As manufacturing companies continue to adapt to the challenges of the economy, supply chains and the labor market, Make To Order (MTO) concepts have been embraced across industries. A Deloitte survey stated that 38% of manufacturers had implemented some make-to-order manufacturing processes, while 27% planned to do so in the coming five years. Seeking benefits like lower inventory costs and more flexibility, companies are also experiencing new challenges like increasing complexity and longer production times.
One area where these challenges seem to repeatedly exist is in the defect to repair loop within the manufacturing process. On a recent plant visit, we observed the quality team conducting inspections at production gates using paper checklists. Those checklists were collected and data entered each day to produce a work list for the next day. We had just recently seen a similar approach on a faster moving line, where inspectors telephoned production team leaders to describe defects and assign operators to follow the unit to complete the fixes. In this case, the company also employed fixers at the end of the line to cover defects that were not addressed.
Unfortunately, the reliance on paper checklists for in-process quality inspections in MTO manufacturing is all too common, and so is the lag time between defect detection and repair, adding cost and increased possibility of defects in finished product. Even implementing digital checklists is not a panacea for shortening the time to defectless products. While collecting more quality data, faster, and in an automated fashion is a significant boost to identifying quality issues and driving corrective actions, there is still a gap between defect and repair that needs a much more responsive solution and greater automation.
Closing The Loop
Forward thinking manufacturing companies are beginning to look to digital technologies to help drive quality by assisting workers with digital work instructions. These technologies can drive, through access to instruction and repetition, better adherence to standard operating procedures which in turn lessens defects. However, what is beginning to happen with the adoption of digital tools are digital silos of information and automation. Digital tools for production workers and digital tools for quality staff.
What is needed is a closed loop approach from defect detection to repair to verification, that aligns the efforts of quality teams with production teams. Consider the example of the MTO manufacturing plant we visited. Instead of a day lag between defect detection and repair, imagine that both quality teams and production teams had digital tools tuned to their specific jobs that could share in a common process.
Mobile apps for in-process inspections could capture and report defects to production teams, whose digital tools could provide work instructions and the ability to document the repairs with notices to quality team members to close the loop. Defect to repair processes would be automated, reducing time to repair and costs of rework for repairs that are now slipping through the process.
Where Quality Meets Execution
The momentum around digital quality management, eQMS, is growing strongly. Estimates of the US market for eQMS were about $8 billion last year with growth of about 10% per year. Most of these systems have a focus on the management of quality policies, documents and data, but lack a strong connection to the execution of quality processes on the frontline. This is particularly the case for in-process quality inspections and defect detection to repair within MTO manufacturing environments.
ROO.AI saw the emerging gap as we worked with MTO manufacturers, and began to develop a frontline digital automation platform to align the work of quality and production teams. ROO.AI digitalizes in-process quality inspection, allowing quality teams to quickly and consistently execute inspections, and automate the collection of defect information including image and video annotation. Defects are instantly visible within the system for reporting purposes and also to production teams. Alerts can be created, defects can be assigned or claimed, repairs executed and status automatically conveyed to quality teams for verification. For MTO manufacturers a record of every inspection defect and repair can be associated with the product for future reference with warranty and service claims or for quality analysis.
Digitalization of the frontline process for quality inspection and defect repair is the way of the future. When MTO manufacturers are ready to take this step, they should avoid the creation of digital silos and adopt a closed loop platform that drives improved quality, faster defect to repair and shorter build times.