Published: 2 Jan 2018

Jennifer Sillars, Product Marketing Executive for Ideagen, lists the reasons why investing in a quality culture can save your business.

Companies are becoming more aggressive in their financial goals, with cost-cutting being a common mantra. Indeed, in some organisations, when all the obvious cuts have been made, making the less obvious cuts can begin to jeopardise the smooth-running of the business. 

In manufacturing, we see an industry under pressure  –  an industry trying to do more with less. A more proactive approach is needed now to breakout of this cycle of simply fulfilling demand. While it might not be obvious, your quality manager or quality director is in the perfect position to guide this strategy.

Reason one – A focus that is principled and positive

Quality leaders are focused on quality. By this I mean customer satisfaction and reputation building are inherent in their goals. They make analytical decisions based on facts and with no hidden motive. It is this type of input that is needed when difficult choices have to be taken.

HepcoMotion, a manufacturer of linear motion systems and automation components, is an example of a company that leads with quality. The company manufacture everything in-house, so no responsibility for quality can be delegated externally. John Burrows, HepcoMotion’s Group Quality Manager, defines his job as “ensuring that our customers get the best possible products.” In industries striving for full order books filled with repeat business, the quality department’s smooth operation can make this a reality.

Quality departments are often unfairly profiled as the inspector who comes in looking for problems at the end of a project. The truth behind this is that quality leaders, like John Burrows, believe the company can achieve greatness. So, if something goes wrong, there is a process or control that needs to be fixed. John is trusted at an operational level as someone to turn to when an issue is found. Leading from the front like this allows issues to be addressed earlier in the manufacturing process, instead of being picked up at the end by the inspector.

Reason two – Business intelligence in non-conformances

Quality leaders understand how the business runs. They know the small details, the daily struggles, as well as the big picture strategic goals. They work beyond silos to understand the internal processes that take requirements and turn them into commercial products. This gives quality managers a deep understanding of where things can, and do, go wrong. They see where the trends are that provide opportunities for improvement. Quality leaders track non-conformances and the cost of these issues.

The ability to cost Corrective Action Preventative Action (CAPA’s) allows John to highlight areas that require attention. “Where costs have been accrued from a variety of different reasons, for example, work in progress, customer issues, final inspection issues, this gives us a much better picture of particular products that may require different processes or additional inspections. We can easily add costs of rework, extra inspections etc, to an issue and can get an accurate picture of what it has cost the business,” says John.

This is the kind of data-driven decision-making that all companies are striving for. Executives often overlook the quality department as a partner in business intelligence. HepcoMotion have made great efforts to improve reporting and analysis, keeping in mind the strategic needs of the company.

Reason three – A stabilising force

In many companies, each location operates within its own rules and business constraints with little sharing of best practices. Each location focuses on optimisation. This is a worthwhile activity that can have significant cost-saving benefits, however, at the public level it may not be enough to make an impact.

In a competitive market, customers put a premium on suppliers that they can rely on. Reliability and repeatability are fundamental goals within the quality leader’s principled and positive focus. It is part of “ensuring that our customers get the best possible products”, as John says. When every customer knows they will get exactly what they need, the orders grow. The wider market notices and the effects are transformative.

When subcontracting part of the manufacture to suppliers, a part of the burden of reliability is taken. But only if you have chosen wisely, set the requirements, and been realistic with lead times. The situation is different if you are the sole provider. This is the position that HepcoMotion is in, as it does all its manufacturing in-house.

In recent years, John’s day-to-day focus has shifted as HepcoMotion adapt to deal with demand.  Downtime is minimal and many of their machines run 24/7. The company’s order books are full, its focus on quality is undoubtedly a contributing factor. Customers expect the “HepcoMotion” standard, not the standard of a particular site. John Burrows understands that it takes more than a written policy to ensure success. For that reason, he spends increasing amounts of time at different manufacturing sites, engaging people and establishing a true group-wide approach to quality.

Because when the reputation for quality and reliability is built, the impact of failing to meet a customer’s expectation in a single instance can be devastating.

It is for these reasons that quality managers are the leaders that manufacturing needs.