What is Quality Function Deployment (QFD)? Process, Benefit

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What is Quality Function Deployment (QFD)?

Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is a structured approach used in product development and process improvement to ensure that the design and development processes meet the needs and expectations of customers. It originated in Japan in the 1960s and has since been widely adopted in various industries around the world.

The primary goal of QFD is to translate customer requirements (often referred to as “whats”) into specific engineering characteristics and plans (known as “hows”) that can be implemented during product or process development. The process involves cross-functional teams and is typically organized into several matrices to facilitate communication and decision-making.

With growing emphasis on the need for building quality into products and services, various techniques have been introduced to understand customer needs and delivering products with superior performance in the market. One such technique that has gained importance is QFD, which basically translates the needs of the customer into product development plans.

In the words Dr. Yoji Akao, who developed QFD in Japan in 1966, QFD is “a method wily to transform qualitative user demands into quantitative parameters, to deploy the functions forming quality, and to deploy methods for achieving the design quality into subsystems and component parts, and ultimately to specific elements of the manufacturing process.

We can define QFD as a systematic technique used in designing products on the basis of the expectations of customer’s. It provides a step-by-step approach to understand the customer`s preferences, translate those preferences into product characteristics or specifications and design the products accordingly.

The first application of QFD was at Mitsubishi, Heavy Industries Ltd., in Japan, in 1972. Later on, QFD was successfully installed by Toyota in the production of its min-vans, which helped the company achieve significant reduction in start-up costs. Toyota has reaped immense benefits by introducing this methodology.

Taking 1977 as base year, Toyota reduced 20% in start-up costs by 1979, 38% by 1982 and 61% by 1984. In addition, the company reduced the product development cycle by a third along with incorporating engineering changes and quality improvement. In the US, QFD was first introduced by Dr. Clausing of Xerox in 1984. Today, it has become a standard feature in many organisations across the world.

Process of QFD

The core principle of QFD is that quality should be an integral part of products and it should be integrated into them in such a way that quality inspection after the manufacturing process becomes unnecessary. In QFD, the expectations of the end users are constantly communicated to the design and production teams, thereby involving the customers indirectly in the production process. QFD was mainly introduced to reduce the gap between the customer’s expectations and the manufacturer’s product design. It helps in establishing a close link between the end users of products with various organisational processes, such as product designing, quality management, production and marketing.

Till now, we have understood that the main objective of QFD is to incorporate the needs of the customer into the design of a product. For this, a systematic approach is followed that consists of several phases.

Product planning

In the first phase of QFD, customer requirements are ascertained and then the design requirements are determined to meet those requirements. This involves conducting market research on major competitors, documenting warranty data, measurements, product characteristics, national and international quality standards, ideas, blueprints and market plans. Obtaining customer data in phase I is very important for the success of QFD, as the ultimate objective of QFD is to fulfil the objectives of the customers.

Product designing

In this phase, product characteristics are specified and a prototype is developed. In this phase, designing and engineering teams get involved in translating the customer’s requirements into product specifications. The job requires a lot of innovation and creativity from the teams involved.

Process planning

In this phase, key process operations required for manufacturing the product are developed. The actual products and their sub-parts are also developed according to the specifications. This phase is led and managed by the production and engineering department. The main objective of this phase is to create flowcharts of the processes and the parameters of the processes are documented.

Production process controlling

In this, the processes are controlled and managed to ensure that products are as per the specifications. This is done to ensure that no deviation takes place from the planned action and all customer requirements are incorporated into the final prototype developed. The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are also defined for the control and monitoring process, production scheduling and risk assessment.

Benefits of QFD

The main reason for deploying QFD was to reduce start-up costs. Organisations reported reduced product development time as well, in addition to overall increase in customer satisfaction.

We can briefly explain the benefits of QFD as follows:

Improvement in customer satisfaction

In QFD, effort made to determine customer requirements, which helps in making products according to their requirements, leading to customer satisfaction. QFD helps to identify implicit as well as explicit customer requirements and focuses adding value to the product and making it convenient and easier to use for the customer. Organisations try to understand what is termed as the ‘voice of the customer’, that is, listening to what the customer wants instead of what the organisation wants to manufacture.

Reduction in development time

In the QFD process, the required product modifications are made in the design phase itself. As a result, no design changes are required to be made in the later stages of product development. This leads to reduction in product development time.

Reduction in development costs

QFD minimises the cost involved in warranty claims, support cost, design changes cost, etc., as the changes are made early in the product life cycle and the manufactured products are close to the requirements of the customers.

Maintenance of documentation

While employing QFD, a database is created for future reference. This database can be used to make improvements in the processes as and when required. The availability of the database means that the changes can be made easily. The database is also used for training new engineers in the company and making them familiar with the manufacturing process.

QFD in Education

The following are some examples of the successful implementation of QFD in the education sector:

In 1997, QFD was implemented in Rainstar University, a holistic institution located in Scottsdale, Arizona, to meet customer (students’) graduation and accreditation needs. The course content and curriculum were designed through QFD based on customer requirements. Moreover, emphasis was laid on ensuring the focus of each academic unit on the graduate.

Another example of successful implementation of QFD is College of Business Administration at Tennessee University. The university used QFD to design its internal Research Resources Centre (RRC) to serve faculty and students in various areas, such as computer application, test preparation and research. To design the centre, focus was laid on various customer requirements, such as reliability, assurance, responsiveness, physical appearance of the facility and equipment. As a result, the university had a better document handling procedure, a formal training procedure and a new layout of the facility.

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