Quality management: Challenges faced while scaling up production and some solutions

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We organised a seminar on ‘Electronics Manufacturing Challenges and Best Practices’—an initiative that aimed to bring all the stakeholders of the electronics manufacturing ecosystem on to a single platform, to share their best manufacturing practices. A team of senior journalists also undertook tours to the facilities of electronics manufacturing companies, located at the various manufacturing hubs like Baddi (HP) and Pune. During these first hand interactions, the team took note of the many challenges these units face. These include maintaining lower costs and higher quality while scaling up production volumes; training and retaining skilled manpower; sourcing components; achieving the ideal level of automation for manufacturing and testing, etc. The team also found that many manufacturers have adopted best practices that helped them to address many of the challenges mentioned. Some of the challenges that the team identified during this experiential journey were addressed at the seminar by experts from the electronics manufacturing domain.

By Srabani Sen

Sanjay Jain, general manager, manufacturing, Emerson Network Power (India)

Saturday, February 19, 2011: In a series of articles, we will bring to you these tried and tested best practices, which you can adopt in your facilities to make your organisation more efficient. This article is based on the talks given at the seminar by Sanjay Jain, general manager, manufacturing, Emerson Network Power (India).

Manufacturers across India face many common challenges in their efforts to meet the rising demand for quality standards. The growing mix of complex products, outsourcing and global expansion requires a new approach to quality management. Many organisations are, therefore, adopting either industry standard quality management methodologies like Six Sigma and ISO 9000, or implementing different quality practices to reduce costs, shorten cycle times, and improve overall product and process quality. These standards are developed with the focus on customer satisfaction and continuous improvement in systems and processes.

Today, mass production is a reality, as high volumes means low cost. The process of mass production is usually characterised by mechanisation to achieve high volumes, a smooth flow of materials, careful supervision of quality standards, and minute division of labour. But to make it worthwhile, mass production requires mass consumption.

Concentrating on quality at every stage in the production process is important. The management, as well as every employee, is expected to take responsibility for managing quality issues in order to make sure that waste is minimised and quality is maximised. This is often referred to as total quality management and is part of the lean production methods used in modern industry. Today, total quality management is more important than end of the-production line quality checks, to ensure the highest level of customer satisfaction and, wherever possible, ‘zero defects’.

Challenges and benchmarks

While maintaining these qualities, the major challenge lies in adopting quality systems to meet mass production targets.

Role of management: In any quality management system, the role of the management is vital as it needs to invest in quality infrastructure, training programmes, human resource development, and strategic quality planning. Strategic quality planning usually involves three major components—developing long and short term objectives, identifying ways to achieve those objectives and measuring the effectiveness of the system in achieving quality standards.

In Emerson, quarterly review of issues is done and its linkage to business cost of quality is measured by the top management.

Vendor management: With scaling up of production, another challenge lies in managing vendors. You must continually measure and monitor your vendor’s performance in order to ensure continued success. The vendor should understand your expectations and you should have an alternate course of action in place, in case the vendor’s performance falls below your expectations. All your firm’s quality control standards must be communicated and shared with your vendors, so that the product or service that they deliver to you is consistent with the standards of your organisation. This will prevent any negative impact on your current customer base.

Emerson has a separate team that reports to the quality department, and works on systems for vendors. They support the vendors and work towards improving the systems of the vendors. The company also does vendor ratings and based on this, a vendor’s share of Emerson’s business, changes. This definitely affects the vendors and they try to adhere to the quality systems to get a good rating.

Process quality and process discipline: Organisations plan for a number of processes and systems, but implementing them and ensuring that the management as well as the staff members adhere to these systems, is a challenge. The systems should be designed to help leaders and managers implement comprehensive quality systems in their workplaces. They should be able to deal with all complex and simple issues that can occur in the day to day functioning of the organisation. This can be accomplished by creating an integrated system that is process centred, has total employee involvement, and is completely customer focused.

The production and planning department of Emerson sets standards and targets for each section of the production process. The quality of products is closely monitored. In businesses focusing on lean production, quality is monitored by all employees at every stage of production, rather than at the end.

Annual quality planning: Companies analyse many of their existing systems and plan new ones at the beginning of the year. However, neither are these quality systems analysed, nor any strategies developed to find out how to upgrade the quality systems. There is also no attempt made to find out about the challenges faced while implementing such systems.

In Emerson, a separate quality planning team audits all internal systems and does quality planning annually. It conducts study sessions between the production staff and engineers. The team regularly upgrades the standards based on customer requirements and to make the systems fool-proof. This would mean more rejection of products, but it also puts more pressure on the design team and production managers to upgrade their systems.

New product introduction: This is to generate a stream of market led, technically and commercially viable new products to support the business plan, with minimum risk. In this process, analysing and testing the products, based on customer requirements, is essential.

Emerson has a separate team for product verification, which monitors the failures in design and vendor systems. This ensures independent design verification and also ensures that historical issues in similar product lines get taken care of at the design stage itself.

Database management: Data authenticity and data verification is important to ensure that there is transparency throughout the organisation. In Emerson, a path-tracking system is adopted. All critical elements are bar coded to track any information—from the vendor stage to service return. It also maintains all data related to any failure of systems and processes, which are reviewed from time to time, and the systems are modified and upgraded.

In a nutshell, measuring quality in terms of value and linking it to company profitability is one of the key elements to keep in mind if we want to implement any system within an organisation.

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

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