By Shalini Singh
Maybe South Africans need to rethink the traditional motor vehicle. Tesla is mooted as the leading car manufacturer this year.
Their success is said to be attributed to their foresight and technology-driven mandate which has left traditional car manufacturers years behind. Is this an indication that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here to stay?
The first three industrial revolutions progressed from mechanical and self-inspection to mass production, quality control and inspection and then to information technology and standardisation.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution boasts automation, cybersystems and cloud computing. Structural, computational and mathematical modelling will streamline a better understanding of the products and enable predictive maintenance of industrial activities and products to manage potential failures and down time.
Using these scientific and technology-driven methods will be the new and intelligent way of doing things – to fast-track industrial practice, product processing and decision-making at an accelerated pace when compared with traditional practice.
It is reasonable to agree that the features of this revolution are dynamic and demanding. It is evident from recent news that organisations that do not adapt quickly to the platforms of practice dictated by this revolution will be left behind and/or may become redundant.
Throughout the 1900s and through the first three industrial revolutions, the discipline of quality management and quality engineering with its primary focus on standardisation, unity of purpose and conformity has led local and global organisations to harmonise practice and reduction in variability while maintaining profit, and has demonstrated the flexibility to manoeuvre organisations through these changing revolutions and allow them to thrive in those changing landscapes.
Quality has been at the forefront in providing the infrastructure, expertise, equipment, training and communication mechanisms for producing sound practices.
Concomitantly, it has driven countries and industries from survival to riches, turning them into superpowers in the manufacturing fraternity. Quality experts propose a solution that they say can be useful in the Fourth Industrial Revolution with its cybersystems and product and process design with zero waste.
Quality is immersed in systems thinking and problem-solving, and provides a safe and systematic way to factual decision-making by co-ordinating and interacting accurate and reliable data while fostering a culture of organisational learning and leadership acceptance.
Moreover, quality planning, quality control and quality assurance deliver a smart and customised milieu to efficiently and effectively formalise and standardise practice to an agreed way to ensure that customer requirements are being achieved consistently while continuously achieving organisational competitiveness.
This not only changes industrial practice, but will also change the traditional role of the quality practitioner from inspection to discovery and knowledge development.
Adherence to selected management systems such as ISO 9001 and its risk management philosophy, ISO 14001 and environmental considerations and ISO 450001 with occupational safety will harmonise practice between organisations and countries and facilitate the communication between them to share vital information, thereby establishing more acceptance between countries, regulatory bodies, customers and other stakeholders.
Quality management and quality engineering in the modern world, especially in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will find itself using digital platforms and artificial intelligence to connect man and machine, leading to smart manufacturing at different levels of maturity.
Evaluation of the products will enable an understanding of the sufficiency of measurement, measurement uncertainty, long- and short-term stability, traceability and appropriate handling and control of modern products.
Furthermore, it will formalise reliable and reproducible test analysis/methods and reference materials and take cognisance of any biases.
Survival of an organisation will depend on the speed at which it will learn and familiarise itself with data handling, data control and data sharing. Transparency in data handling and data control within the organisation will lead to trust.
This will not only improve performance but will enable data sharing between organisations, counterparts, supplier chains and customers towards standardising practice.
Consequently, this will lead to advancements in the quality of decision-making and the speed at which decisions, inspired by data, unfold potential continuous improvement and new business models.
Besides, there will be a better understanding of the organisation’s positive and negative consequences and the ability to manage them in a structured fashion, yielding acceptance from consumer and advocacy groups.
The benefits of this discipline remain underestimated and underutilised, yet it can be appreciated that quality management, quality engineering and the changing role of the quality practitioner are ideal to drive this process.
* Singh is attached to the Department of Operations and Quality Management at Durban University of Technology. This piece emerges from a Radla (Research and Doctoral Leadership Academy) workshop. Singh writes in her personal capacity.
** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.