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Douglas C. Fair


Beyond SPC

What else can your quality system do?

Published: Friday, November 6, 2015 - 15:42

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Statistical process control (SPC) software has been around for decades, used by manufacturers across industries to help monitor process behavior and control quality on the shop floor. Like any technology, the software has evolved over the years into something much more than a tool for collecting quality data from a single manufacturing site.

In addition to its intrinsic ability to collect quality data, today’s most advanced SPC software can serve as a solution for managing global, enterprisewide quality. However, many manufacturers are hesitant to embrace this expanded functionality. They are either reluctant to move away from their familiar, yet likely antiquated, SPC system, or are simply unsure what other value the technology has to offer. So, what else can (and should) your quality software do? Consider the following checklist.

Collect data and integrate with other systems. Your solution should not only collect data on the shop floor, but also integrate with other manufacturing systems, such as manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and even measurements tools and gauges. Data from these systems are aggregated in a single platform, so duplicate data entry is a concern of the past. And because data collection is automated, you can reduce paper-based, manual processes to boost accuracy and productivity.

A leading North American consumer packaged food and beverage company integrated its cloud-based quality software with manufacturing measuring tools at three separate facilities, as well as data collection software in its laboratories. This enabled data to be sent directly to a centralized data repository, which not only reduced paper usage and manual data entry, but also enabled the manufacturer to identify variances and out-of-spec issues as they arose across different plants. The company reported $2.1 million in savings due to waste reduction. That number is sustainable, year-after-year, with continued use of the software.

Monitor and analyze in real time. As your quality system collects data, it should make them available to operators via a user-friendly, customizable interface. Here, on the plant floor, operators use the data’s “first life” to obtain real-time visibility into quality information. With this level of visibility, staff can proactively monitor processes, make on-the-fly adjustments, and stay a step of ahead of any quality-related issues.

For example, a leading snack foods manufacturer saw that one of its lines was overfilling bags of snacks and instantaneously corrected the process to reduce the amount of product it was “giving away.” This simple, real-time adjustment saved the company more than $1 million in overfill costs at just one plant and lowered customer complaints by more than 30 percent in one year.

Manage workflows. Once you are collecting data, how do you ensure that the right people take the right actions in a timely manner? Your quality solution should employ automated workflows that incorporate reminders, timers, and alerts. These functionalities can increase team efficiencies and create a uniform approach to collecting key data across the enterprise. Plus, automated workflows are especially useful in complying with industry regulations, such as HACCP and the FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11, which warrant standardization in plant-floor activities.

A multinational producer and distributor of dairy and refrigerated food products used a real-time alert functionality within its quality software to ensure that operators completed certain checks on schedule. Operators received a timed checklist for scheduled quality checks and automatic reminders when it was time to collect data. Operators appreciated not having to watch the clock themselves.

Report on and analyze manufacturing intelligence. When data collected on the shop floor are used for making real-time process adjustments, you are utilizing their first life. However, data also have a “second life.” With an enterprise quality system’s reporting and analysis capabilities, you can obtain the manufacturing intelligence needed to not only ensure process control and meet lean or Six Sigma requirements, but also to drive continuous improvement. Moreover, a quality system with robust reporting capabilities can play an important role in preparing for audits because the right information is in a single, easily accessible place.

An established tire manufacturer saved more than $400,000 in one year on its belt line by simply analyzing the manufacturing intelligence obtained on the dimensional data of components. These cost savings represent just one line in one plant. In addition, this leading U.S.-based tire chain also made substantial improvements in its process performance index, with its quality software systematically driving process improvements that ensured the optimal quality levels that consumers have come to expect from the brand.

Centralize in an enterprise quality hub. The most notable capability of an advanced quality solution is its ability to serve as an enterprise quality hub. By pulling together data from plants and suppliers across the globe, the hub creates a single, unified view of information. That information is available within a centralized data repository via the cloud. At any time, from anywhere, via any device, quality professionals—from operators to C-level executives—can access standardized data and glean the manufacturing intelligence needed to improve overall processes. Data silos are no longer a hindrance, as manufacturers achieve visibility across their global supply chains.

With the cloud-based version of its quality software, a U.S.-based bicycle manufacturer was able to obtain a real-time view of data by assimilating information from its suppliers in China. Now, the company can correct out-of-spec products before they are even shipped, creating a much leaner manufacturing environment. In addition, this manufacturer has saved more than $19,000 a year by converting to a paperless process in its quality department.

If your quality software doesn’t offer all—or even one—of these elements, it’s time for a change. Looking forward, quality software will continue to evolve to offer even more advanced capabilities unheard of within traditional SPC systems. Already, enterprise quality hubs are offering cloud and mobile capabilities that extend their benefits further into and across the supply chain. By embracing new technology and digging deeper into the functionalities of not just an SPC solution, but a cloud-based enterprise quality hub, manufacturers can monitor, analyze, and report on manufacturing intelligence. As a result, they can improve quality, decrease costs, and make smarter business decisions.


About The Author

Douglas C. Fair’s picture

Douglas C. Fair

A quality professional with 30 years’ experience in manufacturing, analytics, and statistical applications, Douglas C. Fair serves as chief operating officer for InfinityQS. Fair’s career began at Boeing Aerospace, and he worked as a quality systems consultant before joining InfinityQS in 1997. Fair earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial statistics from the University of Tennessee, and a Six Sigma Black Belt from the University of Wisconsin. He’s a regular contributor to various quality magazines and has co-authored two books on industrial statistics: Innovative Control Charting (ASQ Quality Press, 1998), and Quality Management in Health Care (Jones and Bartlett Publishing, 2004).