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The Visible Value Blog

How modern manufacturers in Europe are delivering product variety through focused quality assurance

Posted by David Stain

September 8, 2017 at 8:58 AM


Our 2017 Manufacturing Vision Study has highlighted emerging key trends, including how manufacturers worldwide are connecting their operations to gain greater visibility and improve quality assurance.

In a global manufacturing backdrop of increasing customer choice on products, the reality that managing this variety can increase cost is becoming front-of-mind for many manufacturers. Our survey asked 1,100 executives across the automotive, high-tech, food, beverage, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries for their perspective on the most relevant technology investments over the next 5 years – revealing some great insights.

Our survey results show that one of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is how to record what's being done and when, but more importantly how to maintain their audit trails. Central to this, of course, is visibility, both of the product environment itself and of the wider supply chain. Indeed, 46% of survey respondents cited increased visibility across the enterprise as being essential to business growth.

Understandably, manufacturers are turning to technology to provide the essential visibility to achieve and exceed their quality goals. Over a third of business leaders surveyed anticipate having IIoT capabilities by 2021, and the number of companies supporting a fully connected factory and processes are expected to double. Connectivity at this level increases efficiency and productivity, eases compliance, and reduces total cost of ownership.

Visibility is central to upholding the quality that drives sales and profitability. Consistent standards of product quality increase levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and minimise the impact and cost of recalls. However, visibility also addresses another key challenge manufacturers are facing today: how can they accommodate product variety to meet modern consumer demand? Product variety and quality are inextricably bound for two reasons:

  • Production stoppages

A manufacturer might be trending at five line stoppages a week with five products. If product variety requires 15 products on the line, then they would potentially experience 15 stoppages a week. Quality must be the primary focus.

  • Wrong components or parts

More product variety means more components, more complex supply chains and more opportunities for error, meaning that Bill of Material reconciliation becomes key. Barcoding components makes this a simple process, with discrepancies flagged at the point of fitting or consumption instead of at a quality station or end of production.

Treating quality as a separate entity at the end of the process doesn’t work. Quality must be owned, during production, by the personnel and the machines on manufacturing lines. By installing more scanning gates in the production process as operators undertake or add a component or subassembly to the build, manufacturers can get to the root cause of quality issues, and take the appropriate corrective action in real-time, reducing cost and risk.

This is where integrated technology is vital in gaining visibility and upholding quality during production. Mobile scanning devices provide validation of what components are being fitted and how. Mobile printing solutions enable identification, while mobile computers enhance the operator’s ability to make the production-critical decisions that optimise output and quality. Mobile computing devices can also provide visual guidance on how to fit, what calibration settings may be needed on tooling and verify procedure.

Our survey results show that manufacturers are using these technologies to insert quality check points and automation at more stages in the manufacturing process. Checking the status of a product after it’s been assembled and finding a defect not only slows down production and increases costs, but it also makes it much harder to identify the point of failure. Manufacturers are increasingly aware of the benefits of end-to-end supply chain visibility, how it helps them to address their challenges around product variety and meet their quality assurance goals.

At Zebra, we call this connected visibility. Our technology solutions support manufacturers in extracting the relevant production and transforming it into actionable information, helping them to deliver on quality and maintain a competitive edge.

Learn what else manufacturing leaders are predicting for the future. Download our 2017 Manufacturing Vision Study Report here

Topics: EMEA, Manufacturing, Barcodes