To ensure adequate returns on investment and satisfy customers, manufacturing companies must ensure that quality products roll off the line. Therefore, manufacturers need to keep an eye on quality from the initial stages of the production process all the way through to the delivered product.

As such, most manufacturing businesses initiate their quality control measures even before the production line starts running in earnest. Companies also insist on receiving quality materials from their suppliers, ensuring that the parts fed into their manufacturing process won’t cause quality defects down the line.

In an increasingly competitive business environment, quality defect tracking has become an imperative initiative for most manufacturers to reduce waste, maximize profits, and retain happy and loyal customers.

In this post, we’ll dive into the specifics of why quality defect tracking is so important, and how manufacturers are improving the quality management processes to capture and maintain a serious competitive advantage.

What are quality defects in the manufacturing realm?

Manufacturing quality defects are imperfections in the requirements and specifications of raw materials and final products. Minor defects at the beginning of the manufacturing process can result in significant quality inconsistencies at later stages of production.

In most instances, manufacturing defects are grouped into three categories:

  • Minor defects: These kinds of product imperfections often fly under the radar, only noticeable by manufacturers because they know what they’re looking for. As such, minor defects don’t affect the product’s function or aesthetics, making the item usable by the end consumer.

  • Major defects: These are flaws that render a product slightly unusable because they affect how an object functions. Consequently, a customer won’t be satisfied with their purchase and will likely return the item to a vendor or manufacturer.

  • Critical defects: Items with this type of defect have significantly affected product functionality, often resulting in failures. Indeed, these kinds of manufacturing quality defects can harm the end-user. This reflects poorly on the manufacturer, posing a substantial negative financial and reputational impact.

The role of quality defect reports

When employees report quality issues on your production floor, what happens to their reports?

In many operations, the reports are deposited into a pile of papers that never get entered into a computer. Or, if they are logged, they end up in an Excel spreadsheet that is impossible to analyze.

The defect tracking report usually looks like this:

This is a series of parts and a list of possible issues, with tallies to represent the most common issues by part. It’s really just a list of combinations between parts and issues, and this pattern can be seen in other manufacturing processes as well.

If you can’t analyze the data from these reports, you will be forced to rely on anecdotes and guessing to make decisions. You might need to decide whether a specific operator needs to be re-skilled, or if a part needs to be re-designed to reduce defects.

A solution to this issue would be to use an “automated defects report” to collect production issues in real-time. An automated quality report works best if you have an employee dedicated to tracking defects over the course of the day, like a quality specialist. The operator can input their data into a ruggedized tablet (or laptop at a workstation) as they conduct their inspections. This data can be pushed to a centralized database where supervisors can easily access and analyze the information to identify insights and issue corrective actions if necessary.

Cost of Quality: What do manufacturing defects mean for your business?

As a manufacturing business, quality management is a critical area that your business should invest in. Otherwise, businesses can experience significant setbacks resulting from product recalls and ultimately negative brand perception.

Manufacturing quality defects are more than just an annoyance at the end of the line during packaging. They have more widespread, adverse effects on the business at large. Below are a few areas where manufacturing defects can cost the operation.

  • Loss of customer loyalty: When customers receive less-than-stellar products, they probably won’t want to do business with your manufacturing outfit. In fact, manufacturers often lose out on repeat business and the potential new customers that would have been referred by previous buyers as a result of quality issues.

  • Increased risk of liability: Critical manufacturing defects put a business at risk of being liable for damages. If such defects slip through the quality control process, they are likely to cause harm to handlers and the final customer. As such, if a defective product harms a customer, they can sue the business for compensation.

  • Tarnished brand reputation: With the loss of loyal customers and a reputation of subpar product quality, a manufacturing brand can lose the trust of potential customers. Furthermore, your competition can also seize this chance to position themselves as a better alternative in the market. Done successfully, competing brands can take market position from your business, relegating your brand to a lower-level operation.

  • Significantly reduced revenues: To sum it all up, the impact of quality defects can hinder a manufacturing business’ ability to grow its income. As with many businesses, a significant portion of manufacturers’ operating budget is directed towards dealing with lawsuits, brand perception, and market positioning. Ultimately, the loss of customer revenues will have a considerable impact on the company’s bottom line.

Therefore, it’s prudent to keep on top of quality control to avoid the negative financial impact of manufacturing quality defects. Most businesses are pivoting to new-age quality control processes to stay on top of defects in the modern manufacturing era.

Steps to automate your quality control process

Traditional quality defect tracking and prevention practices leave a lot to be desired when making production decisions. Not only are they inefficient and time-consuming, but they also require more monetary and operator resources.

More and more manufacturers are embracing advanced quality management systems to efficiently keep defects at bay. In doing so, businesses will need to standardize their quality control efforts as well as educate and train employees on the latest systems and equipment.

Here is how to go about automating the quality control process:

Automate processes on the production floor

If a business relies more on direct human input on the production floor, the manufacturing process will always vary due to inevitable human error. As such, there is an increased chance of quality defects coming off the production line.

However, automated machines and workflows allow for a significantly more consistent working mechanism, enabling businesses to improve efficiency across their operations. Consequently, you more than always get what you want if you set the right requirements and specifications.

And speaking of…

Define standard requirements

One crucial element of a manufacturing business’s quality control process is setting boundary limits and reference parameters for the given product. In addition, it usually helps to make a so-called “golden sample.”

A golden sample represents the ideal product that a manufacturer expects to come off the production line and make its way to a customer. All subsequent products should mirror the perfect template.

Quality professionals should also define a standard checklist of various product-related and safety parameters that affect a plant’s quality-making ability.

Inspect the materials and goods

The advent of Quality 4.0 allows for continuous assessment of products at all manufacturing stages. High-grade instrumentation and software have made this easier, prompting tech-forward manufacturers to rely less on personnel using paper and spreadsheets to log quality defects.

Instead, modern factory machines have inspection equipment or modules installed that analyze each and every part that the machine handles. Then, quality control software compares each part’s requirements against the standard.

Factory managers and relevant personnel will then be alerted to any defects on the line. In some advanced operations, the quality control software can optimize processes across their systems to ensure that the defective part doesn’t make it to the next station.

Trace defective parts and products

Product tracing and tracking allow manufacturers to locate defective products on the line. Connected tools like bar code scanners can identify parts and products on the line and relay the data back to quality managers in real-time, allowing for timely intervention.

Additionally, real-time tracking enables businesses to identify defects pre-production at the supplier level. This ensures that the factory manager has more control over the production process, limiting incidences of manufacturing defects.

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