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December 14, 2022

Once upon a time, it was easier. For decades, supply chains stabilized globally, allowing companies to source components confidently and manage their supply chain plans with Lean methodology. And while supply chain complexity increased during this time, the ability to span the globe and know their materials would arrive on time.

Quality management benefitted from this false sense of security too. Even though its function was always a front-line skirmish against human error, machine condition, and “on the ground” reality, stable supply chains meant that there were things they didn’t have to contend with.

The Impact of Supply Chain on Quality

As global events like trade wars and COVID-19 impacted every other aspect of manufacturing, quality management systems were also thrown for a loop. In calmer times, the non-existence of such events meant that quality teams could focus on the machines in front of them. But suddenly, they had to look behind them at uncertain incoming material and inputs to expand their diligence.

There are several ways disruptive supply chains hit quality management systems across industries:


As multiple disruptions hit across the globe, shortages became a significant concern. Without a stable supply, first-quality units took on even greater importance. And while any sound quality management system always seeks to produce perfect units, these disruptions pressured quality managers to up their game.

The result was a push for more proactive intervention. By identifying and addressing quality issues as or before they occurred, scarce material could be put into first-quality units. But the problem was that human intervention could only see and catch so much before being overwhelmed; they needed faster and more accurate methods.

Product Substitutions

The advent of shortages generated a search for product substitutions. While any decent quality management system software has provisions for substitutions, the speed and frequency of substitutions meant that a system could be overwhelmed with changes not acknowledged or made on time.

This new reality was compounded by the fact that many quality management systems, while using software for data, often had a significant manual component, such as data collection, data entry, error-prone data, omissions, and more.

With more of the team redirected to validating substitutions, fewer employees were available to properly manage the older manual components of the system. This gap created, at best, a caterpillar effect and drove up wait times.

At worst, it meant an increase in poor quality slipping through as overworked staff missed what once was caught.

Change Management

A lack of materials and the need for rapid substitutions meant that fast and accurate changes were needed across the factory. Poor change management led to a potential skewing of off-spec goods as manual document tracking and strained staffing resources couldn’t move changes through the old system fast enough.

A missed approval for a new substitute might mean an idle machine that didn’t need to sit. Or an outdated document that acted as approval for old material might be misinterpreted as approval for a new substitute that had yet to be given. The same problems arose for design changes because of the need to exclude material from a product to overcome a shortage.

From Overwhelmed System to Purpose-Built Software

More than anything else, disruption has a way of exposing weaknesses and flaws in a system. And with the size and velocity of disruption today, the phrase turns from “once upon a time it was easier” to “once upon a time it was easier…until it wasn’t.”

The way forward is digital with a quality management system that can combine with a robust supply chain planning solution. Add in data-driven analytics from Production Monitoring, MES, and other smart manufacturing software, and you’re on the way to automating processes while allowing quality teams to focus on managing the new reality. Further, a full smart manufacturing platform can help automate document approval, update BOMs, notify staff of incoming material, update designs, and more - while digitally monitoring and measuring quality at the machine level.

Quality systems today require a smart manufacturing platform to keep from being overwhelmed. By relying on data-driven actionable insights, teams can confidently ride the next wave of disruption.

If your quality team is ready to turn “once upon a time” into “happily ever after,” let us show you how in this 2-minute demo on YouTube.

About the Author

Plex Team

Plex Systems, Inc., a Rockwell Automation company, is the leader in cloud-delivered smart manufacturing solutions, empowering the world’s manufacturers to make awesome products. Our platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. The Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes solutions for manufacturing execution (MES), ERP, quality, supply chain planning and management, Industrial IoT and analytics to connect people, systems, machines, and supply chains, enabling them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.