Quality management technology trends for 2019

What does emerging technology have in store for quality management?

23Jan

Let's talk about the growing importance of quality management for today's businesses – as well as some of the latest technology trends helping to implement it. Competition can be heavy in a global marketplace, and that means customers have a lot of choice. Achieving higher levels of quality means better customer retention – and it's well within your grasp. Sometimes you just need to know what kind of tools to use.

Customer interactions are growing up

One of the areas where the quality of your business really shines through is in your customer interactions. We don't have to tell you the importance of maintaining above-average communication with customers and ensuring each interaction is a pleasant one. In case we do, remember that some estimates peg total business losses, on account of poor customer service, at $62bn in 2016.

Now that we know the stakes, how does technology help? Here are some ideas:

  • Chatbots can provide 24/7 access to frequently asked questions
  • Cloud-based customer relationship management software ensures any employee can update a customer's case file and call up information at a moment's notice.
  • Mobile apps give customers easy access to account information, purchasing options and more.

There are many more ways than these to leverage technology to ensure great customer interactions every time. This is a good start though.

More advanced manufacturing and assembly raises the stakes for build quality

A global economy means competition can come from anywhere. Consider how little competition Apple had for superlative hardware prior to a few years ago. These days, Huawei and everybody else seems to be nipping at their heels in terms of thoughtful designs.

Never underestimate the importance of build quality, however. One of the chief advantages of the arrival of 3D printing and other computer-controlled machining is the ability to create "digital twins" of everything in one's physical inventory. This ensures consistency and quality assurance across product runs. It can also help small machine shops and major manufacturers alike round up cast-off material and use it again in other processes. 3D printers today can handle a wide variety of metals and plastics and their accuracy has improved by leaps and bounds since their introduction.

Whether you're reclaiming waste and repurposing it in your assembly processes or switching from an existing fabrication process to 3D printing, all this adds up to a lot of perceived value on the customer's end. There isn't a shopper out there who doesn't like to see their favorite companies using exciting new techniques to assemble their products or make them more eco-friendly. At least one-third of shoppers prefer buying from a company that's wise about its use of resources.

New traceability requirements and the fight against counterfeit parts

Traceability and product integrity are huge challenges today throughout the world. Depending on whom you choose to believe, China either did or did not engage in an unprecedented surveillance project using "spy chips" embedded in servers used by major competing companies. The story went everywhere, but was denied by the companies that were allegedly targeted, including Apple, Amazon, Super Micro and as many as 30 others.

The truth is, counterfeit and altered parts have become such a massive problem – and such a huge potential privacy and security threat – throughout the world's supply chains that DARPA and the Pentagon are jointly developing microscopic chips to help weed out these incredibly convincing fakes. Their concern is mostly about safeguarding the integrity of American weapon systems, satellites and domestic infrastructure, but the implications for consumer-level electronics speak for themselves.

The struggle is real everywhere in the business world when it comes to protecting our reputations, our products and our customers from potential harm. This is one reason why blockchain is being hailed as a next-generation solution for ensuring the integrity of our product supply chains and for ensuring records – such as chains and changes in custody – can't be tampered with while in transit or after the fact. As an example, when IBM helped Walmart apply blockchain to the problem of tracing mangoes to their source, their system performed the task in just over two seconds.

This success was twofold: Having the technology available to create such a ledger in the first place and having the technology to call upon that ledger nearly instantly for a client or an auditor. Even better, the underlying technological concept can easily scale to any sized business to aid in traceability and quality control.

Big data and analytics will change everything else

It's pretty impressive that, in early 2019, Microsoft is running regular television advertisements about AI that can help improve crop yield. These are the stakes today – and the potential that technology makes possible.

Not every problem is as massive as feeding the world, admittedly. For even the smallest small business or the largest conglomerate, analytics technologies are helping us all do far more with far less. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is what drives all this data collection and analytical potential – and it can be your eyes and ears throughout your operation:

  • Sensors embedded in production machinery can indicate needed maintenance and prevent lapses in quality.
  • Warehouse management systems ensure incoming and outgoing freight is stowed, picked and packed accurately, thereby minimizing returns and rework.
  • Delivery trucks receive routing from a central service that takes weather, real-time traffic and future business needs into account.

With this many new tools and this much potential at your fingertips, it's definitely an exciting time to be in business. The dedication to quality assurance in our organizations can manifest in many ways, from the quality and fit and finish of our products to our attention to environmental issues to superlative customer service, all the way to how well we anticipate consumer demand throughout the year.

The competitive stakes have never been higher, but there's also a lot of help out there when you know what to look for.

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