How to avoid product recalls using smart technology

PRODUCT quality is under the microscope in all industries today and recalls, as the automotive manufacturer Toyota has recently showed, can be a costly and logistical nightmare. So how do you reduce the chances of a recall?

With manufacturers operating ‘lean’, where stock is manufactured as and when needed, only small quantities of spare parts are produced, which puts additional pressure on the supply chain and the IT systems that support it.

Advances in technologies like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications mean that there are plenty of IT tools available to ensure that the right quality control checks are done at the right time in the manufacturing process. They allow a wide variety of characteristics and parameters to be specified in test and inspection operations and maintain an extensive history to improve product quality and identify recurring problems.

To reduce the chances of a recall consider reviewing your IT systems and the following points; 

Does the system have a quality management module that is completely integrated into the supply chain? It will support the entire production process, enabling you to control parts in manufacturing, distribution and inventory locations, thereby reducing the chance of recall. This module should trace every type of product, including those from third party suppliers and flag any issues before the manufacturing process can continue. 

Can real time data be collected from the plant floor? In a recall incident, you’ll need to quickly isolate the contaminated. It also reduces the likelihood of data entry or translation error.

Can you control specification? A good ERP system can help by documenting specifications and testing procedures online. Process definition should be consistent across the enterprise, for all process steps that are subject to regulation, with a repeatable data collection process. 

Does the system provide good visibility across the enterprise? Consider business intelligence tools that provide dashboard reporting and drive operating improvements in the organisation. Document and case management functionality can also provide full control of your company’s documentation using easy to search tools and full traceability of products across your entire supply chain

Is the system easy-to-use? It might sound simple, but staff members are unlikely to want to use a complicated supply chain solution. Is the data going to be easily integrated across the different functions within the organisation?

What is the total cost of ownership of the supply chain solution? This should include installation, maintenance and interfaces with other systems necessary to capture and share the data.

So, if you think there are flaws in your supply chain or gaps in your quality management processes, perhaps it’s time to invest in new IT systems that can help prevent a recall happening to your business. 

After all, as Toyota has demonstrated, the alternative of losing billions of dollars and a damaged reputation is far worse.

[Rob Stummer is managing director, IFS, Australia and New Zealand.]

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