How Integrated Quality Improves Your Manufacturing Operation

Integrated quality, when done correctly, plays a vital and pivotal role in enhancing any business, especially manufacturing operations. But, in fear of sounding like the archetypal head of quality, I say it shouldn’t be seen solely as something you do in manufacturing operations. In fact, integrating quality should be seen as a complete business methodology, especially if any of the processes, departments, or systems touch or affect operations and the product or services your business provides.

Eliminate valueless processes: Weed out processes that don’t add value. Use cross-functional teams and look at what changed since first launching. What was introduced and why? Are any linked to addressing a symptom from a prior step or process? Are there any links to the cost of doing business, or is it a case of “we’ve always done it this way?” Focus on activities that directly contribute to adding value to the product and quality. By doing so, you’ll optimize resource use and reduce waste.

It may not show in “on-time and in-full deliveries” or “overall equipment effectiveness” measures because of the workarounds we do to make sure those targets are met. It happens over the long term, so it’s harder to notice, and it gets to the point that it might be seen as the norm, as “that’s just the way it is.” Staff turnover, product changes, material changes, and supplier changes accumulate slowly, making it hard to realize that the rot has already set in.

When you start to see that you’re having to drop margins to maintain turnover, overheads are creeping up, and you’re budgeting for contingencies, variances, and returns, it really is time to take action.

Remember, integrated quality isn’t just about processes; it’s about people, processes, and systems. It’s a mindset that permeates every aspect of your organization. By embracing these principles, manufacturers can consistently deliver high-quality products that meet or exceed customer expectations.


Optimize material use: Efficient material use directly affects quality. Minimize waste, track material consumption, and explore innovative ways to use resources effectively. When you walk the shop floor, look for rework areas, large stocks of the same items next to assembly lines, as well as dedicated customer and supplier return areas and what’s in them.

From your perspective as a consumer—a recipient of items or services you or your business have purchased—how many times have you used these words?
• Great product, but customer service is terrible.
• Great product, but there are better and more cost-effective products out there.
• It takes ages to hear back from anyone.
• They are the cheapest on the market. What do you expect?

Now think of it from your business perspective, what you give your customers. Think of your intellectual property, your product, the service that defines your company. It’s what your customers want to buy. But, over time, as sure as the sun rises every day, changes happen. You start to see it in the board meeting where revenue figures are adjusted based on a variance in manufacturing, standard hours for the products take longer than predicted, overtime and temp workforce start creeping in on a regular basis, and customer satisfaction plateaus or starts to drop.

I don’t like or normally advocate this kind of action. I also don’t intentionally go out to buy nonconforming parts from suppliers, or plan to make and ship nonconforming parts to my customers. But to integrate quality into everything we do, or more importantly into everything that our customers pay us to do, we must take a hard look at what we do, the value we bring to our customers, and how we deliver it.

I’m sure most of us can add to these. When a product or service doesn’t meet expectations, we get annoyed. So what do we do about it? Most of us will put up with the annoyances until we either have had enough or it starts to affect the products we’re selling, at which time we go to the internet and try to find an alternative.

One example I experienced was with a very large lock manufacturer where I worked. Within the budget was an element of expected return costs (costs for premium freight, rework and remanufacture, and additional freight). The business knew it was going to pay this out every month, so it added this amount to a monthly bonus plan to the workforce. Every return and business cost was subtracted from this shared bonus—essentially, replacing return costs with bonus costs.

Another time while working at a large vehicle manufacturer in the U.K., a situation ended up with a line stop, stock in the yard that could not be dispatched, and the use of a helicopter. You can imagine the costs that hit this supplier, and the impact on their future business opportunities with us.

I can remember several examples where items that we purchased were mission critical to a deadline. Following a purchase “mishap,” I ended up with the product in the trunk of my car, driving to the supplier and having an “interesting” conversation with the divisional president.

Yes, this was an effective strategy to give you several hundred additional eyes within the business to ensure the product going to the customer was as it should be. And yes, it did dramatically reduce returns and complaints. But at what cost? The issues were still there, but now hidden by employees addressing the issues before the product shipped to ensure they earned their bonus. You now have a fixed (but budgeted) cost affecting your bottom line regardless of your manufacturing throughput.

A point to note here is that this additional cost can start to make you less competitive. It can erode your margins, limit your ability to be flexible in times of need, and force the business to rely on the qualified eyes of your workforce to produce quality parts. Thus, if you experience a change in your workforce, quality defects start to rise. This poses a massive risk to any business expansion, as well as product quality and reliability.

Review your workflows: Begin by assessing your existing processes. Identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies. When were they last reviewed or challenged? Are there areas where quality can be improved based on what we know vs. what we didn’t know when they were first created? Is there a single point of failure? How robust are your workflows? Are they easy to deviate from? Streamline workflows to eliminate unnecessary steps and enhance overall efficiency.

In another business, I employed a dispatch inspector whose sole responsibility was to ensure that the product leaving the business was as described in the catalog (if only my burger looked as advertised). His responsibility was to track back everything that went wrong to who made the parts and highlight these in the morning meeting every day. Yes, operations took a massive hit on productivity in the short term. But now we had a list of repeat issues, repeat offenders, etc., which quickly led to better training, better tooling, better controls, eliminating several waste processes, and more accurate material allocation. Collecting these data gave us the justification for making these changes, because otherwise the issues were just seen as the norm.

Within a short but painful period of time, customer satisfaction improved, orders started increasing, margins started to increase, and a customer actually phoned me for nothing other than to congratulate me on how much better we had become, moving from worst to best supplier.

Establish productivity and quality goals: Set clear objectives for both productivity and quality. These goals should align with customer expectations and business requirements. Regularly monitor progress and make necessary adjustments. Make these clearly visible throughout the organization and regularly celebrate key achievements.

Let’s explore five key ways that integrated quality helps you achieve this.

There is a direct correlation between the timescale and the intrinsic value of the product or service to you or your business.

Improve employee training: Well-trained employees are essential for maintaining quality standards. Regular training ensures that everyone understands their roles, follows best practices, and contributes to a culture of quality.

Thankfully, these experiences are rare because we don’t intentionally purchase bad parts or terrible service. But you can appreciate the perspective these events give to you as a customer.