Manufacturers shoulder a heavy burden of public trust. While consumers may not always know their names, every product they buy from a retailer started its life with a manufacturer. While they may blame the retailer for a faulty product, often the fault traces back to the manufacturer.
Faulty products may not just frustrate consumers—they can actually harm consumers, especially in industries like pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacture, which is why these industries are so heavily regulated. Faulty products in other classes could also cause electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, tip-over injuries, and other potentially fatal safety hazards.
In a global economy, trust in manufacturing is critical. Manufacturing forms the backbone of the wholesale and retail sectors, and they in turn are backbones of the world economy. If consumers, wholesalers, and retailers lose trust in their manufacturers, supply chains could break down and consumers could be deprived of the products they want or need.
On the other hand, manufacturers stand to benefit greatly from greater-than-ever consumer demand—if they invest in consumer trust and quality assurance.
Here are three ways manufacturers can protect consumers, and in doing so stand above the pack amid competitors.
1. Automate Data Collection
All factories must keep meticulous track of data to maintain safe and effective operations. Factory floors, fluid tanks, and machine parts must maintain optimal temperatures, pressures, voltage, even humidity to produce products to optimal specifications.
The only way to know whether these conditions are being maintained is to measure them and keep records of the measurements. Highly-regulated industries like pharma and medical-device manufacture may be required to furnish those data records to the relevant regulatory body to prove compliance and stay in business.
When those data records are audited, regulators will evaluate that data for the integrity of that data, meaning the data must have been recorded in a way that can be trusted. A common standard for data integrity is the ALCOA standard:
- Attributable. Able to be traced to the responsible person or party who recorded the data, along with where and when the data was recorded.
- Legible. Able to be read and properly interpreted.
- Contemporaneous. Data recorded at the time the measurement was taken, not substantially later.
- Original. Data recorded from the primary source in which it was recorded.
- Accurate. Data that can be counted on to be correct.
Failures in ALCOA or other data integrity standards may lead to the assessment that the data has been corrupted and can’t be trusted—meaning conditions could have been unsafe or non-compliant, compromising the product’s integrity and possibly putting public safety at risk.
Older methods of data recording, which required humans to manually write down or input data, are outdated and deeply subject to human error. As a matter of consumer safety, manufacturing companies should invest in automated digital data recording.
Data recorded in this way meets all the ALCOA standards easily, without expending man-hours or introducing more human error into the quality-assurance equation.
2. Establish a Thorough IQ OQ PQ Plan
Quality assurance isn’t something that just falls into place. It has to be meticulously planned for and possibly outsourced or assigned to an on-site team to build a fleshed-out quality management system (QMS).
One of the most important QMS a manufacturer can implement is a thorough “IQ OQ PQ plan.” This type of QMS addresses three critical points of potential failure, one or more of which may get overlooked in a less-thorough QMS, leaving the manufacturer vulnerable to breakdowns in quality.
The three components of IQ OQ PQ break down as follows:
- Installation Qualification. Verifying that components are installed correctly.
- Operational Qualification. Verifying that components function properly under test conditions.
- Performance Qualification. Verifying that components function properly under actual working conditions.
As you can see, each step of IQ OQ PQ feeds into the next, giving error opportunities to be exposed before they might compromise operations and, unknowingly, compromise product quality.
As noted in this article from Dickson, IQ OQ PQ is used frequently in heavily-regulated industries, and also in instances where product quality could have an impact on consumer safety.
Proper IQ OQ PQ is labor- and time-intensive but is important to embrace, especially for manufacturers in heavily-regulated industries. It may be most economical to outsource the development of this QMS to quality-assurance professionals.
3. Invest in Data Security
Cybercrime is a threat to every individual and business on the planet. Major data breaches at companies like Equifax, Target, and Home Depot have exposed millions of bytes of private consumer information that can be used to commit credit card fraud, identity theft, and other crimes on a mass scale.
Existing primarily in the real world rather than the digital world, manufacturers are sometimes slow adopters of new tech. Because manufacturers do not always have the kind of cyber architecture that retailers have, cyber defenses may go by the wayside.
Some manufacturers may not even think they need to bother. At the very least, they don’t see it as a threat to consumer confidence, because they don’t deal with consumers directly—only wholesalers and retailers.
If a manufacturer becomes a victim of cybercrime, however, consumer data can still be compromised indirectly. After all, the manufacturer may not deal with consumers, but the wholesalers and retailers do. If data thieves find a backdoor into retailers’ systems through confidential data hacked from a manufacturer, consumer information like addresses, email addresses, even credit card numbers could be exposed, hurting consumer confidence in the entire supply chain. The ripple effects extend back to the manufacturer.
Manufacturers should not scrimp on up-to-date encryption, firewalls, security controls, and employee training on social-engineering techniques like phishing. This kind of attention to detail will have the added benefit of guarding the intellectual property a manufacturer may own or be entrusted with.
With global supply chains facing major changes, the manufacturers that succeed will ultimately be the ones that win retailer and consumer confidence. Implementing systems of consumer protection is an investment in the reputation and longevity of the entire manufacturing operation, arming it to stand heads and shoulders above competitors.