Recall Revolution: Harnessing IoT to Transform Manufacturing Resilience


With IoT, manufacturers gain clarity and control they can use to drive fast, effective resolutions of product quality issues and recalls, protecting their business and customer base.

Product recalls are the bane of manufacturing. While almost every company strives to make high-quality goods that customers love, unforeseen risks and defects sometimes force mandatory or voluntary recalls. These events can snarl business processes, cause brand harm and revenue loss, lead to regulatory censure and fines, and attract customer lawsuits. As just one example, the Takata airbag crisis has ensnared multiple auto manufacturers and cost $24 billion to date.

Unfortunately, product recalls are growing: They surged 11% in 2023, reaching a five-year high with 3,301 events and 759 million units tracked across five industries. Reasons for this surge likely include the fast rate of technology, market, and product change; increased regulations; unforeseen usage conditions; and more. A case in point: Tesla recently recalled up to 2.2 million U.S. vehicles. The reason why? The font size was too small on its instrument panel, which could make the lights hard to read and increase the risk of car crashes.

However, manufacturers don’t have to accept massive, costly product recalls as their fate. With Internet of Things (IoT) technology, they can streamline critical processes before and after recalls, reducing team time, company costs, and customer impacts.

To the Rescue: How Cross-Functional Teams Manage Product Recalls

When product issues begin to spiral, companies set up a cross-functional team to assess the situation. This team typically comprises engineers, field technicians, and other internal experts, such as executives, product and quality control managers, public relations professionals, and attorneys.

Manufacturers already have well-defined quality functions to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable processes and products. However, IoT and other digital tools enable quality teams to move monitoring from reactive, paper-based processes to leveraging near-real-time data and analytics to drive focused actions and enable continuous improvement.

The cross-functional team reviews findings, considers a range of options through a risk-benefit lens, determines if the quality issue is the company’s fault, isolates the source of the problem, drives remediation and customer communications, and manages broader recall efforts.

See also: The Evolution of Manufacturing in the IoT Era

Fault-Finding: How IoT Identifies Product Issues Proactively

With IoT, engineers and field technicians can monitor products during the supply chain, production, and logistics processes. Manufacturers and partners can embed IoT sensors into production equipment, quality processes, components and materials, and packaging.

With this data, engineers can more easily pinpoint the origin of faults and minimize their impacts. That may mean preventing additional sales of defective merchandise already in the field or zeroing in on the subset of customers who have already purchased and used the defective products. With these insights and field service platforms, technicians can execute targeted recalls or service products in the field as needed.

Before and After: How IoT Prevents and Minimizes Recall Impacts

Here are four ways IoT optimizes recalls for discrete and process manufacturing companies:

1) Developing predictive analytics: IoT tools can provide data and analytics that enable teams to forecast potential or developing faults before they escalate into more extensive recalls.

IoT systems can help teams quickly isolate affected product batches, enabling them to recall only these items while unaffected production lines continue operations. Companies protect revenues and avoid unnecessary product waste. Proactive IoT detection of quality issues may also identify unsafe working conditions, such as identifying processes or materials that must be remediated to protect staff on the job.   

2) Optimizing customer service: Field services teams spring into action when recalls occur. IoT streamlines recall management from providing proactive customer notifications to tracking product returns, prioritizing customer visits, and reviewing service histories. Field service teams can use tools such as work order management, intelligent dispatching, location intelligence, and scheduling to work through large and small recalls and manage repairs efficiently.

More advanced technology enables technicians and engineers to approach customer service with a 360-degree view. Service history and data-driven predictive maintenance make it possible to go above and beyond, anticipating customer needs before they do. Better technology streamlines excellent customer service.

3) Improving product quality: Teams can also implement IoT sensors in production processes to continuously monitor product quality and identify deviations early on. These issues could include under or over-using raw materials, failing to follow rigorous material and product handling procedures, using unapproved packaging or inks, mixing up products and packaging, and more.

Food, medications, and personal care items are tightly regulated, so detecting quality issues quickly can minimize costly recalls and consumer harm. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently recalled multiple brands of eye drops due to potential bacterial and fungal contamination. Meanwhile, Green Valley Foods recalled frozen meat pizzas containing soy, a known allergen, as an undisclosed ingredient.

4) Reducing equipment downtime: IoT-enabled equipment data and service histories provide insights into how and why a product failed. Manufacturers can use this data to conduct a thorough analysis of potential root causes, quickly identifying the source of faults and fixing and preventing future issues. They also can use these insights to schedule proactive or predictive maintenance. For example, IoT can trigger a maintenance review if production data on a machine breaches certain thresholds, indicating that a problem is likely developing.

Protect Your Brand with IoT-Powered Quality and Recall Processes

No company wants to face a significant quality issue or product recall. However, swift action can win companies praise from the media, regulators, and customers and save millions—if not billions—of dollars in recall processing costs.

Field service teams and other professionals can use IoT technology to optimize end-to-end product processes, from sourcing to production, packaging, and logistics. They can also use IoT to quickly determine the scope of necessary recalls, help solve root causes, focus customer communications, and deploy field services teams to client sites to fix problems. Field services platforms help speed these processes, helping technicians speed repairs and restore customer confidence in their companies.

With IoT and field services platforms, manufacturers gain clarity and control they can use to drive fast, effective resolutions of product quality issues and recalls, protecting their business and customer base.


About Michael Israel

Michael Israel is the Vice President at Zuper. With over 40 years of experience in technology in the field service industry, Michael is knowledgeable about how technology can strengthen and optimize field service businesses. Michael is proficient at identifying inefficiencies, developing new processes, and providing best practices, solutions and recommendations to meet clients’ technical and business objectives."

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