How to Improve Production Quality in Manufacturing

Written by: Claire Cavanaugh

Read Time: 5 min

What is production quality? 

In manufacturing, production quality refers to both the accuracy of work being done and the resulting product quality. A worker’s ability to gauge accuracy on the production floor, access to design and assembly data, and the availability of consumable information all contribute to overall production quality.

Why is quality improvement important in manufacturing? 

Improving production quality is critical to a manufacturer’s bottom line and overall customer satisfaction score. A company that wastes resources, creates scrap, and works inefficiently to produce sub-optimal products is at a disadvantage to competitors who are producing similar goods faster, with less scrap, at a higher level of quality. When poor quality becomes systemic, it can negatively impact a manufacturer’s business, including costly waste and rework, recalls, and damaged brand reputation. It can even force companies to lower prices and limit the geographies and marketplaces in which they can operate.

Ensuring happy customers and revenue growth comes down to quality assurance (which focuses on proactively meeting quality requirements before the product leaves the facility) and quality control (which focuses on identifying and fixing issues before the product leaves the facility).

Understanding the cost of quality

Ensuring that products are well-made and defect-free is an easy-to-understand objective with intuitive benefits. However, quality comes with its own costs. Quality work takes more time, and quality control checkpoints represent time spent not actively manufacturing more products. For that reason, companies often employ a cost of quality (COQ) methodology that allows them to examine operational costs of maintaining products at a specific, measurable standard. This cost is then weighed against the negative cost of poor quality, including the cost of defects found within the factory and defects that are discovered by the customer.

Some companies pursue quality standards above all else, regardless of cost (and this usually directly boosts their brand and pricing in the market). But for many, COQ valuations help companies find a comfortable delta where they are neither excessively burdened with “quality overkill” nor doing insurmountable harm by permitting an acceptable number of defects (preferably found before they reach the market).

Whether a company prioritizes quality as the foundation of a premium brand or uses a COQ approach to keep quality defects within a certain range, all companies seek to find better, more efficient ways of pursuing quality. To boost quality efficiency, companies often start by examining the challenges that impact quality assurance and quality control efforts.

What are the challenges that impact quality? 

Production quality is a critical success metric in manufacturing, but widespread industry challenges can hinder quality assurance and control— raising COQ in the process. Identifying these challenges is a key first step to addressing them.

Quality assurance 

Quality assurance is a proactive process regarding the quality of work on the production floor that involves organized, methodical activities as checkpoints for maintaining the manufacturer’s high standards for quality. These activities serve as guidance to prevent defects in the first place. However, quality assurance is difficult without access to product or performance data and efficient training and onboarding methods. This can result in misdirected or poor processes, and nobody wants their quality solutions to have a quality problem.

Beyond the instructions they’re using, frontline workers rely on important information and data to complete day-to-day tasks. But for many manufacturers, data segregation and silos are critical issues that impact decision-making and efficiency on the production floor.

Change management in configurable products can be another quality assurance challenge for manufacturers. New and experienced frontline workers alike struggle with increasing product complexity—particularly if they lack sufficient on-the-job training tools.

Quality control 

If you’ve wondered how to improve product quality in manufacturing, you know a few factors can make it difficult. Slow inspection cycles and associated bottlenecks can delay production and negatively impact customer satisfaction. Manual quality checks and long shifts often lead to fatigue and human error, resulting in subpar products getting out the door—only to be returned or recalled later. And if manufacturers lack automated quality assessment protocols, it’s only a matter of time before inaccuracies reduce product quality. Poor quality control also impacts a manufacturer’s sustainability goals by creating costly scrap and rework.

Paper-based work instructions aren’t the most helpful resource in quality control for a few reasons. They’re costly and time-consuming for manufacturers to distribute. Once frontline workers have instructions in their hands, paper-based materials can be cumbersome and inefficient because they require users to interpret 3D products with 2D information, which can lead to accuracy issues. Updating instructions with new information takes additional time and costs and potentially makes version control problematic. In industries where manufacturing is defined by frequent iteration and customization, it can be impossible for traditional inspection documentation to be comprehensive.

One of the biggest challenges with paper-based inspections and quality control is that they are only directional. You can spend enormous resources with quality engineers to make extremely detailed inspection routines, but if they aren’t being followed correctly and there’s no verification around inspection activities, you haven’t really closed the loop on quality control. Again, this opens an organization up to quality control processes that lack quality in their execution.

Four steps to improve production quality 

Prioritizing production quality isn’t only critical to avoiding scrap, rework, and recalls. It’s paramount for long-term success and ongoing customer satisfaction. Leading manufacturers are taking the following steps to reach their goals and improve their production quality:

1. Understand the problem

First and foremost, improving quality requires understanding the problem, whether related to the quality of work on the production floor or the quality of the product that leaves the facility. Some of the problems may be how quality is being executed. Understanding critical problem areas gives you and your team a starting point for setting goals and KPIs.

2. Identify areas for improvement 

Once you understand the problem (or problems), work with your team to identify and prioritize improvement areas. There might be opportunities to streamline, find efficiencies to focus on quality improvement, and empower the workforce with helpful tools and resources.

3. Develop quality goals 

Quality improvement—and any tools your team implements—should be sustainable and scalable. Best-in-class manufacturers develop realistic, forward-looking quality goals and make regular plans to follow up on progress.

4. Adopt solutions to fill the gaps

Your frontline workforce is the most critical line of defense against poor quality. Your training programs—and any solutions you adopt to support training and on-the-job learning—should reflect that. In-person classroom training is good, but tools that provide interactive on-the-job experiences are even better for worker comprehension and information retention.

How to digitize and improve quality with PTC

Leading manufacturers look to digital solutions that improve production quality by connecting the workforce with the information they need to work efficiently and effectively. Adopting a combination of solutions as part of your quality program will help empower your workforce, meet and exceed your goals, and achieve sustainable, long-term improvements.

Industrial connectivity breaks down data silos and standardizes protocols to improve communication and visibility, enabling access to critical OT data and sharing it with relevant systems. The Internet of Things (IoT) enables manufacturers to monitor, analyze, and act on industrial data, allowing real-time visibility into performance across people, assets, and processes. Finally, augmented reality (AR) work instructions with 3D visualizations and AI-enhanced interactive guidance improve quality inspections.

Best-in-class organizations are turning to PTC as a technology partner during the quality improvement process. Download our eBook to discover how industrial connectivity, IoT, AR, and AI enable a connected workforce.


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Tags: Augmented Reality Industrial Connectivity Industrial Internet of Things

About the Author

Claire Cavanaugh

Claire is a Content Marketing Manager on PTC's Commercial Marketing team. She creates content in support of PTC products and solutions.