A company’s profitability is mostly affected by three factors: the ability to produce quality products consistently, the efficiency with which products are produced and the ability to sell the products. Total quality control has a vigorous impact on each of these factors, and, therefore, profitability.

Through careful analysis of customer wants and needs, a company can provide a product that attracts and motivates customers to make purchases, thus increasing salability. When the quality of the product design and production process is established with efficiency in mind, manufacturing costs can be substantially reduced. Taking these actions to improve production quality also helps to minimize the possibility of negative cost offsets such as recall action or liability suits.

Producing quality products requires a number of actions. Companies may find it helpful to organize these actions under the four pillars of quality: developmental quality, industrial quality, supplier quality and customer quality.

Product Creation Process

The product creation process for a great product or service involves five basic domains:

1. Functional – This domain consists of functional requirements, such as design goals or what the product or service must achieve to meet customer attributes from the viewpoint of the designer.

2. System – This domain consists of design parameters, including the physical characteristics or activities that are selected to meet functional goals.

3. Process – This domain consists of the process variables that make up the design parameters.

4. Subsystem – This domain consists of component-level requirements, such as the desired performance required from every critical component of the product.

5. Customer – This domain appears in the process twice (as shown in Figure 1). The first customer domain consists of customer attributes: a characterization of needs, wants or delights that define a successful product or service from a customer perspective. The last customer domain consists of customer complaints. A product characteristic that fails to meet customer expectation may trigger a customer complaint.

Figure 1: Product Creation Process
Figure 1: Product Creation Process

These domains that make up the product creation process fit into the four pillars of a quality organization (Figure 2). The four pillars and their roles are:

1. Development quality – Discover the customer needs to develop the product. This involves taking a proactive approach.

2. Industrial quality – Validate product design for manufacturability and develop the manufacturing process.

3. Supplier quality – Work closely with critical component suppliers to ensure desired quality level of these components.

4. Customer quality – Get early customer feedback and coordinate with different customer interfaces, such as call centers, service centers and online product support. This is a more reactive role.

Figure 2: Product Creation Process Within the Four Pillars of a Quality Organization
Figure 2: Product Creation Process Within the Four Pillars of a Quality Organization

Certain activities need to be performed in each domain, and tracking these activities from one domain to another is critical. The better the communication between these domains, the better the design of the product.

Development Quality

Team members in the first pillar, development quality, must take the lead in driving the early project stages. The following activities are performed by the development quality team:

Collecting the voice of customer (VOC) – There are many approaches to capturing VOC, such as surveys, focus groups or interviews. It can be done by external agencies or by the internal project team. Once they have VOC, team members need to systematically convert the information to product performance characteristics, and then to product critical to quality (CTQ) parameters, with a defined target and specification.

For example, one call center found through collecting VOC that customers want a quick response to their queries. The team members converted this VOC to a measurable CTQ parameter (time) with a target (less than 5 minutes) and specification (15 minutes maximum).

Platform selection and architecture review – The product designer selects the correct platform. The development quality team takes the lead in reviewing it with the project team and validates it against the VOC.

Design failure mode and effects analysis (DFMEA) – Creating the DFMEA helps the team to identify the ways a product can fail to meet CTQs during design. Estimating the risks of specific causes with regard to failures and prioritizing actions for improvement is the main objective of this exercise.

Past learning and postmortem – It is always good to learn from past mistakes. Lessons learned from past projects and plans for mitigating any future mistakes are very useful for designing robust next-generation products.

Key component release – After releasing product design, the team should identify key components in the product design and release their detail specifications (functional as well as mechanical) to the purchase and supplier quality group to work with the supplier to attain them.

Customer and field trials – The team should ask a group of customers to test usability help validate whether the design addresses VOC, keeping in mind environment and operating conditions.

CTQ validation – They should also conduct further product testing against CTQs before releasing the design to confirm capability.

Product quality plan – This is a detailed product test plan for zero hour, primarily focused in the product performance domain. The team must clearly define what, how and when to test.

Industrial Quality

Organizational success lies in efficiently commercializing an innovation. The following activities, overseen by the industrial quality team, help meet that goal:

PFMEA and control plan – Once the product design is confirmed and released, the industrial quality team starts working on process design to ensure high productivity. They should create and regularly update a process failure mode and effects analysis (PFMEA) and control plan.

Work instruction and SOP management – The team must also detail work instructions and standard operating procedures (SOP) for the complete process.

CTQ deployment – This activity involves regularly measuring product CTQ characteristics during the production process.

Statistical process control – In cases where CTQs can’t be measured at the product level, they must be converted into critical-to-process parameters and should be monitored and controlled through statistical process control techniques.

8D management – This is a team-based problem solving methodology. Each discipline is involves a checklist of assessment questions, such as “What is wrong?” and “When, where, how much?” The 8D flowchart is displayed in Figure 3.

Figure 3: 8D Problem Solving Methodology

D1 – Select the team
D2 – Describe the problem
D3 – Implement and verify interim/containment actions
D4 – Define and verify root causes: Identify potential causes and select likely causes. If the potential cause is a root cause, identify possible corrective actions.
D5 – Verify corrective actions
D6 – Implement permanent corrective actions
D7 – Prevent recurrence
D8 – Recognize the team and/or individuals who worked on the problem

MSA – A gauge repeatability and reproducibility (GR&R) is the most popular technique for completing a measurement system analysis (MSA).

Product safety and traceability – The team should define a critical-to-safety checklist and follow it religiously. The team also should be able to trace critical components, process parameters and product test results. This data is useful in effectively managing defective product recalls in abnormal circumstances.

Life and reliability testing – The purpose of this testing is to re-confirm the probability of a given product to successfully perform a required function without failure, under specified environmental conditions, for a specified period of time. Product reliability is achieved by getting the product design right, and ensuring subsequent manufacturing conformity to that design.

Supplier Quality

Supplier quality is responsible for ensuring desired quality level and traceability of critical components identified by the development quality team during the product design. Their duties include:

Supplier selection – Team members should consider the following factors while selecting a supplier: product complexity and expertise in similar technology, geographic location, and long-term management commitment to quality and quantity.

Quality contracting – A quality contract with clear targets and compensation should be in place before starting business with a supplier.

Subsystem FMEA – A subsystem or component-level FMEA can help the team identify ways in which a module can fail to meet critical system-level customer requirements during the early stages of product design and in the manufacturing process. The team should estimate the risks related to these failures and prioritize actions for improvement.

Supplier competency development – The supplier quality role is entirely different from incoming quality control. The former’s role is more proactive and is mainly based on strategic and pattern-based thinking compared with incoming quality control, which is based on event-based thinking. The supplier quality team should work closely with the supplier to find out areas for improvement and develop the supplier through training and coaching.

Customer Quality

Although this pillar is more reactive than the other three, the customer quality team members play a key role in keeping customers happy after a product launches.

Define service scenario – During the design phase, the customer quality team must validate the product design for serviceability. This review helps organizations to maintain lower service costs during the product repairing process in the field. The product service scenario is defined during the design phase on the basis of product complexity and country cost structure, and whether the product should be replaced or repaired in the field.

Customer support and customer complaint addresser – This role consists of providing customer support, handling customer complaints and providing speedy solutions. Often, companies prefer online customer support, which is fast and cost effective. Some companies also offer online chatting to help solve customer complaints.

Customer satisfaction index management – Measuring the customer satisfaction index and putting an action plan in place is the most critical activity performed by the customer quality team. Corporate sectors are putting a lot of effort into improving their customer satisfaction index compared to their competitors because they are aware that even a single-digit increase in the customer satisfaction index can increase sales values significantly and lead to a healthy bottom line in the balance sheet.

Field quality improvement – This improvement is achieved through systematic analysis of returned products to find the root cause of the returns and put an action plan in place. Because the impact of these actions takes some time, the team must be very aggressive in execution.

Early customer feedback management – Due to rapid technology changes, sometimes a product’s lifecycle is not very long and by the time the customer quality team gets customer feedback, the product may not longer be in production. Early customer feedback is desirable in such cases.

Getting Quality Teams Involved

High-quality products and services help keep customers satisfied, and therefore are the key to survival for any enterprise. To have a better chance of beating their competition, organizations should involve quality teams in the entire product creation process, from conceiving the idea to delivering the product. The quality team should be able to help the organization:

  1. Understand customer needs.
  2. Provide high-quality and reliability consistent products and services.
  3. Keep up with the pace of change (technological as well as political and social).
  4. Be able topredict what the customer will want one year or 10 years from now.
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