Quality can mean so many things to so many people. It can be the craftsmanship of a product, it can be the simplicity of a design or it can be the cleanliness of a codebase to name a few. Quality can come in levels from high to low, or simply define the process of making sure a product passes a required level of approval. But the quality sector is currently going through a metamorphosis thanks to AI and Quality 4.0.
During the lockdown, I took the opportunity to do more training and was intrigued by the world of quality improvement. It started with a story of an automotive company, in which an outsider was invited to see the new cars come off the production line. The visitor was amazed at the mix of man and machine working together to create car after car. But one part perplexed the visitor. As the front doors were attached to the car, one man opened each door, hit the tops of some rivets with a mallet, and closed it again. This man’s entire job was to tap these bolts in the car doors. The visitor asked why the tapper needs to do it and was told that this was a minor issue and just needed to be done. No one questioned it and they carried on regardless. A root cause analysis was conducted and found that the design meant that the screws didn’t go all the way in and needed a final tap. The visitor highlighted that if they simply changed the design then this man can be repurposed to something more important that would improve efficiency.
This story led me into the world of Lean Six Sigma, root cause analysis, operational efficiency, and the important role of AI in the quality improvement sector. Once I achieved my first ‘belt’, I jumped into my second, eager to find out more.
As an example; if you’re putting up a shed at home and you use the wrong size screw in a wall bracket, there’s a chance that a year down the line, the side of the shed may come free and hang annoyingly off its bracket. The worst-case scenario is that the wall may fall hurting you or a family member. If this happens in a car manufacturing plant, and it causes an issue for drivers, millions of vehicles may need to be recalled losing millions of pounds, or worse causing injury or death.
In mass production, quality is crucial. A minor change in a process can save millions in time, energy and money. One quality improvement lecturer I worked with told a story of one change at the US retailer Macy’s that saved them a million dollars per hour. The whole idea is to reach operational excellence and make the most money and the least errors. Nowadays, AI is helping to reduce ‘human error’ by adding systems that can check for issues, faults, and problems. From automotive vision systems to automated sorting machines, these machines check the products, improve quality, add additional levels of safety and avoid expensive recalls. AI is essential in helping companies reach operational excellence.
60% of Manufacturing Uses AI
A recent study by USM has shown that over 60% of manufacturing companies use AI in their processes. Some of the main uses for Ai include:
- Quality Checks
- Predicts Equipment Failures
- Equipment Predictive Maintenance
- Supply-Chain Management
- Forecast Product Demand
- Inventory Management
- Price Forecasts
AI is a key part of Quality 4.0 strategies and will support their rise to ‘Operational Excellence. Quality 4.0 refers to Industry 4.0 which is the fourth industrial revolution. With technological advancements in data, analytics, and connectivity driving innovation, we are seeing huge shifts in manufacturing and the delivery of products and services. Central to Quality 4.0 is about aligning the practice of quality management with these emerging capabilities of Industry 4.0 in order to help drive organisations toward operational excellence.
Whilst this topic is way too big to cover in one introductory article, it’s fantastic to read that AI is helping the manufacturing industry improve its processes, keep people safe and get ever closer to operational excellence.
Achieving my Lean Six Sigma belts and learning more about the amazing world of quality improvement has impacted all areas of my life and now I am the first to find the ‘root cause’ of an issue instead of complaining about the final output of a system or process. I will leave you with one of my favourite videos from my training and whilst it looks a little dated now, the story has stuck with me ever since.