In previous articles, we introduced Quality 4.0, the pursuit of performance excellence as an integral part of an organization’s digital transformation. It’s one aspect of Industry 4.0 transformation towards intelligent automation: smart, hyperconnected(*) agents deployed in environments where humans and machines cooperate and leverage data to achieve shared goals.
Automation is a spectrum: an operator can specify a process that a computer or intelligent agent executes, the computer can make decisions for an operator to approve or adjust, or the computer can make and execute all decisions. Similarly, machine intelligence is a spectrum: an algorithm can provide advice, take action with approvals or adjustments, or take action on its own. We have to decide what value is generated when we introduce various degrees of intelligence and automation in our organizations.
How can Quality 4.0 help your organization? How can you improve the performance of your people, projects, products, and entire organizations by implementing technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation, and blockchain?
A value proposition is a statement that explains what benefits a product or activity will deliver. Quality 4.0 initiatives have these kinds of value propositions:
Augment (or improve upon) human intelligence
Increase the speed and quality of decision-making
Improve transparency, traceability, and auditability
Anticipate changes, reveal biases, and adapt to new circumstances and knowledge
Evolve relationships and organizational boundaries to reveal opportunities for continuous improvement and new business models
Learn how to learn; cultivate self-awareness and other-awareness as a skill
Quality 4.0 initiatives add intelligence to monitoring and managing operations – for example, predictive maintenance can help you anticipate equipment failures and proactively reduce downtime. They can help you assess supply chain risk on an ongoing basis, or help you decide whether to take corrective action. They can also improve help you improve cybersecurity: documenting and benchmarking processes can provide a basis for detecting anomalies, and understanding expected performance can help you detect potential attacks.
(*) Hyperconnected = (nearly) always on, (nearly) always accessible.
My first post of 2018 addresses an idea that’s just starting to gain traction – one you’ll hear a lot more about from me soon: Quality 4.0. It’s not a fad or trend, but a reminder that the business environment is changing, and that performance excellence in the future will depend on how well you adapt, change, and transform in response.
Although we started building community around this concept at the ASQ Quality 4.0 Summits on Disruption, Innovation, and Change in 2017 and 2018, the truly revolutionary work is yet to come.
The term “Quality 4.0” comes from “Industry 4.0” – the “fourth industrial revolution” originally addressed at the Hannover (Germany) Fair in 2011. That meeting emphasized the increasing intelligence and interconnectedness in “smart” manufacturing systems, and reflected on the newest technological innovations in historical context.
The Industrial Revolutions
In the first industrial revolution (late 1700’s), steam and water power made it possible for production facilities to scale up and expanded the potential locations for production.
By the late 1800’s, the discovery of electricity and development of associated infrastructure enabled the development of machines for mass production. In the US, the expansion of railways made it easier to obtain supplies and deliver finished goods. The availability of power also sparked a renaissance in computing, and digital computing emerged from its analog ancestor.
The third industrial revolution came at the end of the 1960’s, with the invention of the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). This made it possible to automate processes like filling and reloading tanks, turning engines on and off, and controlling sequences of events based on changing conditions.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Although the growth and expansion of the internet accelerated innovation in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, we are just now poised for another industrial revolution. What’s changing?
Production & Availability of Information: More information is available because people and devices are producing it at greater rates than ever before. Falling costs of enabling technologies like sensors and actuators are catalyzing innovation in these areas.
Connectivity: In many cases, and from many locations, that information is instantly accessible over the internet. Improved network infrastructure is expanding the extent of connectivity, making it more widely available and more robust. (And unlike the 80’s and 90’s, there are far fewer communications protocols that are commonly encountered so it’s a lot easier to get one device to talk to another device on your network.)
Intelligent Processing: Affordable computing capabilities (and computing power!) are available to process that information so it can be incorporated into decision making. High-performance software libraries for advanced processing and visualization of data are easy to find, and easy to use. (In the past, we had to write our own… now we can use open-source solutions that are battle tested.
New Modes of Interaction: The way in which we can acquire and interact with information are also changing, in particular through new interfaces like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), which expand possibilities for training and navigating a hybrid physical-digital environment with greater ease.
New Modes of Production: 3D printing, nanotechnology, and gene editing (CRISPR) are poised to change the nature and means of production in several industries. Technologies for enhancing human performance (e.g. exoskeletons, brain-computer interfaces, and even autonomous vehicles) will also open up new mechanisms for innovation in production. (Roco & Bainbridge (2002) describe many of these, and their prescience is remarkable.) New technologies like blockchain have the potential to change the nature of production as well, by challenging ingrained perceptions of trust, control, consensus, and value.
The fourth industrial revolution is one of intelligence: smart, hyperconnected cyber-physical systems that help humans and machines cooperate to achieved shared goals, and use data to generate value.
Enabling Technologies are Physical, Digital, and Biological
These enabling technologies include:
Information (Generate & Share)
Affordable Sensors and Actuators
Big Data infrastructure (e.g. MapReduce, Hadoop, NoSQL databases)
IPv6 Addresses (which expand the number of devices that can be put online)
Internet of Things (IoT)
Machine Learning (incl. Deep Learning)
Augmented Reality (AR)
Mixed Reality (MR)
Virtual Reality (VR)
Diminished Reality (DR)
Automated (Software) Code Generation
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Today’s quality profession was born during the middle of the second industrial revolution, when methods were needed to ensure that assembly lines ran smoothly – that they produced artifacts to specifications, that the workers knew how to engage in the process, and that costs were controlled. As industrial production matured, those methods grew to encompass the design of processes which were built to produce to specifications. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, organizations in the US started to recognize the importance of human capabilities and active engagement in quality as essential, and TQM, Lean, and Six Sigma gained in popularity.
How will these methods evolve in an adaptive, intelligent environment? The question is largely still open, and that’s the essence of Quality 4.0.