I hear voices... the voices of quality

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Do you hear voices? I sure hope so. I’m not talking about the ones associated with psychiatric disorders or medical conditions, but the voices of quality. To compare the two for a just a moment, the medical description from HealthGrades explains that auditory hallucinations can be pleasant or threatening and are sometimes a symptom of serious, and even life-threatening, conditions. They say to “Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for a condition associated with hearing voices.” While hearing voices in your head is very serious and should be treated, so too are the voices of quality in the marketplace. They too may be pleasant or threatening and are sometimes the symptom of serious, and even life-threatening conditions to your business. I urge every manufacturer that is not hearing the voices of quality to seek immediate care!

The voices of quality that I’m referring to include:

  • Voice of the process
  • Voice of the customer
  • Voice of the product

To meet quality expectations in today’s market, leading manufacturers are looking to view quality more holistically. And to do that, they must be able to leverage, across their organization, these voices of quality. Let’s examine each of these three voices in more detail.

Voice of the Process

Voice of the ProcessThe voice of the process tells us what’s happening within the production facility with respect to machine performance, yield, and asset efficiency. It includes statistical process control techniques and leveraging data from sources such as data historians, SCADA, and manufacturing execution systems. Continued investments in sensor technology and automation are driving higher volumes at faster rates where in flight analytics represent new opportunities to protect the integrity of the process output. This voice of quality can be your process beacon ensuring that you’re alerted to potential defects. The 1-10-100 rule (developed by G.H. Loabovitz and Y. Chang) suggests that it’s 100 times more expensive to fix a problem once it makes its way into the customer’s hands. It’s critical then that production engineers have access to integrated data and powerful analytics to identify potential issues, their causes, and fix them quickly so that customer impact is eliminated and disruptions to production, scrap, and rework are minimized.

Voice of the Product

The voice of the product includes engineering tests, manufacturing audits, warranty claims, and embedded sensors.  As a traditional quality focus, this voice continues to gain in importance as more and more machines and products take advantage of sensors and smart technologies. Consider the Smart-Watch, Smart-Appliance, Connected Car, and other connected devices that can send geo, environmental, and performance information to intersect with other event information such as warranty claims and engineering tests. This new source of information can be used to build predictive models to alert the user of maintenance needs.

Additionally, this same data can be used to determine usage profiles for design considerations or even cross-sell/up-sell opportunities. The voice of product can tell us so much and truly help companies differentiate their design and service operations.

Voice of the Customer

Voice of the CustomerAnd finally, the rise of the voice of the customer is one of the most significant changes relating to Quality. Consumers have more brand choices. Reliability is rarely a differentiator. Products are richer in content and features, and the user experience is paramount. The voice of the customer is an incredibly rich source of information that includes everything from survey responses, comments in call center notes, to posts on blogs and social networking sites. This is where customers share their perception of product quality as well as their assessment of its value. But the variety of formats, sources, and reliability presents a challenge to efficiently find value from some potentially misleading signals. Analytics helps overcome this challenge and is an important approach to helping understand what’s relevant and what’s noise. Case in point, Lenovo combines internal product and call-center text data with social and other on-line data to discover quality issues more quickly and understand customer desires more thoroughly.

Listen to the Voices

There is much to be learned from the voices of quality. But without the right systems, processes, and tools, an organization becomes overwhelmed in noise. These three voices of quality represent a big data challenge. To be effective, companies must be able to not only handle the large volumes of data, but effectively manage the variety seen in customer and technician comments. They must also be able to consume the velocity to which some of this data is available, particularly social and sensor data. And these voices need to be shared amongst the organization.

To find the true signals from all the noise, analytics are critical. Quality analytics identify sources of variation and defects, drive data driven root cause analysis, and ensures fixes are in fact, fixing the problems.

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About Author

Tom Roehm

Senior Business Director

Thomas Roehm is the Senior Director of the Global Industry Practices for SAS Institute, the world’s leader in business analytics solutions. In this role he leads the Business Development, Marketing, and Industry Consulting for all of SAS' strategic industries. Throughout his career, he has been instrumental in leading many internal and customer driven enterprise wide projects.

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