On Quality 4.0 in project-based industries

Jan Emblemsvåg (Marine Operations, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Ålesund, Norway) (Emblemsvåg Management Consulting, Alesund, Norway)

The TQM Journal

ISSN: 1754-2731

Publication date: 18 May 2020

Issue publication date: 13 July 2020



Project-based industries seem ignored in the quality management literature. These industries have some peculiarities that warrant attention, and the purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the critical aspects of project-based industries concerning quality management and particularly Quality 4.0.


The approach is based on reviewing the literature and then developing the paper using basic definitions, literature, logic and experience. It should be noted that the type of literature review is so-called “integrative” due to the fact that the topic of this paper is new. Furthermore, for this paper, as for integrative literature reviews in general, the purpose is to create initial and preliminary conceptualizations and theoretical models, rather than review old models. Creative collection of data is therefore key to combine perspectives and insights from different sources. This paper is therefore more a discussion piece rather than a paper presenting results per se. The relevant literature is only a starting point from which the argument is developed.


The paper demonstrates that quality management in project-based industries is outdated, driven by adversarial and legalistic interpretations of contracts, which results in manual work and reactive quality management. Initially, this can be a stumbling block for Quality 4.0. However, the greater credibility and transparency of Quality 4.0 technologies can enable relational contracting such as partnering. This will subsequently result in major improvements in total quality.

Research limitations/implications

The research was initially triggered by industry experience over years. The empirical aspect of the paper is therefore related to the construction, shipbuilding and the oil and gas industry. Because contracting regimes are similar across these industries, the findings are arguably applicable to other project-based industries. However, this is not demonstrated. Furthermore, as the topic is new to both literature and practice it is likely that the paper has not covered all relevant aspects that will emerge as the ideas are implemented.

Practical implications

The paper supports the argument for developing the contracting into a relational approach away from the adversarial and legalistic approach of today. It is illustrated how Quality 4.0 technologies can help in this transition. Therefore, the practical implications can become substantial in how industry works and the research about it.

Social implications

If the ideas were implemented, they could change contract management in project-based industries from the adversarial approach of today to genuine cooperation. It would therefore be relevant for teaching future contract managers. The project outcomes would also result in improved quality and reduce the loss to society.


The combination of Quality 4.0, new contracting regimes and project-based industries is according to the knowledge of this author, an original contribution that can help people improve the management of quality in project-based industries. With these industries constituting a large and growing share of an economy, the value can also become significant once practical issues concerning implementation are sorted out.



I would like to express my gratitude towards my colleagues in shipbuilding, ship design and the oil- and gas industry over the years that have discussed matters with me of relevance to this paper. Combined, we must have been involved in far more than 100 projects to international customers using contracts from various jurisdictions. I would also express my gratitude to the reviewer(s) who gave very valuable comments.


Emblemsvåg, J. (2020), "On Quality 4.0 in project-based industries", The TQM Journal, Vol. 32 No. 4, pp. 725-739. https://doi.org/10.1108/TQM-12-2019-0295

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