The Industry 4.0 Approach to Quality

By ETQ on April 9, 2018

Experts are calling Industry 4.0 the fourth Industrial Revolution (hence the 4.0). The concept represents a push towards manufacturing digitization that experts say will deliver massive improvements in efficiency, costs and profits in as little as just a few years.

But what will it take to get there, and how can it help improve quality? Today we’re lifting the lid on what Industry 4.0 means in terms of quality, focusing on benefits, challenges and the tools companies will need to make it a success.

Defining Industry 4.0

Depending on who you talk to, Industry 4.0 can have a variety of definitions. More than just automation of individual processes and pieces of equipment, PricewaterhouseCoopers calls it “the end-to-end digitisation of all physical assets and integration into digital ecosystems with value chain partners,” leveraging buzzworthy technologies like machine learning, Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Clearly, Industry 4.0 has huge implications for quality, with LNS Research calling this side of this revolution Quality 4.0. Potential benefits include:

  • Increased reliability of production output with less variation.
  • Improved Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and lower maintenance costs.
  • Fewer health and safety risks to workers.
  • More tightly integrated supply chain management.

Add it all up, and experts believe it will deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue increases per year.

Quality Risks and Challenges of Industry 4.0

While digital transformation should be on every manufacturer’s radar, making it a reality comes with numerous challenges. Risk Management tools will be more important than ever under Industry 4.0, with potential concerns around:

  • Cost: Making the switch is going to require significant investment—think 5% of annual revenue per year—although most companies anticipate a payback period of under 2 years.
  • Security: Interconnected cyber-physical systems raise questions about data security and protecting proprietary information.
  • Systems reliability: Keeping automated systems up and running is a top priority and could severely impact quality if not properly managed.
  • Data talent: Managing the flow and volume of data that Industry 4.0 is designed to deliver requires skilled data scientists. Unfortunately, the current shortage of data experts is only getting worse, so companies will need to deliberately recruit and cultivate digital talent.

Making Industry 4.0 a Quality Success

The most essential ingredient for ensuring the success of your efforts is preparation. What are the most important steps to take?

First, you’ll need to learn everything you can about Industry 4.0, asking questions about how it might benefit (and challenge) your organization specifically. Once you’ve achieved that, it’s time to start planning your strategy.

Rather than jumping in with both feet, you may want to start with a few specific projects, using what you learn to iterate and improve. This will help you determine exactly what you need moving forward, from tech-enabled assets and equipment to Quality Management System (QMS) tools to new team members. While Industry 4.0 is most certainly a whole new world, the traditional Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle will never go out of style.

The prospect of transitioning to Industry 4.0 can be a daunting one for companies, and not without good reason. After all, growth can put significant pressures on quality, and not always in a good way. But as more and more companies make the switch, those that don’t will be left with a choice: get on board, or get left behind.