Nearly two-thirds of manufacturers surveyed believe that Quality 4.0 – the application of Industry 4.0's advanced digital technologies to enhance quality management – will significantly affect their operation within 5 years. The benefits of this approach include reductions in defect rates and in costs related to poor quality. Nevertheless, only 16% say that their company has begun implementing Quality 4.0; 20% say that their company has started to plan for implementation; and 63% have not even reached the planning stage yet. European companies are off to a faster start: 21% have started to adopt, compared with only 6% of U.S. companies.
These findings are from a global survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in collaboration with ASQ and German Association for Quality (DGQ). The survey sought to evaluate participants' views on Quality 4.0 as it exists today and as in 2024, to understand the most important use cases and to identify major challenges and skills needed to implement a transformation.
The study found that technology is only one piece in a broader quality transformation that must also focus on people and skills. The survey's findings revealed a diverse set of opportunities and challenges:
- Survey participants acknowledge the importance of Quality 4.0 at all stages of the value chain but see manufacturing and R&D as the areas that will benefit most. They also understand the opportunity to capture quality-related improvements in value chain steps that have traditionally been seen as lying outside the scope of the quality function, such as logistics and sales.
- Participants point to predictive analytics, sensors and tracking, and electronic feedback loops as the most important technologies for driving impact. For example, more than 60% say that predictive analytics will significantly affect quality performance and the bottom line within five years, compared with only 16% who cite a significant impact today.
- Survey responses to skills-related questions reveal widespread unreadiness for implementation. Only one-third of participants say that they understand how digitization will change quality management roles and skills, and even fewer believe that their company has the right people in place to run a Quality 4.0 initiative (17%) or has a clear strategy for attracting Quality 4.0 talent (5%).
- Many organizations lack the basic prerequisites of a quality-focused culture. Although 57% of participants say that quality initiatives are part of their executive-level strategy, only 27% strongly believe that their company has clearly articulated its quality goals and objectives to all layers of the organization. Only 14% of participants believe that individuals across the organization understand their roles in achieving quality goals.
- Both frontrunners (companies that have started to implement Quality 4.0) and followers (all others) cite a shortage of digital skills and talent as the number one challenge they face. For frontrunners, the next three most important challenges involve technology and data. In contrast, followers point to strategic and cultural challenges. These differences in appraisal suggest that technology- and data-related challenges become more visible to companies as they proceed with implementation. Meanwhile, roadblocks related to strategy and culture discourage followers from even pursuing implementation—a reflection of the importance of establishing a strategic roadmap and a quality-centered culture as enablers of technological transformation.