Industry 4.0: the quality revolution

Approaching quality in the digital era 

 British industry has a productivity problem. Compared with major competitors like the USA, Germany and France, its productivity lags. It isn’t because we’re not working hard enough ― studies have shown that British workers put in the longest hours in the EU. So, if we’re working longer, but are still less efficient, where are we going wrong? Here Mike John, managing director of industrial metrology specialist, The Sempre Group, explores how the UK industry can start a quality revolution.

From experience, the UK industry has been slow to adopt technology ― particularly quality control systems ― and this reluctance is holding it back against global competitors. So, to up its productivity game, British manufacturers require a high skill level a good knowledge base and, most importantly, a willingness to adopt the latest technologies.

Traditionally quality has been an afterthought and more like a policing engine than a vehicle for improvement, so manufacturers are often reluctant to invest in new measurement equipment. However, Industry 4.0 brings with it a data-driven, digital approach to quality, which manufacturers can use to glean insights and for decision making. A fully digitised approach to quality removes the challenge of integrating data from fragmented sources, reduces room for error and enables manufacturers to improve their productivity.

A model for Quality 4.0

The model we recommend for digitalised quality management is integrate, automate, connect, comply (IACC). The first point is to integrate all quality management into one unified electronic quality management system (EQMS). In a paper system, suppliers may be performing quality checks, only for the parts to inspected for compliance again when they arrive on the manufacturer’s site. In contrast, by taking a digital approach, the manufacturing company could simply access the relevant data on its EQMS, the extra step is eliminated.

The next component is to automate ― using programmable systems like robotics to make manufacturing and packaging processes more efficient, traceable and productive. Staff can be moved out of low value, monotonous work and into more important areas of the business, making better use of the workforce. As well as automating processes themselves, manufacturers can automate data collection and accurately record data in a central system instead of having a paper trail of handwritten data.

Connectivity is a central part of Industry 4.0, as it is Quality 4.0. Inspection, robotics, digital inputs and outputs, software, SQL data management and enterprise reporting can be pulled together into systems greater than the sum of their parts.

Wireless connectivity of equipment to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and portable tablets means manufacturers can easily implement a factory-wide data collection network. The manufacturer can connect suppliers, operations, customers and products with edge analytics and bring the data together into a common SQL database for all business processes.

Monitoring data collected by equipment and storing it in a central system enables manufacturers to detect trends and take proactive actions to decrease scrappage. For example, a Universal Robot UR5 could be combined with a Micro Vu Optical CMM and wireless Andon status lights. The manufacturer could then connect these through Sempre Connect software to a database, to achieve pull through reporting, monitoring and trend detection.

These steps make meeting compliance obligations easy. Manufacturers can generate reports automatically, whether it is first article inspection reports (FAIRs), initial sample inspection reports (ISIRs) or production part approval process (PPAP) documents, to comply with standard like ISO 17025, ISO 9000, 21 CFR or AS9100.

The UK’s productivity puzzle can only be solved with a cultural shift. We need to change our mindset towards quality equipment and invest in the technology required. By working with a trusted partner, implementing a Quality 4.0 approach can be easy and deliver dramatic return on investment. For more information, visit