Defending market share using reliability management

by Mike Turner

The race for competitive edge is forcing manufacturers of technically-complex products to continually develop their products. Technological developments and ever more stringent customer and consumer needs are driving change into product designs or situations in which the product must perform. Furthermore, whereas in the past companies trading in mature economies could enjoy a price premium for technological advantage, the gaps are closing. Manufacturers in low-cost economies are matching product performance with lower cost. To maintain market position, these manufacturers are having to move processing to lower-cost locations, with attendant risks, whilst finding ways of differentiating their products through improved technology and reliability. Whatever the pressures, positive action to improve product performance and reliability is required just to maintain market position.

Swift advances in areas such as communications, electronics and Artificial Intelligence are placing demands for more frequent developments of existing product platforms.  These advances require speedy development cycles and confidence in the reliability of the design along with the build, commissioning and operational processes. In turn, regulators are raising their expectations as they seek to protect their stakeholders from the risks that these conditions can create.

In such circumstances, companies are likely to be driven to:

  • Effectively manage incremental improvements in the reliability of their products
  • Trade within an acceptable provision for the total cost of warranty claims
  • Run campaigns to address serial field failures before they escalate risk
  • Have efficient and effective processes for handling an acceptable level of customer complaints

Practical steps to follow

So what must these companies be doing well to maintain market position, control costs of field failure and protect their closely-guarded and costly-developed reputations?

  1. Know your reliability performance – it is critical that field failure data is analysed to compute the real reliability performance. Then forecast the failure rates and identify sources of failure that can then be prevented from recurring
  2. Design for Quality – the fast pace of change in designs will increase risk unless there is a data-driven, robust and efficient process for translating product developments into consistently well-made products. A measure of design maturity that can be correlated to field failure rate risk is important if management are to be effective in making decisions when launching successive product improvements. Manufacturers are increasingly seeing the value of techniques such as Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) as a way to prevent downstream failure from occurring.
  3. In turn, there needs to be a high level of quality maturity in the business to provide assurance that design changes will be implemented effectively and products will leave the factory gates in the condition that the designer intended. For this, the business needs to be measuring, monitoring and improving the levels of process capability along the entire value chain.
  4. Product managers, sales teams, designers and operations staff need to work together to manage reliability across the entire end-to-end value chain. That includes the way in which customers use (or abuse!) and maintain the product when in service, which, in turn, is aligned to the terms and conditions agreed at the point of sale.

All this points to the need for ongoing and cross-functional activity that does not come about by accident. It requires an intended and well-managed reliability improvement programme, that is resourced with the right levels of expertise and adopts leading-edge tools and techniques.

If you want to know more about how to create and run such a programme, download our white paper – click here.