Antonis Grigoropoulos is an Online Tutor for the University of Hull Online's MSc in Engineering Management. In this post, he looks at the importance of quality in engineering and business, a key consideration for engineering managers.
Today more than ever, quality is one of industry’s main preoccupations. In recent times, there has been a “quality crisis” where methods, traditionally used in industry, have been unable to meet the demands of a modern customer. As a consequence, forward-thinking and innovative companies are keen to adopt tools for achieving quality.
The history of quality
Until relatively recently, manufacturing industry was dominated by production without paying too much attention to quality. The underlying assumption was that the more we produced, the more money we made. The responsibility of ensuring that products conformed to specifications lay with a separate department which was independent of the manufacturing function. Spoilage levels were high meaning that “real” productivity – that is manufacturing quality products – was low.
Today, successful organisations focus on how well we are meeting our customers’ requirements. Understanding and satisfying customer expectations is the top priority and experience shows that customer satisfaction is interwoven with financial success.
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Rather than relying on an independent department to “rule out” rejected products, quality assurance has become an integral part of the manufacturing process. The evolution of quality broadly falls within three approaches in order to ensure a quality product.
These can be described as:
Solid quality – an over engineered design to avoid failure
Solid quality can be described as “over engineering”. Solid quality products were manufactured using cheap labour and cheap materials.
Quality through inspection (quality control)
Products are inspected because we do not understand our process properly. We act only on the effects of poor manufacturing (i.e. the product) rather than tackling the causes (i.e. the manufacturing process itself).
Product inspection can be described as “being too late” because it involves significant effort trying to find defects after the products have been manufactured. By this time, valuable resources have already been wasted manufacturing a product that is of no use.
Therefore, this technique is expensive in terms of time and spoilage levels. This loss is easy to identify and relatively easy to quantify while it is sometimes referred to as “direct loss”.
Furthermore, quality through inspection does not work: 100% inspection is simply not possible, which means that poor quality products will always find their way through to customers. This, in turn, leads to further expense in terms of:
- Involvement of after sales service and negotiations
- Further inspections
- Additional transport costs
- Late delivery
- Penalty payments to the customer
What is more, product quality will affect demand. A dissatisfied customer is not a good advertisement and sales are consequently likely to suffer. The price of a product that sells badly due to poor quality, will have to be lowered in an attempt to increase sales. These effects, sometimes referred to as “indirect losses”, are more difficult to quantify, but they are real and important nonetheless.
Built-in quality (quality assurance and total quality)
An approach used in design and manufacturing to prevent defects from occurring.
Quality is built-in by understanding, monitoring and controlling our process; then acting on it to ensure that defects are not manufactured in the first place. In other words, we ensure that the process delivers what is required rather than producing what we can and trying to sort it out afterwards!
Building quality into our processes sounds expensive. That’s not the case, of course, because if our process delivers a consistently high quality product, inspection becomes unnecessary and spoilage levels are minimised. In other words, direct losses are reduced enormously. Also, as there are no poor quality products finding their way through to our customers, indirect losses are reduced too. One should remember that indirect losses are losses caused by after sales negotiations, re-manufacturing, further inspections, additional transport costs, etc.
How to Achieve Quality
There are many accepted ways to understand or perceive quality. Quality, however, should be considered as a concept which embraces the following:
- Customer satisfaction through Quality, Cost and Delivery
- Continuous improvement
- Increased profitability
Achieving these goals involves many integrated elements. For example, effective problem solving at all levels of organisation is critical in order to determine the true causes of identified effects. A true understanding of the production process and the ability to monitor and control it are also fundamental; so that it delivers what is required, ruling out any expensive spoilage or scrap.
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