A global survey reveals that few companies have defined a detailed strategy or launched an implementation program

BOSTON—Reductions in defect rates and costs related to poor quality are benefits of Quality 4.0—the application of Industry 4.0’s advanced digital technologies to enhance quality management. Participants in a recent global survey of manufacturing companies recognize the importance of the approach at all stages of the value chain.

But although nearly  two-thirds of manufacturers said they believe that Quality 4.0 will significantly affect their operation within five years, a scant 16 percent say that their company has begun implementing Quality 4.0. Only 20 percent say that their company has started to plan for implementation, and 63 percent have not even reached the planning stage yet. European companies are off to a faster start: 21 percent have started to adopt, compared with only 6 percent of U.S. companies.

These findings, from a global survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in collaboration with ASQ and German Association for Quality (DGQ), are discussed in the report “Quality 4.0 Takes More Than Technology.”

The survey sought to evaluate participants’ views on Quality 4.0 as it exists today and as it will exist in 2024, to understand the most important use cases, and to identify major challenges and skills needed to implement a transformation. It was conducted as part of a broader study that included interviews with numerous experts to gain insight into industry benchmarks, the impact of use cases, and best practices.

The study found that technology is only one piece in a broader quality transformation that must also focus on people and skills.

“Survey participants identified a shortage of skills as the main impediment to adoption,” said David Ryeson, a BCG partner and co-author of the report, in a release from BCG. “Notably, participants regard soft skills—such as change management, communication, and teaming—as the most critical skills for success, even as they acknowledge the need to improve their analytics and big data skills.”

The survey’s findings revealed a diverse set of opportunities and challenges. Survey participants acknowledge the importance of Quality 4.0 at all stages of the value chain but see manufacturing and R&D as the areas that will benefit most. They also understand the opportunity to capture quality-related improvements in value chain steps traditionally seen as lying outside the scope of the quality function, such as logistics and sales.

Participants pointed to predictive analytics, sensors and tracking, and electronic feedback loops as the most important technologies for driving impact. More than 60 percent said that predictive analytics will significantly affect quality performance and the bottom line within five years, compared with only 16 percent who cited a significant impact today.

According to BCG, the survey responses to skills-related questions reveal widespread unreadiness for implementation. Only one-third of participants said that they understand how digitization will change quality management roles and skills, and even fewer believe that their company has the right people in place to run a Quality 4.0 initiative (17 percent) or has a clear strategy for attracting Quality 4.0 talent (5 percent).

Many organizations lack the basic prerequisites of a quality-focused culture. Although 57 percent of participants said that quality initiatives are part of their executive-level strategy, only 27 percent strongly believe that their company has clearly articulated its quality goals and objectives to all layers of the organization. Only 14 percent of participants believe that individuals across the organization understand their roles in achieving quality goals.

“Taken together, the findings point to the need for companies to take a multifaceted approach to Quality 4.0 adoption that addresses the full range of strategic, cultural, and technological issues,” said Bill Brody, a market research manager at ASQ.

Both frontrunners (companies that have started to implement Quality 4.0) and followers (all others) cited a shortage of digital skills and talent as the number one challenge they face. For frontrunners, the next three most important challenges involve technology and data. In contrast, followers point to strategic and cultural challenges.

These differences in appraisal suggest that technology- and data-related challenges become more visible to companies as they proceed with implementation. Meanwhile, roadblocks related to strategy and culture discourage followers from even pursuing implementation—a reflection of the importance of establishing a strategic roadmap and a quality-centered culture as enablers of technological transformation.

“Companies that master the challenges will be rewarded not only with lower defect and failure rates but also with competitive advantage in the form of higher customer satisfaction and improved operational efficiency,” said Benedikt Sommerhoff, an innovation manager at DGQ.

Subscribe Now

Design-2-Part Magazine

Get the manufacturing industry news and features you need for free in a format you like.

FREE Print, Digital, or Both »

You have Successfully Subscribed!