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Anticipation, the winning card of quality

Anticipation. Anyone who deals with quality will readily confirm that this is a fundamental concept, one of primary importance. Yet is anticipation always applied correctly? And if so, is it always applied in the best possible way? Can it lead to real value that is perceived by the customer?

As already described in the article by Fabio Boeri, Quality: where customer and supplier meet, quality can be considered as a set of actions, rules, standards, measurements, etc. intended to achieve complete customer satisfaction. Quality, therefore, is not limited to analysing and solving problems found “in the field”, rather it also involves putting effort into anticipating and solving problems upstream, so that these do not affect customers. 

Quality management is applied in all company areas, including product development. And it is indeed in this area that the best anticipation strategies can be applied.

There are certain fields of industry in which quality management systems have evolved significantly over the years, particularly in R&D. One significant example is the automotive sector, in which management systems are organised in a very precise and extensive manner, and indeed represent the model to follow even for companies operating in other sectors.

This all started back in 1982, when some of the leading US automobile manufacturers joined forces to establish an association called AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group). Subsequently the major Japanese auto makers also joined the association. Its purpose is to create a common vision of the standards to be adopted, not only for the auto manufacturers themselves, but also for all the other businesses that gravitate around the automotive industry.

Based on these objectives, the association has established a series of standards, processes and tools that have been adopted by companies across the automotive industry. Some of these have become essential in R&D processes; for example, advanced product quality planning (APQP), failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), production part approval process (PPAP) and so on.

Application of these tools is needed to support a high product quality standard and to ensure compliance with the increasingly stringent regulations applied to the automotive market. Take for example emissions regulations, which require R&D departments to focus on innovation, so as to find new solutions that ensure compliance with the constraints imposed by law. This is a classic example of having a problem to solve “upstream”, trying to simulate the behaviour of the final product (in this case a car) right from the design phase. In fact, it would be unthinkable to solve the problem of “pollution” once the design has been completed, for example by measuring the car’s CO2 emissions and then making adjustments to the design.

As mentioned, these standards have been adopted by automotive companies and the businesses that are part of the industry, such as parts suppliers, spare parts manufacturers, partners, etc.

Manufacturers in other fields have also used the standards implemented by AIAG as the starting point to manage their own processes. Each of these manufacturers, however, has features that differ from those of auto makers, in terms of time to market, the technology used, the level of innovation required, etc...

The HVAC/R sector has also taken inspiration from the standards issued by AIAG. It should however be remembered that the characteristics of these products and processes differ from those of the automotive industry, and at times significantly. Time to market, for example, is usually much longer than in the automotive business, and the type of market itself is different: HVAC/R does not always address its products directly to end customers, and indeed very often the reference market is B2B (business-to-business). Other aspects, however, are closely comparable between the two sectors, for example the structure of the supplier management process.

Considering this, it is evident that many AIAG standards can be an important help for the development of specific standards, yet are also time-consuming to develop and at times require too much work for the desired goal. It has therefore become necessary to customise these tools so that efforts can be concentrated only on the aspects that provide added value to the system. Customisation of these tools allows us to not lose a customer-oriented approach, and at the same time helps make the value stream flow, through targeted and controlled processes.

The combination of the various tools available, the customisation of these based on specific cases, but above all the constant presence of quality in product development, have in recent years brought about major gains in quality for companies operating in this sector, freeing up resources for other issues, such as management of risks and opportunities, and new concepts, such as application of Industry 4.0, IoT etc...

As always... good quality to you all!



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