, The Sempre Group, shares a model for approaching quality in the Industry 4.0 era.
British industry has a productivity problem. Compared with major competitors like the USA, Germany and France, its productivity lags. Why is this? It’s certainly not because we’re not working hard enough ― studies have shown that British workers put in the longest hours in the EU. So, if we’re working longer, but are still less efficient, where are we going wrong? From my experience, UK industry has been slow to adopt technology ― particularly quality control systems ― and this reluctance is holding it back.
To up its productivity game, British manufacturers require a high skill level, a good knowledge base and, most importantly, a willingness to adopt the latest technologies. The British Chambers of Commerce surveyed over 6,000 manufacturing businesses with more than a million total workers and found that 81 per cent had trouble finding staff with the right qualifications and experience. As the ageing workforce retires, it will be more and more difficult to find staff with the skill level, knowledge and technological mindset needed. So, the future competitiveness of the UK industry depends on improving efficiency, without expanding headcounts. It depends on technology.
I have observed many manufacturers treating quality as an afterthought, reluctant to spend money on measurement equipment, testing systems or quality infrastructure. Quality has previously been more like a policing engine than a vehicle for improvement. However, Industry 4.0 brings with it a data-driven, digital approach to quality, which manufacturers can use to glean insights and for decision making. A fully digitised approach to quality removes the challenge of integrating data from fragmented sources, reduces room for error and enables manufacturers to improve their productivity.
A model for Quality 4.0
The model we recommend for digitalised quality management is integrate, automate, connect, comply (IACC). The first point is to integrate all quality management into one unified electronic quality management system (EQMS). In a paper system, suppliers may be performing quality checks, only for the parts to be inspected for compliance again when they arrive on the manufacturer’s site. In contrast, by taking a digital approach, where the manufacturing company could simply access the relevant data on its EQMS, the extra step is eliminated.
The next component is to automate ― using programmable systems like robotics to make manufacturing and packaging processes more efficient, traceable and productive. Staff can be moved out of low value, monotonous work and into more important areas of the business, making better use of the workforce. As well as automating processes themselves, manufacturers can automate data collection. Instead of having a paper trail of data staff have written down, it is accurately recorded in the central system.
Connectivity is a central part of Industry 4.0, as it is Quality 4.0. Inspection, robotics, digital inputs and outputs, software, SQL data management and enterprise reporting can be pulled together into systems greater than the sum of their parts.
Wireless connectivity of equipment to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and portable tablets means manufacturers can easily implement a factory-wide data collection network. The manufacturer can connect suppliers, operations, customers and products with edge analytics and bring the data together into a common SQL database for all business processes.
Monitoring data collected by equipment and storing it in a central system enables manufacturers to detect trends and take proactive actions to decrease scrappage. For example, a Universal Robot UR5 could be combined with a Micro Vu Optical CMM and wireless Andon status lights. The manufacturer could then connect these through Sempre Connect software to a database, to achieve pull through reporting, monitoring and trend detection.
These steps make meeting compliance obligations easy. Manufacturers can generate reports automatically, whether it is first article inspection reports (FAIRs), initial sample inspection reports (ISIRs) or production part approval process (PPAP) documents, to comply with standard like ISO 17025, ISO 9000, 21 CFR or AS9100.
The UK’s productivity puzzle can only be solved with a cultural shift. We need to change our mindset towards quality equipment and invest in the technology required. By working with a trusted partner, implementing a Quality 4.0 approach can be easy and deliver dramatic return on investment.