The past tends to repeat itself. For the keen observer and the armchair historian, this presents an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating them.  

The introduction of electricity in manufacturing in the 1890s marked the Second Industrial Revolution. It was a great success and enabled many things that were not thought to be possible just a few years before. 

But it did not start as an instant success. On the contrary, the initial introduction was quite disappointing. 

Let us look at why this was the case.  

The Beginning 

Before the introduction of electricity, manufacturing machinery was powered by steam. The way steam power worked was that a large turbine drove revolutions in an axis called a steam line. Machines could be linked and powered along this line using the energy transferred through this steam line.  

The design of entire manufacturing facilities was mandated by the design constraints of the technology used. 

Electricity was sold as the next great thing that would revolutionize the manufacturing facility. So naturally, people started to replace the power source, disconnecting the steam lines and connecting them to the power grid instead. Surprisingly though, there were no productivity gains that could be seen after the change.  

Why was that the case?  

Let’s look at why electricity is better than steam power: 

  • It is more efficient in delivering power 
  • It does not rely on a steam line 
  • It can be deployed everywhere 

Electricity is not a new power source but a better and more efficient way of delivering power. 

So, when initially deploying electricity in the factories and just replacing the source of power, they only took advantage of the first point. And that was not easy to measure. But the real benefits came from having the flexibility of having power anywhere, therefore, allowing the re-thinking and re-designing of processes with the new technology in mind. In this case, being able to put steps in a sequence and orientation that makes sense for the manufacturing of the product and not being restricted to a linear layout along a steam line led to massive improvements in productivity.  

Applying These Lessons to Quality 4.0

The goal of a quality 4.0 transformation is to revolutionize the way quality is managed and maintained using modern technology. It is to reduce as much friction and waste as possible and make all processes effective and efficient. Finally, it is about doing more with less and being able to refocus the essential resources to work on complex critical tasks. 

This can be achieved by deploying a digital ecosystem and leveraging digital tools. When looking at revolutionizing our quality systems, we need to avoid repeating past errors and not look to lift and shift our processes into a new technology or, even worse, bend the latest technology to fit our existing operations. Instead, we should re-think and redesign our processes with the new technology. Even if changing existing and working methods is always a bit scary and may appear time-consuming at first glance, it will pay off in the long run as it will enable us to take full advantage of new technologies. 

Looking for more insights into Quality 4.0? I’d like to invite you to download the white paper “Shaping Proactive Quality in Life Sciences” to learn why digital technology is a critical enabler in the industry.