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As engineers, we are constantly in a battle of improving the quality of our products without drastically increasing costs, so what exactly can we do?
Cost is the driving factor in virtually every engineering project, and usually, the only way to bring it down is to decrease the quality of your materials and parts. There are, however, some ways to bring the quality of your products and parts up while keeping costs the same.
Evaluating your production processes
First, you are going to need to take some time to evaluate your production processes. In manufacturing any component or product, there will always be waste, inefficiencies, and bottlenecks in the production line. These areas are major locations where some creative engineering can save time and money.
When addressing excess scrap material in part production, be willing to consider other manufacturing methods such as additive. Your plant was likely designed by an engineer, perhaps even yourself, which likely means that there is room for improvement in the design. After all, no one is perfect. Focus on places to improve and determine your bearings moving forward.
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We can spend all day discussing improvements and redesigns, but there comes the point where it just isn’t worth it. To state this another way, there is a point where improving quality in a product would be just as much work as improving quality control. I say this not to discourage quality, but rather to consider all aspects of the quality control process when examining where you can make improvements.
Inevitably, there will be costs in any redesign or quality improvement process, but the costs we want to focus on eliminating are those strictly related to production. Spending man-hours to improve a process is worth it in the long run, given that they are static one-time costs, but increasing production costs is what we are trying to avoid. Beyond these one-time improvements, there are also some dynamic shifts you can make to the environment on the production line.
Improving the quality control process
Your manufacturing workers who are involved hands-on in everyday work likely can offer a differing perspective than the engineer who designs in his or her office every day. If we take time as manufacturers and empower our workers, we can open up the channel for unique and innovative solutions from the ground up.
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Another way to build on this empowerment is to improve initial manufacturing training. While this will increase your upfront costs slightly, it shouldn’t affect your final product costs. By spending even just a few more hours on training workers, you can decrease downtime and increase production speed.
Beyond these relatively straightforward production improvements offered up here, there are also several more refined methods we can follow along with. Develop a total maintenance program that addresses issues before they occur. Develop an equipment improvement team to constantly seek out these inefficiencies throughout a manufacturing process and develop dynamic solutions.
Whether you are a one-man manufacturing plant or you run a plant with thousands of employees, implementing these solutions on various scales can increase product quality while keeping costs at a minimum – keeping everyone happy.
Steps to improving your manufacturing
Understanding high-level perspectives on improving manufacturing quality is one thing, but the next step is actually taking practical steps to implement those perspectives. Let's take a look at the first things you should start doing to improve the manufacturing and quality of your parts or components.
1. Keep "team" in mind
Overall quality for manufacturing is something that has to be undertaken as an entire organization. One person can't improve the part design or part manufacturing on their own, rather it needs to be a concerted effort company-wide.
The added benefit to not siloing your quality improvement efforts is that more people bring multiple disciplines and perspectives into the problem-solving process.
Another perspective to consider as part of the team is that of the customer. Making a product better isn't a task we undertake purely for self-gratitude, it's one with an end-user in mind. As you're weighing quality versus cost, keep in mind how the end-user might feel. Engaging in thought experiments of whether a customer would be willing to pay more for a product with given improvements can go far at the beginning of any redesign process.
Utilizing customer perspectives can help define your end goal in quality control and improvement.
2. Understand what it will take to solve the problem
Solving a problem and addressing Q/A concerns is not something you halfway do. That means from the onset you need a solid plan for addressing the entire concerns of any given design. An effective means of convincing the entirety of an organization of this complete solution is taking into account the entire product lifecycle.
Getting a product out the door shouldn't be your only goal in engineering and manufacturing. When you stop to realize that failing to improve the product and quality control now will result in a damaged reputation and increased repair costs down the line, it offers up a good perspective.
3. Use discipline
The quality improvement process is not one to take lightly. It requires that you stay disciplined throughout it.
This final step draws back to the initial 2 steps we discussed. The entire team will need to be behind the idea of quality and discipline, and they will also need to understand the reasoning and intention of the quality redesign process you're undertaking.
While it will be important that you don't over-dictate how the quality improvement process goes, it is important that everyone is one the same page so root causes of defects and performance errors can be efficiently sorted.
Following these three steps provides a useful roadmap to quality improvement and assurance within manufacturing. At the end of the day, improving quality is a team effort, but not one that has to inherently alter the cost of what you're producing.