Reinventing Product Quality with Zero Defect Manufacturing
A product’s quality is amongst the main factors that drive its commercial success. Consumers always prefer products with superior quality, which makes quality management a top priority for product manufacturers. The latter are striving to optimize their production processes in order to minimize issues and inefficiencies that lead to defects. In this context, the term Zero Defect Manufacturing (ZDM) has been introduced as a popular and highly-regarded concept in quality management. ZDM’s popularity of the term is reflected in the fact that the standard Six Sigma methodology for quality management embraces it as one of its core concepts. The literal meaning of ZDM is the complete elimination of defects. However, having zero defects, in a realistic manufacturing context, is practically impossible. Even in the scope of Six Sigma standard, the notion of “zero defects” is defined as 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).
When applied in real life projects, ZDM is driven by four main principles. First, ZDM is defined against requirements in a specific production context and at a given point in time. This specification of time helps predict probable future defects and helps in avoiding the same. Second, it must be integrated in the production process right from the beginning, rather than being an outcome of solving problems at a later stage i.e. ZDM is about a proactive approach to quality. Third, ZDM is driven by monetary benefits and financial targets, which means that the elimination of defects must be reflected in reduction of waste, productivity improvements and ultimately in revenues. Last, performance should be continually audited and improved based on standardized benchmarks.
The actual implementation of a ZDM discipline in production hinges on many different quality control applications, which can be combined towards delivering production quality of the highest standards. As a prominent example, a production line can be continually monitored for production errors or patterns that indicate possibility of defects. Also, the maintenance processes of machines and equipment are an important element of quality, since poorly maintained equipment can lead to malfunctions and quality problems (e.g., wear). Likewise, industrial automation applications can greatly boost quality, based on production systems (e.g., robots, smart machines) that eliminate human errors and deliver exceptional production quality. Finally, supply chain processes are extremely important for production quality as these are in charge of procurement of high quality parts that meet production specifications and are also responsible for the distribution and delivery of the finished products. Nowadays, based on one or more of the above applications and their combination, manufacturers are purchasing systems and devices that are destined to deliver excellent quality in their production lines.
Despite significant investments in ZDM processes and applications, manufacturers are still challenged when it comes to deploying ZDM. This is due to a number of different factors, including:
The advent of digital manufacturing as part of Industry 4.0 (I4.0) is currently revolutionizing production processes, as it enables their control from an IT-based digital layer, rather than from the field. Quality management and ZDM is no exception to this rule and will directly benefit from the flexibility and deployment efficiency of IT processes, which are gradually replacing legacy OT (Operational Technology) based processes. In particular, the use of leading edge digital technologies as part of I4.0 will alleviate the above-listed barriers to ZDM adoption through:
During the past two years, we have witnessed the rise of the first digital systems for ZDM, which leverage one or more of the above-listed technologies. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done prior to reaching the “cognitive manufacturing” vision, especially given that some of the technologies (e.g., blockchains, 5G) are still in their infancy. The implementation of this vision will not only improve the competitiveness of manufacturers, but it will also enable consumers to redefine the quality of end products, through adding entire new dimensions (e.g., usability, ergonomics, environmental friendliness, product longevity).
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