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Cheryl Ajluni

Quality Insider

Quality Software Helps Design and Manufacture Better Products

The benefits of adopting and implementing a software-based solution

Published: Monday, November 21, 2005 - 23:00

In today’s fast-paced electronics industry, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) design, manufacture and service a broad range of products that include fuel cells, pacemakers and wireless devices. In addition to the technical challenges associated with designing such diverse and complex electronic products, identifying quality issues throughout the supply chain remains a constant problem. Brand owners need to know if their product meets specification. If it doesn’t, they need to understand why as well as whether the problem was due to design, manufacturing or process issues. This product performance intelligence is paramount, as today’s OEMs must protect their brands and comply with stringent industry regulations while also meeting customer requirements.Effective product quality management is further complicated by the growing trend toward globalization. As a cost-saving measure, the design, manufacture and test of products are now all routinely done at multiple geographically dispersed sites. Manufacturing issues and product defects often aren’t identified until a product is manufactured or, worse yet, deployed in the field. This is significant because the cost of resolving a problem in the factory is substantially lower than doing so in the field and it doesn’t tarnish the brand owners’ reputation.

Outsourcing and the need to meet stringent regulatory requirements aren’t the only trends driving interest in quality management. Many companies are beginning to configure a product to order, allowing consumers to purchase products specifically designed to meet their needs. While this is a huge win for the consumer, it puts an added strain on the OEM, which must test and ensure the quality of each new product configuration.

As a result of these trends, OEMs and contract manufacturers are now viewing quality-management solutions with renewed fervor. They can no longer afford to use manual techniques for tracking and managing quality. Their business success and ability to establish superior brand recognition now depends on how quickly they identify quality issues throughout the manufacturing process.

Traditional Quality Management Techniques
The OEM has a number of options for collecting, aggregating, analyzing and controlling data across multiple sites. It can trust that the contract manufacturer is properly running the necessary tests, but this is risky. It can manually manage data or it can spend millions of dollars building a custom quality management solution that’s expensive to develop and maintain, and difficult to modify when requirements change.

Manual quality management is highly ineffective, error-prone and not conducive to global product development. It provides no guarantee that data will be entered correctly or that it will be in a format and language the engineer can easily use to visualize problems with the contractor’s facility or manufacturing process. There’s also no guarantee that enough data will be obtained to help the engineer track down the source of any correlation or yield problems. The net effect is often unsatisfactory yields and increased cost associated with engineering hours spent doing manual data entry and traveling to manufacturing sites to track down data and solve simple problems.

Another alternative to quality management, the tester-specific solution, is commercially available, provides a lower cost of ownership than proprietary solution and is routinely supported and updated by the test vendor. Tester-specific solutions, however, depend on the existing hardware (e.g., they work with specific testers) and software (e.g., they’re designed to work with the specific manufacturing execution system software) installed at each site, making interoperability difficult.

Despite this array of solutions, OEMs often have home-built scripts for accessing data and use multiple disparate applications for data analysis that don’t allow assemblies to be tracked from incoming inspection through the production process and to the final product. Furthermore, they don’t provide daily production metrics, trend information or details on where the final product came from and what tests it went through—all critical information to uncovering a problem and its source.

It’s necessary to accurately and quickly analyze test data and diagnostic findings from manufacturing to design, as well as from the field to both design and manufacturing. These data must be made available in formats useful to engineers performing data analysis, as well as managers. The OEM must be able to effectively track each of its contract manufacturer facilities, each product line and each test system; and take corrective action in real time to quickly resolve any problems. These requirements are critical for ensuring products are of the highest consistent quality and for guiding and influencing future product revisions.

Comprehensive Quality Management
A comprehensive real-time, software-based approach to quality management, such as that provided by SigmaSure analysis software from SigmaQuest Inc., can address the data-tracking and management challenges facing today’s OEMs. Software of this type provides a crucial link between the test, manufacturing and design groups within a company’s global supply chain—an especially critical feature for companies dealing with managing a complex supply chain involving multiple manufacturers.

The benefit of adopting and implementing a software-based solution is undeniable. It eliminates redundant, and often manual, data entry and analysis. With its centralized data management approach, OEMs can predict the ability to manage all in-house and outsourced data from a central point. Ease of deployment and quick setup are two additional benefits of software-based quality-management solutions. An easy-to-use Web-based human interface means that anyone—even those with no expertise in statistical process-control techniques—can quickly retrieve test-yield data and conduct root cause analysis.

The globalization of product development, the requirement for strict regulatory compliance and the trend toward configuring products to-order has made quality management a crucial component to ensuring a company’s success. Comprehensive quality management and analysis software collapses time to quality and enables global OEMs and contract manufacturers to build better products at lower cost, achieve higher levels of performance and increase cross-organization synergies. It gives today’s OEMs and contract manufacturers the competitive advantage they need to stay ahead of the competition.

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About The Author

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Cheryl Ajluni

Cheryl Ajluni is the owner of Custom Media Solutions, specializing in technology-based content for publications and tradeshows. She has more than 11 years of experience covering the high-tech industry. She has also worked in various engineering roles at the Department of Defense, IBM and Space Systems Loral. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the University of California, Davis, and holds a patent for the development of a solar cell detection system.