What is automated quality control? An easy guide

April 17, 2024
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Automated quality control systems: Key components

So, what are the key components of an AQC system? 

Let’s find out: 

  • Controllers, like microprocessors or microcomputers, take in the sensor data and compare it to the predefined standards. If there’s a mismatch, the controller sends a signal to the actuators.
  • Actuators are the components that can manipulate the physical world. They might activate a diverter to remove a defective product from the line, trigger a marking system to note an issue for rework later, or even pause the entire production line if something really critical happens. 
  • For even more effectiveness, these components work together in an automated feedback loop. The sensors feed data to the controller, which assesses quality and directs the actuators to make any necessary corrections to keep the process in check. With the lightning-fast decision-making enabled by automation, you can address deviations in seconds. 
  • Some AQC systems also include integrated software like statistical process control (SPC) programs to monitor data trends and alerts if the process shows signs of going out of control. The main idea here is to catch issues early and perform adjustments to prevent errors, waste, and inefficiencies. 

Real-world applications of automated quality control

Now, it’s time to look at a few examples of automated quality control in action: 

  • Quality inspection is one of the pillars of manufacturing, where thousands of parts are produced daily. Automated vision systems scan items like circuit boards, car parts, or packaged goods, tirelessly scanning for flaws.
  • Many foods and drinks also undergo automated quality testing. Packaged goods are inspected for proper fill levels, lids or seals are secure, and labels are correct. Raw ingredients and final products are tested to verify they meet strict purity standards and nutritional requirements.

    Any batches that fail are trashed due to public health concerns — no, you can’t drink that faulty Coke can.
  • Even the agriculture industry loves AQC. As crops are harvested, automated systems evaluate factors like color, size, blemishes, and sugar content to determine quality and ripeness. This helps farmers optimize both yield and profit.

    Produce that doesn't meet standards is diverted for alternate use, such as animal feed or biofuels.
  • In healthcare, AQC analyzes medical images like X-rays, CT scans and tissue samples to detect anything out of the ordinary. Automated pill counters double-check that prescriptions contain the proper type and quantity of medication before being dispensed to patients.

Benefits of quality control automation

Automating your quality control processes comes with some serious perks.

Let’s take a look: 

  • For starters, ACQ speeds up inspection times like you won’t believe. Manual inspections can take hours, while automated systems can check products in seconds. This means you can inspect a higher volume of units in less time. 
  • With automated quality control, you’ll detect problems earlier in the production process. This allows you to fix issues quickly before too many faulty units are made, saving time, money, and resources. Automated systems are also consistent and objective in their inspections.

    They perform the same tests the same way every time, reducing human error and subjective judgments.
  • Consistency also leads to higher quality standards. Because automated systems always inspect to the same specifications, they help ensure each product meets your company’s quality standards before shipping out. This results in higher customer satisfaction and fewer returns or complaints.

Challenges of automated quality control

You may hit one or several brick walls before you implement quality control automation. 

These are the main hurdles: 

  • The first one is going to be money. Automated equipment, software, and systems can be expensive to develop and maintain. While AQC may reduce costs in the long run through increased efficiency and reduced waste, the initial investment can put some SMEs off.

    But ACQ also has an extremely fast ROI – just 1-3 years. 
  • Expertise is another challenge. Developing and implementing AQC requires knowledge of statistics, programming, and machine learning that many companies may lack in-house. So, you may need experts who can help build, test, and improve your AQC systems. Hiring these experts or outsourcing the work adds to the total cost.

    The caveat? Modern ACQ systems or AI-equipped robotics systems can offset this by not requiring any specialized coding or machine learning knowledge to operate. 
  • Data requirements can be a limiting factor too. AQC systems rely on large amounts of high-quality data to learn and improve. Collecting and cleaning this data requires time and resources. And in industries where data is scarce, implementing AQC may not even be possible.
  • Integration with current processes can sometimes be a pain. AQC systems often require changes to existing quality inspection processes, equipment, layouts, and more. Integrating new automated systems with legacy ones or redesigning processes altogether brings its own set of complications.

    To make sure things go smoothly, you’ll need thorough testing.

Is quality control automation the right fit for your business?

All right, now that you understand automated quality control and how it works, you need to determine whether implementing an AQC system makes sense for your company. 

There are a few factors to think about: 

  • Does your business have a high volume of products or components to inspect? If so, AQC can help speed up quality checks and reduce costs. For small batch or custom production, manual inspections may still be more practical.
  • Do you have consistency in your production and products? AQC systems work best when evaluating standardized items. Custom or highly variable products can be more difficult for automated systems to assess accurately.
  • Can you justify the initial investment? Although AQC often provides a good return on investment over time through increased efficiency and reduced waste, the initial system setup can be expensive. Make sure the costs align with your quality control needs and budget.
  • Do you have technical resources to implement and maintain the system? AQC requires software, equipment, and skilled staff to deploy and keep running. If you lack internal tech capabilities, the system may be challenging to adopt.
  • Does AQC align with your business goals? Implementing automation should fit into your overall strategy for growth, innovation, and competitive advantage. Make sure quality control automation will actively support where you want to take your company.

If all systems are go, then you should really think about implementing automated quality control. If not, then maybe it’s time to pull back, try to work things out, and maybe make the investment later.

One thing’s for sure, though: You’ll eventually have to bite the bullet and automate; you can’t afford to allow your competitors to take the upper hand. 

Summing up

Automated quality control can take tedious, boring, and mistake-prone manual inspections out of the equation through advanced tech like machine vision and AI. The systems do the heavy lifting so your team can focus on big-picture quality improvements. 

But do remember: AQC still requires upfront work, like setting parameters and analyzing results. Of course, the improved consistency and productivity make any time investment absolutely worth it. 

Next steps

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Our team is ready to support you in maximizing RO1's impact on your shop floor. Experience the difference yourself – try RO1 risk-free for 30 days!

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