In this installment of our series dedicated to Quality 4.0, we continue our look at some of the practical applications of Quality 4.0 methods in different industries. With supply chain being a prominent concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, the tools of Quality 4.0 promise to alleviate many of the stresses that currently plague industries around the world and to improve the future of global supply networks.
Supply chains, particularly those that stretch across international boundaries, are extraordinarily complex systems. They involve millions of products moving across multiple touchpoints. Every participant contributes to the goals of maximizing efficiency, productivity, and profit while minimizing damage, risk, and threats to safety.
Logistics examines how producers, inspectors, and distributors are interconnected and can complement one another to increase overall system performance. This contrasts with the typical approach taken inside of an organization, in which individual functions pursue their own agendas and priorities, often at the expense of system performance. (Gardner, 2018) While organizations are hierarchical, logistics by its nature is more horizontal.
Logistics 4.0 uses Industry 4.0 technologies to create flexible supply chains with horizontal integration both within organizations and between suppliers. These adaptable systems make it possible to customize products to suit specific customer requirements, create stronger customer relationships, and lower overall production costs. (Barreto et al, 2017) The goal of Logistics 4.0 is not to eliminate the role of people in the supply chain. Rather, the harmonious interplay of people, processes, and tools can be harnessed to create faster and more efficient supply chains that eliminate error and provide status information in real time. Logistics 4.0 can also create efficiency in the supply chain, reduce costs through resource planning, promote integration in warehouse and transportation management systems, and ensure information security. (Barreto, 2017)
Healthcare supply chains provide a particularly good example of the challenges Logistics 4.0 can meet. In healthcare, minor changes in one area of the multiple interdependent supply chains can create significant consequences across the entire system. This can have an impact on patient care, which often requires high levels of service customization.
The ambiguity of the supply chain is further complicated by the frequently shifting landscape of policy, finances, insurance, and the advancing field of medical knowledge. A culture of autonomy can also hinder hand-offs between specialists during different stages of patient treatment. While healthcare providers use process workarounds to overcome these difficulties, these factors can present quality challenges that prevent system optimization and put patients at risk. (Gardner, 2018) Logistics 4.0 therefore uses Industry 4.0 methods and technologies to help operators make better decisions across the entire supply chain to optimize patient care, create holistic solutions, and predictively identify and mitigate risk.
Gardner et al (2018) propose a quality crossroads conceptual framework in which critical decision points along the supply chain intersect with one another. This framework reflects the interdependent nature of quality decisions along the entire supply chain and facilitates greater overall awareness of the healthcare logistics system. The crossroads framework is an excellent representation of Logistics 4.0 as applied to healthcare, in which information flows bi-directionally, incorporating the entire supply chain and its participants, including patients as co-producers. The bi-directional nature of the framework also suggests that the system is considered optimal not only for its outcomes but for the efficiency of its processes.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll look at the application of Quality 4.0 to health and safety.
Barreto, L., Amaral, A., & Pereira, T. (2017). Industry 4.0 implications in logistics: an overview. Procedia Manufacturing, 13, 1245-1252.
Gardner, J. W., Linderman, K. W., & McFadden, K. L. (2018). Managing quality crossroads in healthcare: An integrative supply chain perspective. Quality Management Journal, 25(1), 2-17.