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Quality management in manufacturing significantly contributes to a manufacturer's brand and bottom line. However, persistent challenges to quality management continue to trouble small and medium-sized manufacturing companies alike. The issues, of course, vary depending on the existing management culture of the company.

Here are some issues on quality management in manufacturing that are getting in the way of increasing effectiveness:

#1: The Culture of Managing by Departments

Any existing corporate culture that was built over the years is often difficult to break up. Even in modern day manufacturing, quality management is still widely viewed as the responsibility of the department that is tasked to implement it, such as the quality control department or the quality assurance department.

For example, a CFO may claim that his department's task is chiefly to maintain the financial health of the company and that the implementation of quality management is best confined to the shop floor, plant, or factory.

Quality management professionals need to realize that quality management can't work in a silo. Any effort at quality management should be an enterprise-wide initiative that encompasses all the aspects of the organization – from the CEO to the maintenance crew.  

#2: Resistance to Technological Innovation

Innovation is not merely a shift in daily practices but the creation and adoption of new technologies to improve quality. In manufacturing, the implications of technological innovation are endless, often leading to radical changes in systems, processes, machinery requirements, and skill sets. Resistance to these changes creates barriers to effective quality management.

case study on quality management was conducted by David Sandstrom and Marcus Svanberg on EDB Card Services AS, a Norwegian company involved in the production, distribution, and implementation of card services. They interviewed the managers of all of the departments of the card company.

You'll be surprised to know that employees and middle managers tended to embrace changes, but upper management saw the changes as additional burdens on resources and time, which leads us to the next barrier to change – legacy systems.

Legacy systems can't seem to fade away because businesses want to take advantage of the remaining usefulness of their legacy resources because of the heavy investments that were made. This resistance resulted in the stagnation of the legacy-ridden steel makers in the United States, as they slowly fell behind steel firms in Germany, Japan, and other companies who were quick to adopt new technologies.

U.S. automakers also waited for decades to embrace the lean production method despite its proven benefits of increased efficiency and productivity. General Motors, even with its joint venture with Toyota at New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) in California, couldn’t find the drive to deploy lean manufacturing techniques.

#3: Upper Management's Unwillingness to Provide Additional Resources and Time

In the EDB case study, the managers generally agreed that they were more concerned with daily operations than they were with quality management, even though they recognized its importance. They contended that fixing errors and flaws take time and they would rather delegate quality responsibilities to other people so they could better focus on their assigned tasks. As a result, upper management didn't see the urgency to allocate the resources needed for optimum quality.

The LNS Research 2012-2013 Quality Management Survey corroborates the same view. More than half of the executives surveyed said that their organization considered quality management as belonging to one department, and it was not an enterprise-wide responsibility.

In an evolving manufacturing landscape, quality buy-in from workers on the shop floor is as critical as the buy-in from senior executives in the board rooms.

#4: Increasing Complexity of the Supply Chain

Evolving trends in manufacturing have forced companies to expand into new regions where they can leverage lower production costs and higher availability of raw materials and qualified manpower. Globalization has also created more complex supply chains that require supply chain management throughout the world, further complicating quality management in manufacturing.

As a major aspect of the supply chain, logistics can potentially be a nightmare if the flow and storage of raw materials, finished products, partially-finished materials, and related information between the point of origin and the point of consumption are not properly managed.

Take Charge of Your Quality Management

Issues on quality management in manufacturing will continue to unsettle the minds of manufacturers if mindsets are not changed from top to bottom. Barriers to creating a quality management strategy will exist for as long as organizations continue to harbor a silo-oriented attitude and there is resistance to change management.   

It’s time to walk away from legacy systems, and instead, embrace lean manufacturing and other effective methods of doing business.

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