Quality Management for sustainable product development: Adaptations of practices and tools
Quality Management is a management approach that has been suggested to project a number of synergies with sustainable development in general, and environmental sustainability in particular. For example, the principles of customer focus and continuous improvement are applicable in practices supporting environmental sustainability, especially in product development. Such synergies could be used to the advantages of organizations who are faced with the challenges of current era, to develop and manufacture products with considerations, not only toward quality, cost and time but also, to the environment. However, the application of Quality Management practices and tools to support environmental sustainability in product development is neither straightforward nor simple. The purpose of this thesis is, therefore, to explore and identify the adaptations of Quality Management practices and tools to better support environmental sustainability. Specific focus is given to the integration of environmental requirements in product development, and to the adaptations of Robust Design Methodology, as one Quality Management methodology.
This thesis consists of five studies; one literature review, one conceptual study, and three case studies, addressing four research questions. The purpose of the literature review was to elaborate on the support of Quality Management for business approaches toward sustainable development. The findings show that there is a lack of adaptations of Quality Management practices and tools to exploit its potential contributions toward sustainable development. Further, the customer focus view requires expansion from focus on the user to include all stakeholders. The literature review precedes two case studies that explored the joint consideration of quality and environmental requirements in a product development setting. The first case was of a large manufacturing organization in Sweden. The second was a comparative study between the same Swedish organization, and a large manufacturer in The Netherlands. Results show that Quality Management can support the two sustainable product development approaches, namely the integration of environmental requirements in existing methodologies, and the implementation of dedicated environmental concepts and tools such as Design for Environment and Life Cycle Assessment. However, adaptations of current practices and tools were found necessary. This was conceptually exemplified in the next study that explores how Robust Design Methodology-based efforts may better contribute to sustainability and, more specifically, to sustainable product development. Based on a review of selected published cases on the Robust Design Methodology-based efforts to minimize environmental impacts, an adaptation area suggested was to expand the view of the noise factors in order to realize the potential to contribute to various life cycle stages of a product. This was exemplified in the final case study of a medium-sized Swedish manufacturer, where the adoption of a life cycle approach to noise factor identification was proposed as a new practice of Robust Design Methodology.
Quality Management contributes to sustainable product development where its practices and tools are shared in a co-organized product development setting. Additionally, Robust Design Methodology contributes to sustainable product development through the expansion of the customer focus view and the adoption of a life cycle approach. Further, the challenges in sustainable product development, such as the lack of integration of environmental requirements, differ according to the two approaches that could be adopted by managers in terms of the type of products manufactured in varying industries. This thesis points to more empirical investigations of Quality Management practices and tools to support sustainable product development, and of the usefulness of Quality Management to economic and social sustainability, for future research.
sustainable product development
Robust Design Methodology.