By Claire Price at QMS International, one of the UK’s leading ISO certification bodies.
Quality and consistency have always been benchmarks of good business in the manufacturing and engineering sectors, but after the turmoil brought by COVID-19 they have become even more crucial.
COVID-19 brought widespread disruption – and the manufacturing and engineering sectors were not immune.
Many businesses within these sectors had to temporarily down tools; at the height of lockdown, the Engineering Insights Dashboard from Engineering UK revealed that nearly a quarter (24%) of engineering businesses paused their work. This means that many businesses have faced, or are now facing, the reality of re-starting production on machinery that has been out of use with workforces that may still be limited due to ongoing social distancing.
Supply chains have also been badly damaged. According to Engineering UK, one-fifth of engineering businesses who normally export and import products have ceased to do so. This means that many businesses are having to establish new supply chains, which are inevitably struggling with demand. This has resulted in higher prices and longer delivery times.
Temporary closures and supply issues are also affecting contractors for both sectors. A backlog of work means contractors are stretched thin and projects are suffering with ongoing delays.
These issues are being compounded by a recent uptick in activity.
According to the latest HIS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index for April 2021, the UK’s manufacturing activity grew at its fastest rate since 1994, when the index hit a record high.
The results of the latest Manufacturing Barometer carried out by SWMAS and the MGP also shows that two-thirds of SME manufacturers expect to increase sales between now and October, while 48% of respondents believe that they will return to, or even exceed, their pre-COVID position within the next three months.
With supply chains under pressure, the cost of materials rising, ongoing COVID restrictions in the workplace and a desperate need for more trained staff, ensuring that quality and consistency is maintained is even more important – and even more difficult.
Maintaining quality in a post-COVID world
To combat these issues, manufacturers and engineering companies need the right processes in place to ensure they get it right first time, every time.
With these processes in place, these businesses can ensure that their output remains at a consistent quality, that their suppliers are carefully chosen based on suitability and availability, and that the most talented candidates are attracted to their company to work.
It can even put businesses in the right place to explore new markets and attract new business in the post-COVID world.
One way of ensuring that quality is maintained throughout the business, in every operation, is by implementing a quality management system such as ISO 9001.
Quality management systems create a robust framework of processes for leadership, planning, support, operation, and monitoring and improvement to maintain and develop quality and customer satisfaction.
This helps businesses to:
- Reduce errors
- Improve customer retention
- Increase efficiency for lower costs
- Improve supplier relations
- Create a more factual approach to decision-making
- Boost employee morale
By implementing a renowned quality management system such as ISO 9001, business can also improve the reputation of the company, attracting both new business and the best talent.
The management system can also help to keep your staff safe in a COVID-secure workplace. One of ISO 9001’s requirements focuses on the environment for operations. This means you need to have the right processes in place to keep your staff safe and productive.
Risks and opportunities
Quality management systems also develop risk-based thinking, which can help businesses to cope with uncertainty – something that has become increasingly important in the wake of the pandemic.
ISO 9001’s Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle can help manufacturers and engineering businesses to identify risks, develop strategies to deal with them, monitor and evaluate the results, and create improvements for even stronger performance.
Quality management systems can also highlight new opportunities and give manufacturers and engineering companies added clout when it comes to exploring new business in the post-pandemic world.
During the pandemic, Efinity Labs recognised the importance of implementing best practice processes to produce quality products and enter the new market of alcohol sanitiser. They therefore went on to implement ISO 9001.
By doing this, they have gained traction in other previously unexplored markets, such as the cosmetics sector. “The ISO is very much working in our favour at the moment,” reported Efinity Labs’ Operations Director. “All the new markets we are looking at will ensure that we will be busy.” Indeed, the company estimates that their new business will increase their turnover by three or four-fold.