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Danei Edelen

Supply Chain

Using SPC Software to Enhance Your Production Supply Chain

A well-configured system aids manufacturers and suppliers alike

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 00:00

Manufacturers today report that their biggest challenge is satisfying customers who demand more detailed product information. For larger companies with many suppliers and remote locations, this is an important issue.

To maintain profitability, manufacturers rely on production automation, and in many cases this has allowed them to “right-size” their personnel. To further increase profits, these companies must find new ways to make the supply-chain production process more efficient. Statistical process control (SPC) software offers the tools, techniques, and the data-driven approach to positively affect these processes.

Evaluating and choosing the SPC software system that best addresses a manufacturer’s specific needs requires careful consideration. This article will provide some helpful guidelines to keep in mind during the selection process. It should be noted that although the type of software discussed here is best suited for larger companies, many SPC software companies also offer lower-end products that can help smaller organizations meet their needs without requiring an IT department.

Design and architecture

Traditional networked quality applications are not well designed to accept data from numerous suppliers. To be successful in today’s competitive marketplace, manufacturers must adopt a cloud computing model for both on-premise and remote users. This design affords virtual organizations a great deal of flexibility in deploying the system for internal processes, supplier processes, and users who need monitoring and reporting capabilities via mobile devices. However, various types of cloud computing exist in the marketplace. For the supply-chain production process to perform consistently, companies must select the appropriate architecture and SPC systems for consistent implementation across all suppliers. Cloud computing has evolved various options with regard to architecture. Here are two options through the lens of manufacturers and supplier quality data:

• Public cloud computing
Many companies are moving to a public cloud computing model to achieve savings related to infrastructure and personnel costs, easy scalability (e.g., a pay-as-you-go model), and increased reliability against malicious attacks. Public cloud services work well for server hosting, storage services, webmail and online office applications. However, because these services have no geographical restrictions and can be accessed anywhere, servers might be located in different countries and governed by different sets of security and privacy regulations. This could mean that your data are not as secure as you might wish, making it unwise to use public cloud services for sensitive data. Also, companies must carefully read their terms of service to determine who indeed owns the data.

• Private cloud computing
Private cloud computing is a lower-risk alternative, but one which may involve more up-front costs. It places control for the entire supply-chain production process system within the organization’s own corporate data center. This on-premise model is currently the only way to guarantee security, acceptable performance, backup, integrity, and centralized coordination for global supply chain quality management. Using this method, internal IT staff allocates SQL data servers under the Windows platform to the manufacturer’s production facilities. Servers under the web platform are reserved for suppliers and mobile users who need remote connections to the system, creating in effect a private cloud environment. Thus, each plant and supplier has its own secure SPC database under the jurisdiction of the customer’s IT resources, and each company must balance its own resources. However, because quality data are essential for customer and regulatory requirements, it is critical that these data be readily available in real time. Due to the sensitive nature of quality data, the private cloud approach appears to be the more logical option.

Knowledge transfer and supplier accountability

There are distinct advantages for manufacturers who assume total ownership of their suppliers’ data. First, it relieves suppliers of the IT responsibility necessary for the maintenance and security of the data. Second, manufacturers can access supplier data 24/7 without requesting supplier reports. Finally, if the two parties should sever their relationship, arrangements won’t be necessary to transfer the supplier’s data archives back to the customer.

During production runs, suppliers often need access to the customer’s standard operating procedures, engineering drawings, and contract specifications. Supply chain quality management systems should provide ready reference to visual aids directly within the application. Because this information is stored and maintained in the appropriate supplier SQL database, suppliers and users all work from the same set of policies, eliminating paper records and version conflicts. In the end, the customer benefits through reduced travel to supplier facilities for training and supervision.

Rapid implementation and ROI

Unlike major business and manufacturing systems involving extremely lengthy and expensive implementations, SPC software should be reasonably priced and can be rolled out within a matter of days or weeks depending on the nature of the global implementation. The installation and training plans are simple and straightforward, and on-site software vendor support requirements should be minimal. This means that the manufacturer can enter production quickly and begin to realize a rapid return on investment, sometimes in a matter of a few weeks or months.

Integration with external systems

Quality data may originate just about anywhere within the virtual organization, not necessarily at the point of production. For example, data may come from external databases such as ERP, MES, LIMS, SCADA systems, OPC servers, instrumentation, and legacy applications. Integrating this information into the quality supply-chain production process should be a simple procedure requiring no additional programming or software customization. The software vendor should offer tools that bring these data into the SPC environment for charting, analysis, and reporting to provide the manufacturers with a single view of real-time global quality data.

Global monitoring and notification of adverse events

A supply chain production system should provide the manufacturers with a global dashboard to view, at a glance, the current, global status of any process. This dashboard should provide drill-down features for SPC charts and individual process statuses for instantaneous decision support and troubleshooting. In addition to global dashboard views, the production supply-chain SPC application should offer the capability for real-time email and cell phone text notifications to the appropriate parties when out-of-control and out-of-specification conditions occur. Global monitoring and alarming capabilities in SPC software can quickly transform an “inspect and reject” pattern of behavior into a much more proactive “predict and prevent” business mindset.

Traceability and reporting

Manufacturers should consider the supply chain quality management system as an insurance policy that allows suppliers to prove their ability to meet all quality requirements within the manufacturing contract. Using a supply chain quality system enables suppliers to spot unacceptable trends and address quality issues before nonconforming products are ever manufactured, minimizing the need for waivers, exemptions, and deviation from process protocol. This type of system encourages manufacturers to review supplier conformance before authorizing shipment, and mitigates the need to quarantine nonconforming products that may have been inadvertently shipped.

Ideally, the software will include a complete set of tools for traceability, defect tracking, in-depth data queries, root cause analysis, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and rolled throughput yield (RTY). Best-in-class SPC software vendors are automatically building in robust reporting capabilities so that third-party reporting tools are unnecessary. Look in the software’s report library for summary, reject, capability, and Cp/Cpk reports, as well as a detailed certificate of analysis to provide a high level of confidence that a product shipment falls within the acceptable range. If all these utilities are available in the software, the customer can reduce or often eliminate incoming inspections entirely.

Mobile access

Laptops, notebooks, smartphones, ultra-mobile PCs, and tablets are rapidly changing the computing landscape for businesses. Supply chain quality systems must encompass these devices as companies adopt them as the corporate standard. SPC software is already available to accept data entry from these devices through an Internet connection, as well as displaying charts, data spreadsheets, and process alarms in real time. Mobile employees, telecommuters, and remote users will find this an indispensable method for staying in touch with quality conditions when they don’t have access to a network connection.


For the relationship to be successful, both manufacturers and suppliers must see a benefit to their businesses. A well-architected SPC system that takes into account the needs of both manufacturers and suppliers provides a competitive edge for businesses and ensures security at the same time. Some of the benefits for suppliers include:

• Enabling operators to prevent errors before they occur
• Allowing managers to monitor processes from anywhere
• Empowering managers to better manage costs
• Eliminating time and cost of shipping replacement orders
• Avoiding costs incurred by delays to the customer

Manufacturers, on the other hand, can realize a faster return on investment by:

• Lowering travel time and costs related to training and monitoring supplier personnel
• Notifying suppliers of out-of-specification materials before shipment
• Diminishing time spent on incoming inspections
• Eliminating delays in production due to out-of-specification materials
• Decreasing personnel time spent dealing with supplier issues
• Reducing scrap, rework, and product recalls
• Introducing new or complex products more quickly
• Preserving comprehensive data for customer traceability documentation
• Shortening on-the-spot conformance to requirements and quality prior to shipment
• Retaining all of supplier data permanently
• Gaining a worldwide view of the entire supply chain in real time

Once suppliers recognize that implementing such SPC software systems can actually increase their profits, they become advocates. SPC software can not only assist manufacturers in managing their own production process, but also ensure that they receive only quality materials from remote locations and suppliers. Therefore, manufacturers can provide their customers with more detailed information about the entire production process, thereby ensuring their loyalty and satisfaction.

Danei Edelen is the product marketing manager for Zontec Inc., a Quality Digest content partner.


About The Author

Danei Edelen’s picture

Danei Edelen

Danei Edelen has worked in software and quality for more than 20 years, most recently as product marketing manager for Zontec Inc. Edelen is a member of ASQ and is actively involved as a chairperson for her local section. Zontec has been providing statistical process control (SPC) software to industry-leading companies globally for more than 30 years. Zontec is the only company that offers a product suite for all size companies. Zontec software has been adopted worldwide by more than 5,000 companies, spanning virtually every industrial category.